Updated: Sep 26, 2022
By MINHAN HUO
Global Business Journalism reporter
Have you ever dreamed of being a foreign journalist but don’t know where to start? Do you fantasize about traveling to another country to cover local stories but have no idea what you will be dealing with?
If the answer is yes, you might be interested in some advice from Thanos Dimadis, the president of the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the United States.
Born in Greece and raised in Belgium, Dimadis worked as a foreign journalist in Washington, D.C., New York, and Brussels for the two most popular broadcast TV channels in Greece. He was also the youngest journalist ever to lead one of the channels’ political news coverage.
Here are the 10 tips on building a career as a foreign journalist from Thanos Dimadis:
#1 Do more than just collect information
Instead of simply gathering information, your role as a foreign journalist is to interpret for your audience. After all, everyone nowadays with technology can record what is happening in real-time in any place around the world.
That means you need to know your audience and think critically. First, ask yourself: “What does this mean to my audience?” Find aspects that can be related to their interests. Use the information you have gathered to give your audience a fair view of what is happening. Try to utilize your outsider perspective and cover what journalists from inside the country sometimes cannot see.
#2 Master multimedia journalistic skills
Unlike in the past, when a journalist was sent abroad with a whole support group including photographers, foreign correspondents nowadays are usually on their own. Mastering more skills in different fields can definitely facilitate and enrich your reporting. All young foreign correspondents need to master video and audio skills.
#3 Adjust yourself to the new cultural environment
One critical challenge for foreign correspondents is the cultural barrier. If you cannot overcome it, you may find yourself gradually marginalized from the local media and lose credibility to people as your potential local sources.
So, be mentally prepared to face a sometimes completely different cultural environment. Take active actions, such as learning the local language and knowing about the social norms and major issues of the society. (For example, be aware of the social divisions, polarized partisan politics, and the expansion of gun rights if you are a foreign correspondent in the United States.)
#4 Build trusted sources
As a foreign correspondent, it’s important to have someone local to give you guidance and connect you with others. Trusted sources can also help you understand the culture better, helping you report more accurately on economic and social trends, instead of being restricted to writing about acts of the governments.
#5 Don’t take rejection at the beginning personally
When you are in your own country, it’s always easier to find well-informed sources who are willing to talk to you. But in a new country, people may not have any interest to help or even to listen to you, especially when you are dealing with government officials or experts from institutions.
So don’t be intimidated by rejection. Acknowledge that your interviewees have the upper hand and show them that rejections don’t offend you. Don’t lose your temper. Instead, try more times to persuade them that it’s their interest to speak to you, converting the rejection into future opportunities.
#6 Work for a well-established media organization
The ideal approach to start as a foreign correspondent is to work for a media organization in your country and convince it to send you to another country.
A prestigious, well-established media organization can get you the necessary support and protection to establish a career, especially logistics like getting a visa and renting an apartment. Besides, your media organization also plays a role in how fast you can build trusted sources.
Other approaches include working as a freelance journalist, who may go to that country first for some reason like studying, then reach out to a media organization offering to cover news for them.
#7 Note the media ethics in the country you work in
Media ethics can differ from country to country. One example from Thanos Dimadis is how Americans value the rule about “off the record”, meaning that journalists shouldn’t attribute “off the record” information to them in their reporting. In the U.S., Dimadis stressed, it is important not “burn” your sources.
Make sure to understand and follow the media ethics in the country you are working in.
#8 Balance your job and your national identity
When interviewing your source, you normally need to put your identity as a journalist before your nationality. However, it’s inevitable for a foreign correspondent to carry their own national identity and be influenced by the narrative of his or her own country.
But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. What you can do is to follow the faces, even if they may contradict the narrative of your own country. Secondly, don’t try to lead your audience to one certain conclusion. Your subjectivity can be shown in deciding what news to report, but it should not be shown in opinions voiced in your stories.
#9 Be objective and respectful
When reporting controversial topics, you want to be objective without creating conflicts. Conduct research in advance to understand the point of view of your sources. It can enrich your reporting. During interviews, do not argue with your sources. Elicit information, analysis and opinions from them.
Your job is not to share your personal views or those of your own government.
#10 Be patient and invest in long-term success
Don’t expect quick success. Foreign correspondents usually need to stay for a period of time to adjust themselves to the local social-political environment and gradually build their sources. So be patient.