Fewer Foreign Desks, More Foreign Journalism

Story is essentially the old cops-and-robbers. But it has been set in a background of international political intrigue of the largest order. It has a war flavour, the events taking place immediately before and at the start of World War II; yet it can in no sense be called a war picture. Mystery and intrigue march in place.  Add to this a cast carefully selected by director Alfred Hitchcock to the last, unimportant role. Joel McCrea may not have been Hitch's first choice for the lead role (Gary Cooper was) but he neatly blends the self-confidence and naivete of the reporter-hero, while Laraine Day, virtually a newcomer to pictures, only in the most difficult sequences misses out as a top-grade actress. Vet Herbert Marshall as the heavy, the brilliant George Sanders as McRea's fellow-reporter, 72-year-old refugee Albert Basserman as a Dutch diplomat, Edmund Gwenn as a not-to-be-trusted bodyguard, Eduardo Ciannelli as the usual hissable villian, are all tops. Comic touch is provided by Robert Benchley and Eddie Conrad. Responding to Nicholas Kristof‘s concern that “Only four American newspapers now have foreign desks,” Matt Yglesias observes,

How many foreign desks was a typical American actually able to read back in 1978? For most people, I think, the answer was one or two. Today only four American papers maintain a foreign desk but it’s easy as pie to read any or all of them. And of course you can also read foreign coverage in British papers or read The Times of India‘s coverage of explosions on Bangalore.

Quite. Indeed, there’s more outstanding foreign affairs coverage that I ought to be reading than I have time to read.

Matt largely poo-poos Kristoff’s suggestion that citizen journalists can substitute for the lack of foreign journalists.  I agree, to the extent we’re talking about reporting.  When it comes to analysis, however, our plate is overflowing now with experts and knowledgeable observers who previously who would have had only a local audience prior to the emergence of the Web and the blogosphere.

Image: Lenin Imports with a tip of the hat to Alex Knapp.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. I am trying to think of any major place in the world that doesn’t have at least one english language paper on line (quality does differ). And as you say, getting foreign events summarized and analyzed is even easier. So I guess the real question would be what would a foreign desk do for newspapers that are already hurting financially that they couldn’t get cheaper via on line.
    And to the extent that ‘having a guy there’ makes a difference, has the concept of stingers totally gone out of existence.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Both Kristof’s and MY’s comments show a remarkable lack of understanding of the changes that have occurred in how news is gathered both here and abroad over the last thirty or forty years. Basically, journalism has gone to a wholesale distribution model. On the one hand that means more coverage of international events in newspapers other than the ten or twenty with the largest circulations; on the other it means a lot fewer foreign correspondents on the fulltime payrolls of those big newspapers.

    Increasingly even the wire services are going to stringers for overseas news gathering. As we’ve seen over the last couple of years there are definite hazards in this. Nobody has the time, knowledge, or, probably, the interest to vet the stringers properly. Consequently, we may be more rather than less likely to have creative writers or propagandists touted as reporters.