Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tips for Foreign Reporting

What a great panel with Hannah Allam and Andrew Meldrum! They gave so many great tips for people interested in foreign reporting.

Be "polite and persistent". Mellum said, "You want to be civil with people, form a rapport...Then they're at ease and then the conversation flows." Make sure that people answer the questions, but respect them and show that you want to tell their stories.

Never stop observing. "When you have more information than you can possibly choose, then you've done a good job...Once you've got your reporters observation skills, you don't turn them off," said Meldrum. If you come early or your interview subject is busy, use the time look around and absorb every detail. "Again you're observing," he said, "[thinking] how does this compare to some other place? Sit and watch...what the environment is."

Learn about the culture and history. "Read all the recent stories. if you can find a couple of good books, read those as well," Meldrum said. Get "different points of view...perspective...Nothing ever happens in isolation. There's always a history to it...Speak to people from that country before you go... Ask them how to negotiate [their] culture." Find out what mistakes Americans often make. "I go to Google News and read the Google alerts for that country," Allam said. "In a lot of countries you'll be using fixers [translators who know the culture and smooth out the rough edges]...They're really the unsung heroes."

Blend in. Allam mentioned a Rolling Stone reporter who wore immodest clothing into an Iraqi shrine and put the entire press corps in danger. "You're going in to mix...You want to dress to get a good interview... and do your job."

Stay safe. "Be honest, be alert, and know when you have to leave," Allam said. Meldrum added, "You have to have a nose...and think, 'This situation is very volatile.' It's easier to see something from the distance" and talk to people to get certain firsthand accounts.

Make your stories interesting. "It's not good enough to have all the information and to have the right perspective," Meldrum said. "Find an unusual and colorful way to enlighten the story for your readers." He pointed this article by Allam that brought about an otherwise dry topic (air conditioners) in an engaging way.

Get out there! Allam said, "Part of [finding work] is serendipity, part of it is opportunity, part of it is resourcefulness and your own work." Network! Work as a stringer. Teach english abroad. Look for fellowships, journalism centers, jobs at foreign companies, etc.

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