The answer of how to ensure the future of high-quality foreign coverage is not easy or obvious. Sawyer says his organization is part of a transition, but isn’t sure to what. “The role that we can play is trying out models, to see what might work,” he says. “I understand the temptation to say that these efforts are insufficient, that they do not replace the jobs lost by staff cutbacks or guarantee a sustainable income for freelancers. If we had more dollars we could definitely do more. But it’s worth recognizing what has been achieved.”
Sawyer, Schidlovsky, and their colleagues note that stories on systemic global issues have never been profitable; they are a public service, but not likely to generate ad sales or subscribers by themselves. In other words, they argue, foreign news has always been subsidized in some way.
The concern, though, is not the loss of foreign news, but the loss of US foreign correspondence as a profession—people whose full-time job it is to bring us that news. The subsidy model, for all the good it is doing in the short term, may make it harder to rebuild a system that supports that kind of commitment to foreign news.