And nonprofits arguably do more than traditional news outlets to engage the public with global stories. For instance, they sponsor speakers at schools and universities across the country; last year, the Pulitzer Center organized more than 250 public events.
But a broader and more independent foreign news agenda is crucial. “There is only so much foreign news editors want, and only so many articles on, say, Burundi, that a paper will publish,” says Moore. “So I worry that the topics foundations push might crowd out other stories. I also worry that, if most of the reporting that this model produces is focused on suffering people in need of ‘intervention,’ then you have a very distorted picture of a place.”
Similarly, a news agenda driven by journalists on the foreign beat, developing expertise over time, is preferable to one in which freelancers parachute in with the clock ticking. Savvy freelancers may follow the region closely online, and do additional reporting that isn’t part of their grant, but as Alan Boswell, a McClatchy correspondent who covers East Africa, put it: “They often come in with a plan of what they are going to find, and then they usually leave having found that. That is a bit antithetical to what I consider reporting.”
Boswell, whose reporting has been subsidized by the California-based foundation Humanity United (which also funds both IRP and the Pulitzer Center), understands that there is no easy solution. “But there is a reason why editors aren’t jumping for ngo stories, and it is the same reason why nobody wakes up and reads the World Food Program’s Web articles,” he says. “For me, it all boils down to, Who are we writing for?”
* * *
in 1995, paris-based freelancer Deborah Baldwin bemoaned the freelancer’s difficulties in living without health insurance or free office supplies. “But to make things worse,” she wrote in the American Journalism Review, “many magazines and newspapers haven’t raised their rates in 15 years; the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, pays its Paris correspondent, Alix Christie, $200 per story.”
Eighteen years later, little has changed. Despite the digital age’s new opportunities for publishing foreign news (GlobalPost, the websites of Foreign Policy and The Atlantic), most US outlets, including the Chronicle, pay about $250 for a foreign piece. The IRP and Pulitzer Center cover the logistical costs for their grantees—flights, accommodations, visas, etc.—but it’s up to the news outlets that buy the work to pay the journalist a fee. In fact, the Pulitzer Center’s Jon Sawyer says he doesn’t consider his organization a subsidiary body: “We view ourselves as a news organization, working to get coverage of global systemic issues and engage the public in those issues. We work to place the pieces in the biggest outlets, but our primary motivation isn’t to subsidize those outlets or the freelancers.”
Fair enough. But we are left with a piecework model that covers part of what foreign coverage costs, but does not help foster a system that can sustain quality foreign correspondence over time. To be sure, freelancers working through these nonprofits produce some exemplary work. Photojournalist Micah Albert, for instance, my co-grantee on a recent Pulitzer Center-supported project in Kenya, just was awarded the prestigious World Press Photo of the Year for Contemporary Issues for his work on that assignment. But most young reporters can’t support themselves with this model, and they aren’t getting the mentoring that can help them develop as correspondents.
Samuel Loewenberg, a veteran correspondent who has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Europe with the help of Pulitzer Center grants, says the foundation-supported model has become crucial to his work, but that it’s not a replacement for all the cuts. “We have lost so many editors and reporters who brought such a depth of knowledge and level of craft to foreign reporting,” he says. “I did some of my best stories for regional papers, but those days are over.”
The staffers at the IRP and Pulitzer Center are aware of these limitations. “The issue that needs to be resolved is how can we keep this model sustainable and ensure journalistic standards?” says John Schidlovsky, the founding director of the IRP and former foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun.
Tom Hundley, the Pulitzer Center’s senior editor and a former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, is more blunt: “This great mass of freelancers who are depending on grants from us and working on pitiful fees from brand-name outlets—I mean, this just isn’t going to work.”