Glenda Cooper writes a column in The Guardian about the changing face of foreign news reporting, telling titled From their own correspondent. She argues, convincingly, that the general public are, and always were, more likely to be the first on the scene at any major news event before the press ranks and aid workers arrive. Events like the Asian tsunami in 2004 benefited enormously from the proliferation of cameraphones, digital cameras and internet access,
As Tom Glocer, the head of Reuters, pointed out, none of the agency’s 2,300 journalists or 1,000 stringers were on the beaches the moment the tsunami struck. “For the first 24 hours,” he said, “the best and the only photos and video came from tourists. And if you didn’t have those pictures, you weren’t on the story.” The onlooker was the only reporter in town.
However, it appears the aid agencies are now in on the act, and unlike many suffering newspapers, they have the cash to do the job properly,
[Aid agencies] have also responded by turning their press offices into newsrooms; providing cash-strapped foreign desks with copy and footage for free. The origins of this stretch back to the late 1990s when aid agencies woke up to the demands of 24-hour media, but has accelerated with UGC and the fierce competition for media profile between the bigger agencies… many journalists would look with envy at how well-paid these press officers are (a senior press officer at Oxfam can earn Â£40,000) and how well-equipped – Oxfam protocol now demands that any officer travelling to a disaster has to have an international mobile, local mobile, a satellite phone, a laptop (capable of transmitting stills and short video clips), and a digital camera.
Cooper goes on to say that “a third of national newspapers admitted… that they had used aid workers as reporters on the ground.” News agencies buying this footage rarely accredit it to the original source and the viewers/readers are in the main unaware that some reportage is effectively produced by the PR arm of an aid agency.
Of course, it has always been the case that aid agencies have worked closely with journalists and journalists have often relied upon them for scoops. However, what we’re seeing now is the aid agencies uploading footage to social media photo and video sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr to tell their story in their way. Tellingly, OxfamAmerica, OxfamIreland, OxfamInternational, OxfamGreatBritian to name but a few all have YouTube channels, Flickr accounts, and a large presence on Facebook.
It appears they are increasingly bypassing old media to tell their own story in their own way, because for the first time, they can. While aid agencies continue to rely upon old media to get the story out to the masses, there’s no guarantee that relationship will endure beyond the next decade.