Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘roving reporter

Part two: what exactly is a freelance foreign correspondent?

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Riding the Pyongyang Metro.  Going to North Korea has so far been my only instance of travel + journalism. I aim to remedy this.

Riding the Pyongyang Metro. Going to North Korea has so far been my only instance of travel + journalism. I aim to remedy this.

So far this year I have traveled to Thailand twice, but entirely not for journalism reasons. But I have also traveled to North Korea and this was for journalism. I filed two stories and a photo gallery. But they were features. I did not seek out war zones or conflict areas, natural disasters or political turmoil. I did not attend any riots or charter a plane to any typhoon-hit areas. When news happens, foreign correspondents will scramble and make a dash to the area affected.

Later this year I am planning to go to Myanmar. It seems a fascinating country (the second largest in southeast Asia) on the cusp of so many developments. I want to go and explore, seek out stories and get to know the place better. I had been developing a Myanmar story for months now, checking up on it, cultivating a source, and a major newspaper was interested in the story. But then someone beat me to the punch with a similar but not-quite-the-same story and the newspaper declined, so now I will attempt to sell it elsewhere.

There’re a lot of unknowns so I feel like I have to go there to get a better nose for the angles that might sell, that might interest editors who don’t really care. They worry not about how interesting something is, but how relevant and resonant a story might be.

I should do a lot of background reading (and video watching) to get a better sense of the country, arrange to go there, talk to as many people as I can find while there, and travel around inside. It might take a month or so. I cannot simply parachute in and expect to write things.

Should a freelance foreign correspondent be expected to dig into time and funds in pursuit of stories while living awhile somewhere new?

I don’t know. I only know what I want to do. And that’s to go to Myanmar. To see what it’s like, find stories and write them. But I will have to try to ensure the best chance possible of being published and being paid. Travel without publication and payment for a traveling journalist is not sustainable and an untenable luxury.

For part one in this series go hereA post on travel + journalism is here.

Welcome: misson statement

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The idea of the foreign correspondent still holds a certain pull on the aspiring journalist’s imagination. If you’re of the literary persuasion, you’ll think of Graham Greene gallivanting among the exotica of south-east Asia, or of Ernest Hemingway filing his dispatches from Franco-ridden Spain, braving bullets and swigging Valdepeñas.

Or else you think of crusaders like John Pilger, the Aussie who brought the horrors of the Pol Pot regime to the attention of people around the world.

It’s the most adventurous, intrepid and romantic of journalism’s repertoire.

Hemingway and a small tiger.

Hemingway and a small tiger.

Budgets are tight nowadays and newspapers can ill-afford to maintain many international bureaux and send reporters across the globe as they used to. But some enterprising people decide to head off pretty much on a whim, going it alone.

Deborah Bonello of MexicoReporter.com did it. Graham Holliday of Kigali Wire did it. And Kate Hodal, the Guardian’s south-east Asia correspondent did it.

So perhaps freelance is the best way to do it. You get the freedom to explore what you want to explore. Write what you want to write and travel wherever you want to go.

This blog will track a journey to be an in-demand freelance foreign correspondent. It will be a mixture of journalism tips and tricks, insights and news about the country I’m in and how you can make the most of it, as well as looking at the romance (both of life & love) of a foreign correspondent’s life. Because, let’s face it, that’s part of the fun.