How to Become a Foreign Correspondent
In 1854, Irish reporter William Howard Russell from The Times of London reported back home on the events taking place during the Crimean War. Since then, foreign correspondents often become entrenched in troubled, war-torn lands, serving as an eyewitness to report on the world’s affairs. In addition to reporting on international strife between nations, they cover domestic events that cross borders and crises affecting the global community, such as natural disasters.
Through their news reports, foreign correspondents inform people and offer a comprehensive perspective of the world.
Individuals interested in how to become a foreign correspondent can benefit from a master’s degree in international relations to gain the competencies needed in this role.
What Does a Foreign Correspondent Do?
Foreign correspondents report on a foreign country’s political, social, and economic events, and how they impact the correspondent’s home country. Typical work activities for foreign correspondents include researching, interviewing, and writing. However, a foreign correspondent’s role can vary from day to day.
In researching how to become a foreign correspondent, individuals will discover that providing a broad perspective on international issues and global communities is a core responsibility. To report timely and accurate information, they must find reliable sources and verify facts to ensure stories are true, credible, timely, and relevant.
They also collaborate with other professionals such as photographers, writers, video journalists, and editors to produce well-researched news stories.
Some stories develop suddenly, requiring foreign correspondents to be ready to cover events at all times. Other stories take place over an extended period, requiring flexibility and high energy for constant follow-ups with witnesses. Foreign correspondents protect the identity of sources who reveal compromising information.
Work Environments for Foreign Correspondents
Foreign correspondents can work in a variety of exciting, dangerous, and even mundane settings. One day, they report from a battlefield or a region ravaged by a natural disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake. The next day, they may interview government authorities or a witness at a sidewalk cafe.
Media organizations—such as television and radio stations, newspapers, magazines, websites, and social media sites with an international readership—employ foreign correspondents. These employers offer office space for conducting interviews as well as editing supporting audio, video, or graphics for their stories.
A foreign correspondent often lives abroad. For example, a correspondent from the U.S. may live in China to report on events in that locale. Likewise, foreign correspondents from other nations live in the U.S. to report on U.S. politics and economic news.
How to Become a Foreign Correspondent
Foreign correspondents can work as freelance contractors or full-time employees at international media companies such as The New York Times or the BBC. The path to becoming a foreign correspondent often involves the following:
1. Gain Journalism Experience
Foreign correspondents typically start gaining experience through school media groups such as campus newspapers, radio stations, or TV stations.
Internships at professional media organizations provide individuals with opportunities to cover areas such as local sports and politics, starting in a supportive role before writing or producing stories.
These early experiences enable prospective foreign correspondents to gain writing, editing, photography, and production experience. Keeping writing samples in a portfolio proves important when applying for full-time professional journalist roles.
2. Get Started Locally
Typically, correspondents start careers in domestic news or field reporting positions before advancing to cover news for cities or larger towns. Next, they can advance to editor or anchor roles. Other career opportunities can exist abroad, setting the stage for a foreign correspondent career.
3. Earn a Competitive Education
Media organizations typically prefer to hire foreign correspondents with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, broadcasting, communications, or related areas. Real-world experience, coupled with a graduate degree, such as a Master of Arts in International Relations, can differentiate individuals for competitive foreign correspondent roles.
4. Develop Essential Foreign Correspondent Competencies
Strong communication and writing skills are vital for foreign correspondent roles. With these skills comes the ability to be a good listener, which encourages interviewees to share their stories. Additionally, technology and social media skills and knowledge of different platforms enable individuals to write news stories for distribution to various media.
Foreign correspondents who cover news related to governments should have an interest in politics. Integrity, trustworthiness, persistence, curiosity, and determination also are necessary skills of an individual who must find and reveal the truths about an event, particularly when the information is obscured from the public.
Foreign Correspondent Salary and Job Growth
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts earned a median annual salary of $46,270 in May 2019. In certain cities, such as Washington, D.C., and New York, foreign correspondents can make more: the median annual salary is $90,160 in New York and $103,320 in Washington, D.C.
While the BLS reports that diminishing advertising revenue in traditional media such as radio, newspapers, and television could limit overall job growth in traditional foreign correspondent roles in the short term, hiring can potentially increase in digital media.
As more media organizations expand their digital footprints, such as by using social media and online videos, they uncover new revenue opportunities. As a result, employers may prefer to hire individuals with digital media experience.
Foreign correspondents often find the career rewarding as it puts them in the middle of the action while provided opportunities to travel, meet people with diverse backgrounds, and acquire in-depth knowledge of different cultures.
Make a Global Impact by Reporting on World Events
In an increasingly global and digitized world, international events can affect everyone. Foreign correspondents help report worldwide crises often not in the public limelight.
For individuals interested in becoming a foreign correspondent or honing their skills for advancement, Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in International Relations program helps develop well-rounded communicators with an international and leadership mindset crucial for success in this role.
Norwich’s curriculum equips students with knowledge of political, economic, and cultural issues impacting countries around the globe. It also encourages them to use critical thinking and communication skills to make an impact on the world stage.
Learn how Norwich University can help prepare you for a rewarding career as a foreign correspondent.
The Journalists, The New York Times
Want to Be a Foreign Correspondent? She’s Got Some Heartfelt Advice to Offer, Poynter
Reporters, Correspondents, and Broadcast News Analysts, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Opinion: The Challenges of Being a Foreign Reporter in China, NPR
What Does It Take to Be a Foreign Correspondent?, British Council
Average Foreign Correspondent, News Salary, PayScale