Advice on International Reporting From an IRP Fellow

By IRP Staff, November 14, 2011

How do you report objectively and efficiently from a potentially dangerous foreign location? With a lot of planning and clear thinking.

David Francis, who reported from Nigeria as a fall 2011 IRP fellow and who has previously covered Afghanistan, Mexico and Germany, believes that scheduling your trip and networking with experts before you leave for a country is very important. Picking up tips from foreign reporters who have also reported from the country in question as well as getting in touch with local reporters and connecting to the local media scene is critical.

Speaking to think tanks, academics and government officials is important, but talking to locals is the best way to understand complex issues from the point of view of the masses. Once in the foreign country, being aware of your surroundings and respecting local traditions is very important. You should also focus on blending in as much as possible by dressing according to local customs, and your fixer or translator should make the first introductions to those you will meet. Not all locations are dangerous, but you should always have an escape plan in case a situation changes.

Planning for the worst and trusting your instincts is imperative. Even the most carefully laid plans will fail and schedules will go haywire. This does not mean that you should be paranoid about everything, but planning for the worst situation always helps. Finally, while pitching the story to daily news editors, it is essential to be concise and include the lead up front. In addition, emphasize the importance of the story in both international and domestic contexts. Explain why readers back home will care about this issue and how quickly and accurately you are able to portray it.

David Francis is a freelance journalist who recently reported from Nigeria as an International Reporting Project (IRP) Fellow. He has also reported Afghanistan, Mexico and Germany, publishing articles in The Christian Science Monitor, World Politics Review and The Fiscal Times. Read his complete interview with the International Journalists Network.