Days, No Reporting Behind a Nations Back
India.- They sat before me, husband and wife, and
explained why they wanted a divorce.
In a dingy
Indian courthouse, the couple had agreed to be
interviewed for an article on the fraying of
Indian marriages because their counselor had told
them that I was a foreign correspondent; my work
would circulate there, not
here. They didnt mind if people
in the Bronx read of their unraveling, but they
didnt want their families or neighbors to.
Normally, it is
the interviewed who seek anonymity and we
correspondents who discourage it. But in this
case, it fell to me to alert them that their
counselors advice was out of date, and to
suggest that they hide their full identities
behind their Hindu astrological names.
correspondence, I explained, is not as foreign as
it used to be. There, not here, is
It is a
momentous, overlooked shift in the world: Foreign
correspondents no longer cover one place for the
exclusive benefit of readers somewhere else. In
the Internet age, we cover each place for the
benefit of all places, and the reported-on are
among the most avid consumers of what we report.
If my sources had fully identified themselves,
expecting privacy, they might have been surprised
to learn who follows Western coverage of India
data teased out of the Google Trends service, the
phrases new york times india and
washington post india are searched
eight times as much in India, as a proportion of
all Indian searches, as the equivalent in the
United States. By the same measure, new
york times china is searched more
intensively in Beijing than in New York.
applies to countries from Brazil to Russia. And
Thomas Friedmans book The World Is
Flat, in which he cites Bangalores
transformation as he explains the 21st-century
world, is searched more regularly in India than
in the United States. The world has flattened in
yet another way: the Internet makes it possible,
almost everywhere, to see how the world outside
sees you, and in real time.
I rang up Roger
Cohen, a veteran foreign
correspondent-turned-columnist for The New York
Times, to get a feel for the world now vanishing.
Mr. Cohen began
with Reuters in 1979. Correspondents would roam
for days; editors didnt know where they
were and there were no BlackBerrys to use to
track them down.
Their work, once
published, slowly filtered into the discussion
back in Washington or Paris and helped to inform
that debate; in time, of course, it could make
its way back to the covered countries. Some
newspapers, including this one, sold overseas
editions in small numbers in dozens of
international cities. Émigrés cut out articles
for relatives in the old country. Governments
monitored foreign press coverage.
But the vast
populations that foreign correspondents wrote
about remained for the most part oblivious to
what was being said about them. And even when
they knew, there was no easy way to talk back,
except by mailing a letter to the
newspapers headquarters that, by
correspondents accounts, was almost never
forwarded to bureaus.
I started 26
years after Mr. Cohen, and my generation of
correspondents will never starve for feedback.
The newspapers online edition is available
almost everywhere. People in far-flung countries
read us like just another newspaper. Others
happen to stumble on our Web sites through
Internet search engines.
reported-on know what were saying
and now they can retort. They blog about our
work; post it admiringly or disparagingly on
Facebook; find our e-mail addresses with a few
keystrokes; comment on our Web sites to point out
mistakes. In my own experience as a correspondent
in India, the majority of this activity has come
from within the country. The coverage is
available universally, but it is followed most
passionately by those being covered.
implications for foreign correspondence are far
larger than has perhaps been grasped.
readers are better watchdogs than
there readers. They catch errors that
a Western editor simply cannot. They also form a
check on the exoticizing impulse. Certain lenses
for seeing a country sell easily overseas:
Indias poverty, Chinas repression.
But a battalion of bloggers is raring to point
out the obvious and hackneyed, and they keep us
on our toes.
Peter Foster, a
correspondent in Beijing for The Telegraph in
London and an active blogger, wrote in an e-mail
message that his blog opened up an
invaluable discussion/discourse with
readers, but he also noted high levels of
nationalism and vitriol in this
the Moscow bureau chief for the British newspaper
The Guardian, suggested that the vitriol he
received for his coverage of last years war
in Georgia seemed organized. I suspect
but cant prove there is now a
new cadre of professional bloggers working
anonymous for the Kremlin, and presumably other
governments, he wrote in an e-mail message.
loops also threaten a correspondents
ability to bring home the juiciest meat, as
Nicholas Kristof, another foreign
correspondent-turned-columnist, observed in an
e-mail message. Blogging and Twittering and
instantaneous publication empower not only
readers, but also those most threatened by daring
journalism. A column he wrote about Iran, he
said, published while he was still there and read
by the authorities, led to his temporary
detention at the airport.
is a tradition of sources telling foreign
correspondents what they would not tell a local
journalist or official. That is often how a
historical record about wars and genocides is
assembled: people whispering into the ear of
someone soon to leave. Such whispering could
shrink in the Web age.
And in this new
world it is easy to become addicted to the debate
one stirs. The most e-mailed lists,
the blogs, the online comments these can
tempt one to write what draws the most praise or
at least the most noise, as Mr. Cohen
put it. You hear a great range of views
about what you are writing, and some of those
views can be exciting or interesting or lead you
in new directions in terms of what you write and
subjects you choose, he said. My
hesitation is that this is a temptation to
somehow write into that noise and stir it further
and be in the noise because its fun being
in it, which I think can be a distraction.
In the 1990s,
Mr. Cohen chronicled, in person, the horrors that
accompanied Yugoslavias dissolution. Today,
correspondents doing such work can find their
time being sucked away by the profusion online of
viewpoints and images and tweets from the scene,
which multiply and demand attention. But keeping
abreast of the Internet chatter is not the same
as bearing witness.
looking at a Bosnian village or hillside or being
in a room with a group of concentration-camp
survivors or bereaved women, Mr. Cohen
said, you would have just been staring at a
screen and dealing with the rage of the Serbian
diaspora in Munich or Los Angeles.
I dont regret at all that it
wasnt around then.
corresponsal del diario The New York Times en la India, donde publicó este etxto
el 14 de marzo de 2009.