Saturday, November 17, 2007

The path to foreign corresponding?

I've always been so intimidated by the process of becoming a foreign correspondent. How do you do it? Where do you start? Some start at a news outlet in their own country and work their way up from general city news, to provincial politics, to national politics, to international news. I imagine it would take years and is never for sure. Others just implant themselves wherever they want to go and start building a reputation for themselves bit by bit. But there are so many questions...

How do you get plugged into the news world to know what's going on when?
How do you coordinate different buyers for your stories? Can you work for a wire like Reuters while at the same time pitching to the CBC or are you going to piss them off?
Who's out there and who wants what?
And if you work or a wire, they expect you do be ready to cover any breaking news in the region you're in. In Chad, that can range from business stories on the oil pipeline, to environmental problems in Lake Chad, to the new European mission there, to conflicts with neighbouring Sudan, to poverty. You have to be ready to write serious for the serious papers, and tabloidy stuff for the tabloids. You have to be persistent. You have to take every story you can get. Attend every event. Get to know people. Make yourself known.

It can be real hard. People only have so much appetite for a central African country like Chad. And as a freelancer, there is never a guarantee of work or a good rate for your work.

So to address some of your comments, I'm not doing this trip to kill my 10 days. I'm doing it because it is a very narrow opening of the door into this world. IRIN is willing to pay me for reports from Chad in those 10 days. Agreed, 4 of them wil be spent travelling probably (and you can't imagine the hassle of trying to organize flights in Africa. You assume you can book a flight anyday to wherever you want, but either the airline doesn't even go that city and there are no flights for three days, etc.) but that leaves enough time to do some decent reporting, especially if I know what I'm looking for. Once I have some reports written on the ground under my belt, it will be a lot easier to approach Reuters or Agence France Press or anyone else, because I will have somethng to show them. Even to get on the UN plane to the humanitarian hub in the east, Abeche, (apparently the UN is the only institution that flies there) you have to prove that you are writing a story for someone. ie. You have to already have a committed buyer that is willing to vouch for you.

Plus it will allow me to do this first trip with the support of the UN (in terms of permits, authorization, etc) and give me a hang of how things work before I try to do it on my own.

In Chad for example, you need a visa to enter, you need a permit to travel within the country, you need a permit to work as a jouranlist, you need a permit to visit refugee areas, you need a permit to take pictures, the list is endless.

Bottom line, it's quite compliated. Basically, this gives me a chance to see if I can do it on a small scale before trying it all out. I'll go for a vacation when I get back to Canada!

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