Jess Miller of Ohio University's Society of Professional Journalists featured Executive Director Jon Sawyer in the organization's publication, Inc. Sawyer spoke at the university on Oct. 21 on the challenges of foreign reporting.
International Journalist Shares Experience
By Jess Miller
Water sanitation in Bangladesh. The collapse of Communism in eastern Europe. The decline of apartheid in South Africa. The fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Jon Sawyer, executive director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, has covered them all.
After working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 31 years, Sawyer decided to found the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in 2006.
"We wanted to fill in that gap in coverage of big global issues, at a time when traditional news outlets were cutting back resources," Sawyer said. "We want to work with new organizations to find ways to cover issues to bring to the broader public."
The mission of the Pulitzer Center is to "focus on under-reported topics, promote high quality international reporting, and create platforms to reach large and diverse audiences," according to the organization's website.
The center does this by selecting journalists with ideas for international stories worth covering. If a proposed project is given the stamp of approval by the directors, the journalist is given a travel grant of around $10,000. With this money, he or she goes to the specified country and conducts interviews, shoots video, takes pictures, updates a blog and writes articles to send back to the United States. The Pulitzer Center then helps the journalist sell his or her story to different news outlets.
"This is beneficial to both the journalist, who can make a profit, and for the news outlet, who can buy the story instead of sending out a foreign correspondent of their own," Sawyer said.
Where does the non-profit Pulitzer Center obtain resources to send journalists abroad? It is supported by individuals such as the Pulitzer family, as well as organizations such as the McCormick Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the MAC AIDS Fund. The support from these donors, who have an expressed interest in international journalism, allows the Pulitzer Center to not only provide news, but to choose how they cover that news as well.
The diversity in reporting is reflected in the range of news outlets that buy stories from Pulitzer Center journalists; TIME, Slate, The Washington Post, Forbes, The New York Times, PBS, The Nation, Al Jazeera and NPR are just a few of the news organizations working closely with the center.
The Pulitzer Center also has a program for high schools and middle schools across the country.
"Global Gateway is a work in progress," Sawyer said. "We work with about 80 public schools in St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle, to engage young people in the world around them. We bring in journalists three times a year to talk about the projects they've been working on. Students can also engage with the journalists online."
Sawyer said he hopes to see this project expand so that more schools will become involved and perhaps provide added income for journalists.
While speaking to a Journalism 101 class Thursday, Oct. 21, Sawyer also provided advice about the changing roles of media and journalism.
"Journalists must begin to market their own brand," he said. "You can no longer count on a single outlet, such as a newspaper or magazine, to define your entire career."
He added that because newspapers and other media are cutting back on staff, student journalists need to create the opportunity to make themselves known.
"Journalism is beginning to be more entrepreneurial, so you should learn how to market yourself," he said. "You can start by writing your own blog. And anytime you write for other networks, make sure you archive it on your blog as well."
For students interested in international reporting, Sawyer recommends taking regional courses and taking every possible opportunity to travel to foreign countries.
Even with all the changes the field of journalism has undergone, there are still more to come, Sawyer said, adding the Internet will become an increasing challenge for news, a "flat place" in terms of competition. This means non-profit organizations like the Pulitzer Center will have just as great of a chance of generating viewers as larger news outlets like CNN and MSNBC.
There will be greater collaboration between non-profit organizations, news outlets and other information providers, Sawyer said.
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is the story of one man's vision to change the face of international reporting. Because of Jon Sawyer, underrepresented foreign news stories have found their way into national media. His personal hope is to see young people become world events.
"Hopefully young people will become more alert, engaged citizens," Sawyer said.