Reporting from afar

CAIRO–In the fast-paced Internet age, timing has become vitally important for news organizations to remain afloat. With dwindling revenue from online enterprises and the dominance of the larger, well-established wire services such as Reuters and the Associated Press, having reporters at the ends of the earth is becoming more and more difficult.
A number of news organizations have taken to establishing a “base” of operations in one location, while continuing to report on events from thousands of miles away. This form of reporting has given rise to an ongoing debate over the ethical nature of such practices. Is it appropriate to report on a news story taking place in Morocco from Dubai? Some argue, yes, but others disagree, saying it inhibits journalism and weakens the profession.
“We have seen how the economic crisis has left its mark on journalism, especially in the Middle East, where you have a number of journalists working from one location, but reporting from many others,” says John Thomas, a journalism professor from the University of Washington.
He says that a fast-growing number of people across the globe receive their news via the Internet, which means news organizations must act quickly in order to post breaking stories as quickly as possible.
This, he argues, has given rise to what he refers to as the “desk journalist,” or a reporter who files stories concerning a story from one location even if they are not on the ground.
“It is the world we live in and unfortunately without the proper money available to hire stringers in a number of places, newspapers and other organizations are getting capable desk journalists to do the work instead of paying someone in another country,” he adds. “It is a question of ethics and whether this is appropriate journalism.”
Thomas pointed to the rising number of pseudo wire services, such as All Headline News, which hire a staff based in the United States who write news briefs as if they are in the location they are writing about.
“If you look at their work, and the work of others similar, in the past year or so, they have allegedly written from Gaza, Iraq and a number of other hot spots, but the reality is they have lied to their client base about where the reporter is located. For the most part the dateline is false,” he adds, referring to the myriad articles from the American news agency where one reporter is datelined in more than one location daily.
The Las Vegas and Florida-based company did not return calls for comment when approached by Al-Masry Al-Youm.
A quick glance through their list of articles reveals that at least one reporter was apparently in Gaza City, Washington and Tokyo on the same day.
All Headline News is not the only organization reporting from afar, however. Voice of America’s Cairo office routinely files news stories on Iraq. Afraid for their reporters’ safety is once concern, but Iraq is not the only news filed from their Cairo location. Often, stories pertaining to the region, including Saudi Arabia and Libya are also reported from the Egyptian capital,
The German news organization Deutsche Presse Agency employs its vast number of reporters and translators in Cairo to report on the events in Iraq. The news reports come in and the staff translates and then publishes the news from around the region from the Cairo headquarters.
To note, however, Voice of America and DPA do not dateline the stories they write from Egypt as coming from somewhere else.
Making matters even more difficult for aspiring journalists is those companies who forego the dateline altogether in order to write news stories on an event away from their head office.
“This happens often and it is a way for us to create more content without actually having to hire people on the ground. If we can interview sources on the phone, then why would we pay someone to do it there?” an editor based in New York told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “It just doesn’t make financial sense,” the editor, who asked not to be named, said.
For independent correspondents attempting to make a living working for publications abroad, the phenomenon is understandably unwelcome. One reporter said that in recent months, he has pitched stories to organizations, and has been turned down because they argue, “they can do it from there.”
“I feel as though me being here is no longer important,” the journalist, who recently moved to Amman, Jordan, told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “A news event happens and I go to the editor to get a story and they say, ‘don’t worry about it, we will interview a couple people from here and put something out.’ It is really confusing, because we are taught that it is important to be on the ground and meet the people involved.”
For many, the issue of reporting from afar is an ethical matter that goes deeper than simple financial considerations. Thomas argues that reporters like the Amman-based journalist have a right to be angry.
“Certainly, according to the ethics of journalism, it doesn’t seem appropriate to write a story about an event without a direct relationship to what you are writing about, be that on the ground or in an area affected by the event. So, when organizations simply make a few phone calls from thousands of miles away, it enters a gray area.” He said. “It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.”

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