On The Media – Mort Rosenblum: Little Bunch of Madmen

Watch the full event here. 

“Today, guidance is more vital than ever. At the extreme, it saves lives. It can mean the difference between insipid insight and getting things dead wrong,” said Mort Rosenblum, reading aloud from his new book Little Bunch of Madmen on international reporting last night. “Trial and error is no way to cover events that help shape the course of a planet.”

“In a changed world, we need new frames of reference,” continued Rosenblum who was flanked by Tom Fenton and Jon Swain, both experienced bureau hands like himself.

The book is in part a tribute to the ‘old gang’ members, but Rosenblum is also dedicated to ‘the new guard’:

Last night’s Frontline Club crowd was suitably full of young faces eager to pick up all they could from this seasoned correspondent who started his reporting career in 1965 and has run AP bureaus in the Congo, West Africa, Southeast Asia, Argentina and France. He was also editor of the International Herald Tribune in Paris.

First he had some good news: “It’s never been so easy,” said Rosenblum, before adding that “you just have to be willing to starve to death for a while.”

“It’s not a question of experience, it’s a question of getting it.” Rosenblum continued. Asked if it’s still possible to find work by simply going sonewhere and winging it, the general consensus was affirmative – although Jon Swain advised building a relationship with foreign editors beforehand.

“It’s all a question of your own hustle,” Rosenblum agreed.“Taking a few chances, but not dumb ones.”

The discussion turned to an article written by the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn on the failures of embedded frontline journalism.

Reporters, said Rosenblum, “need the ability to move around the battlefield and just do it”. However,  Swain argued, good reporters “can see through the bullshit”.

The panel was also asked if the agreed with Reuters editor-in-chief David Schlesinger’s recent claim that ‘We must be ready to lose some stories to avoid losing yet more lives.

The answer was a resounding ‘no’: “The news game is a dangerous business,that’s something we should be prepared to take,” said Swain, who pointed out that in Cambodia, the casualties had been much higher:

“We lost 11 in one day,” he said, adding that the story was always considered more important, the risk an accepted fact.

Discussing the internet and social media, Fenton made the point that they give the impression that there is more news, when in fact there are fewer journalists in the field producing less high-quality journalism. “It’s good to have a news flash, but you’ve got to have boots on the ground,” he said.

Picking out the young faces in the crowd, Fenton said: “If I were your age, I’d go for it. There’ll be a need for you. There is a need for information. The basic craft is something we really can’t do without.”

“Handing in a story. That’s the fucking Pulitzer for me,” said Rosenblum to murmurs of agreement from the master craftsmen on both sides.