On the Media: Going at it alone as a foreign correspondent

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The rise of a new breed of foreign correspondent, a multimedia-savvy reporter who is comfortable working solo without the backup of a big news organisation – was the topic of Tuesday’s On the Media discussion.

Chaired by Matthew Eltringham, editor of BBC College of Journalism website, the evening began with a video presentation by Graham Holliday, an independent foreign correspondent living in Rwanda.

His slide show gave the audience invaluable information on how to go start freelancing:

My main three rules are: Go somewhere cheap and odd, make yourself visible, and read a lot before you write anything.

Following the film, the panelists shared their experiences, advice and practical know-how.

Kitty Logan, an independent video journalist, focused on the pros and cons of working as an independent journalist.

It is hard to attract interest in a less-known story, you have to fight for the opportunities, and news editors are often reluctant to commission independents in conflict zones.

Commenting on this from a media organisation’s perspective, Ben de Pear, Channel 4 News‘ foreign editor, confirmed the difficulties freelances face:

Channel 4 very rarely commission freelancers. For us to do so, they’d have to be in the right place at the right time, and they’d have to be people who can get us access to stories that no one else can. The stories must be unforgettable.

Because the commissioning organisation has a duty of care towards the journalist, he would never take a finished story which he had declined to commission prior to the journalist going out to the field, he said.

Also sharing his experience on the panel was Frontline Club’s founder Vaughan Smith. He commented on the changing work conditions for an independent journalist:

In the 1980s, freelances had to have a relationship with the established news organisations in order to succeed, but now they do not. A freelance can do well on his own these days; this shift has taken place due to the internet as now almost anyone has the power to become a broadcaster.

Smith added that freelances should insist that media outlets give credit for their work, adding:

It is just as important as any remuneration that you get.


This event was in association with the BBC College of Journalism