The image of a young girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc, running naked in a street after her Vietnamese village was napalm-attacked is one of the most influential world news photos of all time. Nick Ut, a photojournalist who was sent to this area of conflict for the Associated Press, won a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph.
Ernest Hemingway, one of America’s most renowned authors, began his literary career as a reporter and foreign correspondent. His first formal gig as a journalist was working for The Kansas City Star. Eventually, Hemingway moved to Paris to become a foreign correspondent. He covered the Spanish Civil War and WWII for several American and Canadian newspapers. The author-journalist had written several novels before covering these major world events and continued to write books afterwards.
Since the time of Hemingway, the nature of foreign correspondence has changed, particularly with the evolution of media and the ability the share information in real time using virtual means. When originally, journalists overseas might have sent their stories via telegram or postal services to newspapers or radio broadcast stations, now foreign correspondents present their findings immediately and for various media, from magazines to online publications.
But the characteristics that make a successful foreign correspondent remain the same: a sense of curiosity and passion for reporting on events and people in another country, a willingness to exit one’s comfort zone and a firm foundation in journalism.
How Do I Become a Foreign Correspondent?
To become a foreign correspondent, start by getting a journalism degree or mass communications degree. Before being considered for assignments overseas, in most cases you will have to “earn your chops” by working as a journalist/reporter for a local or national news source for several years. Foreign correspondents are more likely to earn opportunities to cover the news abroad if they become fluent in the language of the region they wish to cover and knowledgeable in that region’s history, current events and culture. Some print, broadcast and online media employers prefer foreign correspondent candidates to also have a graduate degree, such as a Masters in Journalism with a specialization in international reporting or foreign affairs.
Foreign correspondents either work for one particular news media source or as a freelancer. They work in the field, in a foreign news head office or both. According to seasoned foreign correspondent John Tulloh, life as a foreign correspondent is the polar opposite of a 9-5 gig. When posted in another country, you are in a sense “on call” 24 hours a day so you are always available when a news story breaks. You may always be in transit, spending little time at your home base, and not always able to predict when you will be posted next and for how long. You will initially find yourself in culture shock as you adapt to living conditions that may be significantly different from your home. There is also the chance that you will be posted to a region of conflict or war and you must accept the potential associated risk.
Despite these warnings, foreign correspondents that have found their niche lead a fulfilling career. At times, they will also be telling happy stories, such as the coverage of The Olympic Games or of new found freedom in an area previously at unrest. Plus the multitasking involved can be thrilling – Tulloh adds that the most successful foreign correspondents not only report, but also film or take photos.
Numerous foreign correspondents’ clubs are found all around the world. These meeting hubs are places for foreign correspondents to meet their peers, socialize and relax after an intense assignment. For example, one of the world’s most famous press clubs is the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, which was started in the 1940s (originally in Shanghai) by a group of international reporters. Today at the Hong Kong club, all media representatives are welcome to join and attend dinner and drinks, press conferences, business meetings and other networking opportunities. There are literally foreign correspondents’ clubs all over the world.
According to Ferguson’s Careers in Focus (2007), the average annual salary for foreign correspondents ranges from $50,000 – $75,000, with the potential of making $100,000 per year. Ferguson’s adds that the job outlook for foreign correspondent positions is expected to remain stable; meaning that there will always be a demand for such journalists, but the demand may not increase due to the expenses associated with sending news correspondents overseas. That being said, if you complete a journalism degree, gain as much experience as you can, immerse yourself in another country’s language and culture and remain steadfast, you can successfully replace a foreign correspondent when he/she retires. With the increasing potential associated with online media, there is the potential to also create your own opportunities for journalism overseas.