10 Tips for being a foreign correspond by Bill Berkeley

October 28, 2017, By Naanga

 Beijing, China (Tsinghua) –  Bill Berkeley, a former investigative reporter at The New York Times, shared his life of foreign correspondent experience to the journalism schools fellows on October 23, at The Tsinghua University.

He, also a former foreign correspondent The Atlantic magazine in Africa and the Middle East, and then gave some tips on how to prepare yourself for being international correspondents. Here are the ten tips based on his speech.

1) Start early: Most of the journalism students fantasized themselves covering wars in the Middle East for international media brand. If you were inspiring foreign correspondent, especially in war correspondent, inspiring correspondent crisis reporting, it is a business for youth. It is not for a game, once you have kids, and once you become parents. When you were young, you can live abroad relatively cheap, start your foreign correspondent job as early as possible.

2) Determine your working field: You need to find what kind of journalisms best suited for your type. Some reporters are well suited for daily news reporting, or wired service reporting, some are good at long form of reporting and multimedia.

3) Working as a freelancer: It is obvious the heydey of working as a foreign correspondent and booming overseas network are gone. The reporters are getting a fewer opportunity for hires as a foreign correspondent. There are also opportunities in online. Many people go out for multimedia reporters to working as a foreign correspondent, helps to handle videography, have to set radio skills. Several centres offer to work as a foreign correspondent, including Pulitzer centre’s crisis reporting. They give funding for travel, expenses reporting overseas. You need to follow the grants, scholarship and fellowships.

4) Aware of your blind spots: For foreign correspondents, most essential attributes you need is to be mindful of your blind spots, your prejudices, your preconceptions and your various. All people have them; all cultures have them is one of the expressions is “A hazards dwelling on things is separate us from other people is seen differently than us.” As a foreign correspondent needs to aware of things that your readers, viewers and listeners; Americans, Europeans, people all over the world have preconceptions about a different part of the world.


5) The plane only makes news when it crashes: This a common expression in American journalism leads us to think critically! It is a principal concept of the journalism in most of the American journalists. Essential part of being a foreign journalist is finding an answer “Who is benefit for this conflict?”, “Who is responsible for this crime?”. ‘My biggest motivation is a writer as a foreign correspondent to point at the evil that is what drove me everyday’ said Bill Berkeley.

6) Manage your emotions: Controlling your passion is a bit hard when you are working in a war zone. “When reporting conflict, my only reaction is anger,” said Bill Berkeley, and then “I was pointing at the bad guys” he added. During the interview, some journalist wants to be sympathetic, but mine is writing as neutral.  Additionally, trying to conduct interview eye-to-eye.

7) Show then tell:  Most of the journalists always keep in mind “Show don’t tell” technique. But Bill Berkeley, a visiting professor at Wuhan University, advised to the Tsinghua’s fellows “Show then tell”. The reason is why, as a foreign correspondent need to explain to the readers “Why things have happened?”, “How they are possible?” and “Who is responsible?”. Due to answer that, you need to dig deeper than what you can see. You need to dig the surface, history, culture and politics.

8) Ask questions like a child: Best reporters as innocent, child-like questions. If you don’t understand, ask to explain it and again ask Why?. In the case of Charles Taylor, ex-Liberia president, considered as world class war criminal, Bill Berkeley interviewed him to use this tactic.

9) Learn some local languages: In general, foreign correspondents need to know a second language, third language.  If you can speak the local language, it is an excellent advantage for you. But learning language is depending on the languages’ popularity, and some correspondents prefer to use English instead of learning others, and find the right fixers.

10) Find a good fixer: Finally seeing a good fixer is vital to successfully reporting. A fixer is not just a translator. They are a window to guide in your reporting. A good fixer knows contacts and sources and knows which questions to ask or not to ask.

Bill Berkeley is a former editorial writer and investigative reporter for the New York Times and a foreign correspondent for The Atlantic magazine in Africa and the Middle East. Now he is a Visiting professor of journalism at Wuhan University and previously, at both Sun Yat-sen University and Fudan University, where he was a Fulbright Scholar in 2011-12. Bill has taught international journalism as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University since 1999. He is the author of three books, including “The Graves Are Not Yet Full,” a book about war and genocide in Africa.


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