Note: This blog post also ran in the Society of Professional Journalism’s “Journalism and the World” blog. Click here to see the original post.
From reading my post yesterday, I guess some people got the idea that it’s all bad news for journos looking for overseas assignments. (Yes, I mean you, Fons — http://www.chinaherald.net/2007/03/how-to-become-foreign-correspondent.html.)
That wasn’t what I was trying to say at all. It takes some work to get there, but if you put in that work — improving skills, connections, and persistence — you can get here.
Yes, the “brand name” foreign journalism positions are getting scarce, but the total number of opportunities available are growing, I believe. There are the trade mags, the newsletters, the online sites.
Here are a few possible paths:
* Start covering your foreign country of choice for a publication, from your home base in the US (or wherever you happen to be now). Use the Internet to find sources, and make your calls in the middle of the night using a cheap long-distance service like Vonage. Email is also great. You can write for trade pubs, your local paper, church bulletin, whatever. Develop a beat, develop your sources, and work your way up the publication food chain until you have enough work to justify a move overseas.
* Get a job that you can do remotely. Both of my last two employers — Securities Industry News and Computerworld — allowed employees to work from home or from one-man remote offices. Then move overseas and take the job with you (you might have to start staying up all night to work) and start adding in local coverage.
* Move overseas and get a temp job. Preferably one that you can do part-time or during evenings, so you have your days free to report. Then write for every local and international publication you can find, trying to get better and better clips and working your way up to larger publications until you can finally quit your temp job and write fulltime.
* From home, call the editors of newspapers and bureaus in foreign countries. Get to know them, find out what they need. Figure out a way to meet their needs and get a full-time job offer. You might have to do something a little different than you expected when you first go over.
* Start your own publication. You think readers are clamoring for more international coverage? Prove it.
* Get professional help. If none of these strategies are working, find out what you’re doing wrong. Are you missing basic skills and and people have been too kind to mention it to you? Are you an antisocial boor? There are classes that can help you with that. You could also hire a career coach or a life coach to figure out what’s wrong. I used to think that was totally stupid but now, in my older, wiser state of mind, I’m coming around to the idea that getting an outside perspective can be the single best thing you can do for your life.
* Leave the industry. If you don’t have what it takes to become a foreign correspondent and, for some reason, you’re unable to get what it takes, maybe it’s not something that you really want to do. Think serious about that — being a foreign correspondent is low paid, hard work, hard on families and relationships, and can be very frustrating and stressful. Other careers might be a better fit, both psychologically and in terms of material rewards. There are plenty of public relations and corporate communications jobs in China for foreigners, for example, and the pay is better and the hours are much more reasonable. The sooner you switch, the sooner you can start making a success of yourself in your new career.
I personally think that journalism is a calling. You should only do it if you *have* to do it, if you are in love with it, if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else, if you get up every morning and say, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this.”
Otherwise, there’s no practical reason to stay in it.
Journalism is probably the one big love of my life (thus explaining the string of short relationships and failed marriage. Well, not the marriage — that was all his fault. But the other breakups — definitely).
It’s hard to be a journalist and live a healthy, balanced life.
And, yes, I’m seeing someone about this. 🙂
Signing off in Shanghai,