Foreign Correspondent  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotA foreign correspondent is a journalist who is responsible for reporting news from another country. This may mean covering anything from wars to politics to living conditions and attitudes in this country.

"Foreign correspondents do all kinds of work," says Maria Trombly. She's a foreign correspondent living in Shanghai. "They cover politics, business, technology, energy and conflicts -- every kind of beat imaginable."

dotForeign correspondents are the public's eyes and ears across the globe. Unlike other journalists, the correspondent's audience is often not near enough to witness the events for themselves. Correspondents may be the public's only source of information about the events in a foreign country.

The correspondent's job is to observe the events as objectively as possible. They record the facts accurately by interviewing people related to the incident, by researching public records or by observing the event as it happens.

They must then convey this information clearly in an article for newspaper or magazine or for broadcast on radio or television news. Sometimes they have to report live on TV!

dotWorking hours vary. Trombly says that some journalists work during the day from 9 to 5. She works from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and then again in the evening. "That's because a lot of my sources and all of my editors are in the U.S.," she explains.

Foreign correspondents must be curious and inquisitive. They must be interested in world events.

"If this is your passion, if it's part of your DNA, that's what makes the job worthwhile," says Chris Mitchell. Mitchell is a foreign correspondent in the Middle East.

Experts say there are a lot of ups and downs in this job. Some of the best things are being able to travel to exciting places, meet new people and experience a new culture. Some of the worst things are culture shock, homesickness, moving away from family and friends, long hours and difficulty establishing contacts.

Young journalists face the same challenges as those starting out back home, plus extra ones. "They are usually in way over their heads at their first jobs here," Trombly comments. Cultural differences, learning a new language and customs and being far away from their support systems pose challenges.

dotPicking up on the rules and mannerisms of a new culture can be essential to getting the right information.

An ability to speak the local language is also helpful, but many correspondents work with interpreters.

dot There are a number of ways an individual can work in this field. Many correspondents do freelance work. That means they sell articles they have written while they are in a certain country to news organizations like a TV station or newspaper. Some correspondents apply for grants, which pay for them to report from a foreign country. Others are employed as full-time foreign correspondents for news organizations.

Trombly suggests starting as a freelance foreign correspondent. "It guarantees that you get to go overseas," she says.

"Some start their careers by working for local English-language publications and cover local news," explains Trombly. For example, many new journalists in Shanghai write restaurant reviews and lifestyle pieces for local magazines for foreigners living in Shanghai.

dotIt can take a lot of work to get established as a foreign correspondent.

"Foreign correspondent is not an entry-level job, but a very specialized field within journalism," said Martin Regg Cohn, the foreign editor of the Toronto Star. "It's a job you are promoted into after years of service in a newsroom."

dotForeign correspondence is a challenging career with a potential for travel, excitement and a lot of hard work.

The work can be dangerous. "Some is dangerous. Some isn't," comments Trombly. In the mid-nineties, Trombly was in Chechnya and Afghanistan. "That was pretty dangerous," she remarks.

A person with a disability could work in this field, but not in all locations. It would be important to work in the more modern, handicapped-accessible areas, according to Trombly.

At a Glance

Tell people back home what's going on abroad

  • Be prepared to experience other cultures
  • A lot of foreign correspondents are freelancers
  • Get a degree in any field, as well as experience or studies in journalism and communications