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Pulitzer Center Update March 12, 2015

Why Foreign News Bureaus Matter

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American journalist Steven Sotloff (center with black helmet) talks to Libyan rebels in 2011. Sotloff was kidnapped in 2013 near Aleppo, Syria. And, in 2014, ISIS released a video of Sotloff being beheaded. Image by Etienne de Malglaive / Getty Images.

The deaths of international journalists at the hands of ISIS militants in past months were tragedies. And they come at a time when reliable, independent reporting from war zones is more difficult to come by.

Since the downturn in print journalism, newspapers have shuttered their foreign bureaus, leaving such reporting in the hands of fewer reporters.

At the same time though, efforts are being taken to help support independent, international journalism. That's the work of the Pulitzer Center, which funds international reporting projects. Its head is Jon Sawyer, who spent 31 years working for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, including a 12-year stint as Washington bureau chief.

Sawyer was in Milwaukee recently to speak at UWM's Institute of World Affairs. While in town, he chatted with Lake Effect's Mitch Teich about the importance of keeping journalists in the field for not only news, but for an unbiased perspective.

"I think of it as a great and very important public good. We need to know the cost of not having those bureaus is things like the Iraq war and the way we went to war," Sawyer said. "And not having enough information, enough quality debate, enough diverse points of view. One of the reasons that I started the Pulitzer Center came from that experience in the early 2000s...there was very little openness to alternative views."

With news and media outlets going digital and keeping fewer full-time writers, more journalists find themselves having to operate independently in order to get their stories out to the masses. Sawyer says the Pulitzer Center seeks to help these journalists - not only get to the story, but also distribute it.

"You still have extraordinary journalists, many of them freelancers inadequately paid, but they have a great desire to do this work and they're out there in some very difficult and dangerous places," Sawyer said. "In our case, we fund a hundred projects a year, and about seventy-five percent of those are freelancers who come to us for financial support to cover the cost of getting out in the field. And then we work with them to help place their stories in outlets."