Intro to International Reporting

Consider the world we live in today. One where foreign states can interfere in another’s elections without having to resort to the old school methods of backing a coup. Where mass migrations of people seeking safety from the developing world can challenge longstanding regional alliances or force a government shutdown in the developed world. Where humanitarian disasters are at levels unprecedented in recent memory. Where authoritarian regimes can commit mass human rights violations with impunity. Where there is only one remaining superpower, while at the same time both old and emerging powers seek to challenge that hegemony.

Now, think about how we know what we know about the world. About the communities, cultures, places, and nations that we don’t come from and have little personal contact with. Where does our knowledge come from? 

There are scholars who dedicate years studying other places and their peoples, but academic work is rarely widely read. Many more people consume pop-culture products — such as films, TV shows, and novels — and even if their purpose is entertainment, their portrayals of a country, community, or a culture can leave a lasting impression. But thanks to the constant nature of the news, the producer of knowledge that is arguably most frequently consumed by audiences is journalism.

It’s our work that introduces many people to countries they wouldn’t otherwise know and which greatly shapes how our audiences think about the peoples that live there. (It’s important to note that there are communities right here in the US that are as unknown or “foreign” to American audiences as another country oceans away — from minority racial/ethnic/religious communities that have in many cases been here for generations to communities definable by other attributes, such as class or sexuality.) 

While working internationally doesn’t change the essence of journalism – we still observe, interview, investigate, and interpret complex matters for our audiences – there are some significant differences. 

When we are working domestically, reporter and audience and subject most often share a common language; are members of the same society; and are familiar with that country’s founding mythology and history. Thus, writing for an American audience, we don’t need to remind readers/viewers/listeners in each of our articles/newscasts that the US is a capitalistic economy with a representative democracy and a multicultural society. And yet as we all know, despite these commonalities, interpretations of the same story can vastly vary. (Think, FOX versus MSNBC.)

What is significantly different about international reporting is that our audience generally doesn’t have that shared context with peoples and places that are “foreign.” That means the interpretation part of our job then is all the more outsized. 

So how we (the journalists) see what happens overseas goes on to greatly influence what all those out there in our audiences think about those other places and those other people. And as you may have heard before, as we have great power, we also have great responsibility.

Our coverage shapes how electorates, politicians, policymakers, businesses, organizations, and individuals understand what is going on in the world, both at home and abroad. And our audiences can include the most powerful people in the world – for example American presidents, past and present, pay attention to the news. This in turn can impact critical choices, starting with how people vote and what their elected officials decide. Speaking internationally, that can mean deciding, for example, whether to intervene militarily in another country; whether and with whom to negotiate or seek alliances and who to instead cast out; whether to distribute or withhold vital aid and what kind of aid; where to invest; or whose artistic and cultural productions to consume. Ultimately, whose lives to value.

The best examples of academia, pop-culture, and media allow an outsider into these “unknown” worlds and allow her or him or them to empathize with its people. But any of these works also have the potential to perpetuate stereotypes and even contribute to the dehumanization of a people/group.  This danger is at its greatest for groups that are only rarely represented in any kind of mainstream portrayals or only represented in one kind of story. 

Like any other human beings, we have our biases and assumptions, some so deeply buried in our subconscious that it takes work to excavate them. Regardless of our intentions, they can affect our reporting. We can remain blissfully unaware of them, sometimes until the end of our careers, especially when these biases reflect those of whomever dominates society (and our industry) and sets its standards. But that’s arguably more difficult in today’s increasingly interconnected world and as who is participating in these discussions gets more diverse. 

Thanks to the Internet, our audiences are much more global than in times past and the people whose lives we are covering are readily able to see our work. Our work no longer appears in publications or on TV/radio channels that are only accessible miles away from where we reported the story. And thanks to platforms like social media, audiences are able to much more easily deliver feedback on our work. (For example search #someonetellcnn and Kenya to see Kenyans reacting to Western reporting on election violence.) 

Of course, we are not in the business of pleasing people. Some people might mourn the olden days when everyone involved — from editors to reporters to audiences to awards juries — were in agreement on who deserved coverage and how the “foreign” were covered. But there’s no need to fear the critiques (some of which are much more intellectually rigorous than others) that today are now part of the public discourse around journalism. Considering them will only make our work better.

We are going to spend this semester focusing on how to do this work as fairly and accurately as possible. Journalism isn’t a science, and there aren’t always easy answers, and sometimes there are no answers. Some of our conversations will be uncomfortable, and just as we will examine and interrogate the work of other journalists, we will also subject ourselves to the same kind of critical inquiry.  We all make mistakes, we all look back on past work with some degree of mortification. The point is to grow and become better practitioners. 

It’s impossible to anticipate all the communities and all the situations you will cover over the course of your careers, whether you find yourself in your home countries or abroad. But the framework you develop during this course and the one in the fall should be applicable widely.

Course Objectives
  • Recognize the complexity of international reporting
  • Develop strategies for how to cover foreign countries at all stages: choosing a beat, researching a country, deciding which stories to tell, reporting a story, crafting a story
  • Demonstrate an ability to critique journalism (yours and others) for biases 
  • Demonstrate an ability to produce internationally reported journalism that goes beyond the stereotypical to provide nuanced understanding for readers of all backgrounds
  • Recognize that you will make mistakes in reporting on other countries and learn to learn from them
  • Research and prepare for a summer internship abroad
Expectations of You

As per CUNY’s Student Handbook: The Newmark J School has the same expectations for professional behavior as a news organization. Reporters are expected to show up every day ready to work and J School students are expected to attend every one of their classes. This is not college, where classes are sometimes skipped on a whim. Reporters who don’t show up don’t have a story – and pretty quickly, they don’t have a job. If you cannot attend one of your classes, you are expected to notify the professor with the reason and get an excused absence. A medical or family emergency is generally sufficient reason for an excused absence from the Newmark J School , just as it is from a job. An unexplained or unexcused absence is never okay and will lead to a lowering of your grade. It is within the professor’s discretion to determine what qualifies as an excused absence. Similarly, arriving late for class on a regular basis also will lead to a grade reduction for unprofessional behavior.

Attendance: mandatory. As is being on time. Class starts at 2pm. Be in your seat at 1:59. If you can’t attend due to sickness or a family emergency — the only two acceptable reasons to be late as well — you must let me know ASAP, and I will determine how you can catch up. Two(2) unexplained absences will result in failing the course.

Deadlines: don’t miss them. They are not up for negotiation. Unless otherwise noted, assignments are due by 11:59 pm on deadline day (ie, if the deadline is 3/10 you have till the last minute of that day to get it in; 12:01am is late). There will be an automatic 25% penalty on any assignment that doesn’t come in on time, up until one week of lateness. Anything after that is subject to a 50% penalty. 

Preparation: do the assigned readings. Don’t skim them; read them and be ready to engage the material. Reading is part of your job as journalists, it’s not optional, especially in international reporting. That means: formulate your interpretations of the texts and be able to debate their ideas from any point of view.  For guest speakers, prepare thoughtful questions and comments. As a former lawyer, I’m fond of the Socratic method. Meaning, I will cold call on you. 

Cell-phones: no. Keep them in your bags when in the classroom. I don’t want to see them.

Laptops: I realize that many of you will be taking notes on your laptops and will likely not have printed out the readings but will have read/highlighted/annotated them on your laptops. However, for the time that we are in the classroom together, I absolutely do not want to see on your screens anything but your notes and class materials. I pace around — you don’t want me to see anything else open. It’s disrespectful to me and your classmates. Similarly, you are depriving yourself of fully being present in the class. Don’t let me catch you, and better yet, just don’t do it. There will be a break, you can take care of your needs then.

Plagiarism and Fabrication

Plagiarism and fabrication are journalistic capital crimes. Our profession depends on your credibility to survive. All journalists suffer when one journalist steals copy, misrepresents the work of others as their own, makes up a quote or invents facts or characters. Fiction writing is an old and honorable profession, but there are much better places to do it than here. Anyone caught plagiarizing or otherwise misrepresenting the source of information in Craft I will be punished, up to and including failing the assignment and/or the course.

Plagiarism may involve copying and pasting text from a book or magazine without attributing the source, or lifting words, photographs, video or other materials from the Internet and using them as your own. Student work may be analyzed electronically for plagiarized content. Please ask us if you have any questions about how to distinguish between acceptable research and plagiarism. 

Egregious cases are referred to a disciplinary committee. Students have left our program – voluntarily and involuntarily – when confronted with evidence of such transgressions. You all signed a Code of Ethics. We mean what it says.

Guest Speakers

We’re lucky to be in a city where many journalists are based or often passing through. I’m going to bring several of them to come talk to you. So that we can get the most out of these opportunities, in addition to your advance preparation, these visits are absolutely and without exception OFF THE RECORD. We’re not live tweeting these sessions. If there’s something you absolutely feel you must share with the world, you can ask the guest about going on the record.


Your assignments generally fall into three categories:

  •     readings/viewings/listenings that will provide us weekly the basis for our class discussions; 
  •     concept assignments which will riff on the ideas we are discussing that week;
  •     reporting assignments.
About the Reading/Viewing/Listening Assignments:

Do not think you can skim read these in an hour before class. Please make sure to allot the necessary time to get through them. They are central to our discussions.

There is one required text: Notes on a Foreign Country by Suzy Hansen. Over the course of the semester, we will read it in its entirety, one chapter at a time. For each chapter, two of you will be responsible for 1) presenting its ideas and 2) leading the class discussion. Sign up here.

Regardless of whether you are presenting that week, you are responsible for the material. There will be graded pop quizzes.

The other readings are either available online, on reserve, or in this shared folder.

About the Reporting Assignments:

In the past, this class has used the multicultural mosaic that is NYC to approximate overseas reporting. So someone focused on covering the Middle East might pick a beat that is home to Middle Eastern diasporas. If you already have developed beats from last semester and want to continue to use them, please do. If you already know where your overseas internship will be, you might want to identify a beat here that is home to populations from that country.  

There are two major reporting assignments.

In preparing your pitch, be ready to respond to questions and challenges about the story. No story should be pursued until the pitch has been signed off by your instructor. (So you likely want to have a few other story ideas at the ready in case your pitch is not approved.) Please note: to write a good pitch, you have to have done a significant amount of reporting.

Story 1: a local angle piece on a major news story. That can be a major news story in the US or a major news story in your community’s country of origin. For example, if you are covering Hondurans in NYC, you could do a piece that looks at the local impact of Trump’s border policy on them. Or if you are covering Filipinos in NYC, you could do a piece that looks at the local impact of the recent church bombings in the Philippines on communities here. 800 words; 2-3 mins broadcast or radio.

Pitch Due: 3/10

Story Due: 3/24

Re-write Due: 4/9

Story 2: a feature from the New York community you are covering. 1000-1500 words; 3-4 minutes broadcast or radio. 

Pitch Due: 4/14

Story Due: 5/5

Re-write Due: 5/19

The Summer Internship

The packet that each of you must complete is due May 3.  In addition, block off May 26-28 for your mandatory two/three-day training in advance of going abroad.


50 percent: reported assignments (including the pitches)

30 percent: class participation

20 percent: other assignments 



Professional quality, exceptional effort and execution, a rare achievement



Near professional quality, effort and execution, quickly fixable to professional quality



Good effort, needs more than minor work, but a substantially complete piece



Good effort and execution but needs substantial work to bring it to professional quality



Average effort and execution, needs more than substantial work



Substandard effort and execution, needs major work and revision



Substantial problems with the effort or concept or execution or any combination of those. Would need much work to improve to become a serviceable piece




Minimal effort, faulty execution, minimally acceptable

Course Syllabus

Note: The syllabus will be revised throughout the semester. You will be notified of all changes, and we will have the opportunity to discuss the changes.


Let’s get to know each other. Why did you choose this concentration? What do you most want to get out of this class? What part of the world are you hoping to cover? Each of you will present the piece of international journalism you selected.

We will also go over the syllabus together and discuss the introduction to Suzy Hansen’s Notes on a Foreign Country. Be prepared to engage Hansen’s provocative and sober reflections on her experiences living abroad and writing about places foreign to her and to many Americans. 

Reading assignment:

  • Suzy Hansen, Notes on a Foreign Country, Introduction (pp. 3-28) 

Written assignment:

  • Select and be prepared to present a recent piece of international journalism that you either admired/appreciated and inspires you as a journalist or that you found problematic and motivates you to be a different kind of journalist. 

“It does not matter that the news is not susceptible of mathematical statement. In fact, just because news is complex and slippery, good reporting requires the exercise of scientific virtues.” Walter Lippman, Liberty and the News (originally published in 1920) 

What do you think? 

Unlike other professions (ie. medicine, law), journalism is not rooted in a body of substantive knowledge. We’ll debate whether that’s any more or less necessary in international reporting; be prepared to argue different perspectives.  What does Hansen’s chapter tell us about her own experiences as a foreign correspondent (of sorts) and how they were shaped by her knowledge or lack of knowledge about Turkey? What does she have to say about the role bias plays in filtering knowledge? 

Similarly, in today’s age of “fake news,” what role can substantive knowledge play in your own process as journalists? And if you were to acquire substantive knowledge to best cover your beat, what would be required? 

Reading assignment:

Written assignment:


You’ve gotten an assignment or made a decision on your own to go to a place and cover it. What comes next? What do you do before leaving? Once you get there? From travel logistics to finding and contacting sources, to identifying potential stories to actually reporting, to pitching, writing/recording/filming, and finally to publishing/broadcasting? In light of last week’s conversation about knowledge based journalism, what do you think you need to know and how do you learn it? We’ll walk through the process and these issues using feature reporting I had to produce from Kurdistan with limited time on the ground. How does Hansen’s chapter 2 affect what you think your process might include?

Ayman Oghanna and Salar Salim, the photographer and “fixer” extraordinaire respectively for the two stories you read, will join us from Greece and Iraqi Kurdistan via Skype for the last hour. (Salar was starting out back then, today he’s a producer with the Associated Press.)

Reading assignment:

Written assignment

  • Complete Part 1 of the Beat Memo, and bring in a printed out version to turn in at the start of class.  
  • Since most of us don’t have doctorates in the regions that we want to cover (or their diasporas), it’s important we give ourselves a crash course on the scholarly work that is already out there. Begin to put together a reading list for each of your beats. You’ll be adding to this as the semester goes. Start by identifying the academic disciplines that you think would be relevant to understanding what is happening today in your region (hint, “history” is the most obvious one) and then, under each discipline, list works that you find and that seem relevant in those disciplines. Include a complete citation, which means publisher and year (DO NOT hyperlink to an Amazon page.) Keep in mind that academic work is most likely published by an academic publisher. You should of course read trade books, and can include them, but the focus here is scholarly work. This can include identifying scholars who you might want to reach out to for their input. Make sure you are also seeking scholars from those places. Note any story ideas this list sparks. Please bring these to class with you, printed out. Put some effort into it! 

How do we define and differentiate between the different manipulations of the news that characterize our current media and geopolitical landscape? And what does this era of “information disorder” mean for international reporting and how we work? What kind of knowledge can we use both as consumers and producers of the news to guard against these sorts of campaigns?

We will be joined by Shaydanay Urbani from First Draft News who will lead our discussion. Make sure to have done the assigned reading from Information Disorder

Reading assignment:

Written Assignment

  • Complete Part 2 of the Beat Memo, and bring in printed out to turn in at the start of class. 

This class will be held off campus. We will convene instead at MoMA PS1 where we will tour the exhibit Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991-2011. For the first hour, we will be joined and guided by the exhibit’s curator, Ruba Katrib.  As you seek to expand your knowledge about the places and geopolitical events you will cover, consider also consuming the cultural production of the peoples from these places and around these events. The visual arts, music, literature, theater, film — these are all mediums where you can interrogate the lived experiences, perspectives, and memory (collective and individual) of the people and places you will cover. 

Reading assignment: 

(Please note, we are not reading from Hansen’s book this week.)

Written assignment:

  • Complete Part 3 of the Beat Memo, and bring in printed out to turn in at the start of class.

If the 20th century was arguably the “American century,” and if the US is currently the world’s remaining super-power, what does that mean for where the US starts and where it ends? Writing for American outlets, how do we define stories as foreign versus domestic? How does this affect how we cover stories?  To what extent does current American foreign correspondence frame these stories that occur abroad as part of the US’s story? In your view, should they? What would change if they did? How does Hansen’s Chapter 4 inform your view? 

We will also be joined at the start of class by Director of Career Services, Michelle Higgins, who will give an important presentation on international summer internships. 

Reading assignment:

  • Suzy Hansen, Notes on a Foreign Country, “Benevolent Interventions: Greece and Turkey” (Chapter 4, pp.132-160) 
  • Valeria Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions p. 83-87 (on reserve)
  • OPTIONAL: Kamila Shamsie, “The Storytellers of Empire,” in Guernica

Watching assignment:

  • Harvest of Empire (you can stream it through the class online reserve) (based on the book by the same title, it is 1.5 hours long, allot enough time!!) 

Written assignment

  • Add to your beat crash course reading list cultural works produced by people of the communities found in your beats. (For example, if your beat is Caribbean communities in Crown Heights, find work by Caribbean and Caribbean-American playwrights/novelists/film makers etc.) 

**Special guest lecturer Suzy Hansen will be co-teaching this class with me**

This class will explore the roots of American exceptionalism and bias in postwar ideas of modernity, and particularly in the concept of “modernization theory.” Many Americans don’t realize that the vocabulary they use to discuss foreign countries was established for them in the decades just after World War II, when the United States was asserting itself as a world power. Modernization theory was eventually discredited but its impact was enormous. As a result, journalists – even, sometimes, non-American journalists – risk looking at foreign countries within this artificial and antiquated framework. Understanding the history of these ideas, and how they contributed to Americans’ conception of themselves in the world, will help break down assumptions and biases that prevent observers from seeing a foreign country or community on its own terms. 

Reading Assignments:

  • Suzy Hansen, Notes on a Foreign Country, “Money and Military coups: The Arab World and Turkey” (Chapter 5, pp. 161-189)
  • Hemant Shah, The Production of Modernization, pp.1-29 (in shared drive)
  • Michael Hunt, Ideology and US Foreign Policy, pp. 171-198 (in shared drive) 
  • Annabel Jane Wharton,Building the Cold War, Introduction (on reserve)
  • Bruce Cumings, “A Murderous History of Korea,” London Review of Books (on reserve) OPTIONAL

Listening Assignment

Written Assignment:



“Fixers” and translators play an integral role in American overseas reporting. Who are they? What do they do? What power imbalances exist in the relationship between us and them? What ethical concerns are raised? 

Reading Assignments:


Grab the Skinny Pop and let’s watch On Her Shoulders together at 8pm. Here’s how you can watch it:

And then let’s check in together after to process the film together. 

To prepare, here’s my review in The Washington Post of Nadia Murad’s book. Take a look in advance of seeing the film (which is about her), especially if you don’t know anything about Murad and what happened to her people. (You can find a copy in the shared drive as well.) 

This is all in advance of class on Thursday when we will be talking about how trauma (of our subjects or ourselves) factors into our work. Feel free to do this reading —  Johanna E. Foster and Sherizaan Minwalla, “Voices of Yazidi women: Perceptions of journalistic practices in the reporting on ISIS sexual violence,” in Women’s Studies International Forum (PDF also in shared drive) — in advance of watching the movie if you have time. If not, you are still responsible for having it read by Lesson 9. 


Oftentimes, news organizations turn their attention to other countries when those countries are in extreme crisis (and therefore, headline “worthy”). The people living in these moments are often experiencing trauma. What does this mean for how we practice journalism? How do we report without causing added harm? What resources exist? How do we recognize and care for our own trauma as witnesses to distressing events?

We will be joined in the second half of the class by Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

Reading Assignments:


**This class will be taught by guest lecturer Alan Chin**

Photography has always been used as a primary medium to explore, document, and exploit cultures and places other than the photographer’s own. It is no accident that this French and English invention of the 1830s occurred at precisely the same historical moment that France and England were the two great powers then nearing the height of their imperial dominance over the majority of the world. Over these last 180+ years, empires have come and gone. Technology and publication platforms have continued to evolve. The medium has gone from novelty to museum and archival collections, but the way that photographers themselves work has, in some ways, remained remarkably the same: Who gets to make an image? Who is the subject in it? Who gets to see the finished product, and in what contexts? 

This class will give a brief overview of the history of photojournalism, with a focus on “international coverage,” that is: the “foreign;” the “other;” the “unknown.” We will also review how contemporary photographers continue to approach these situations from practical as well as ethical perspectives, and how current practices continue to change rapidly.

Discussion Assignments:


  • Choose an historic image (5 years or older) and write about it — why you chose it, what it means to you, and why you think it’s important.


  • Choose an image dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic and write about it — why you chose it, what it means to you, and why you think it’s important.

Be prepared to lead the workshop of the story you have been assigned. Note the lede and whether it draws the reader in; find the nut graf and evaluate how it correlates to the lede and whether the article delivers on what the nut promises. Note what each graf does and whether the ordering is logical and has smooth transitions. Note the quotes and if they are effectively used. Note the sourcing. 


This is our last class with Hansen’s book. We revisit the question she poses from the beginning with a twist: Who do we — as journalists — become if we don’t become Americans? What does this mean for how we shape our careers in international journalism?

Reading Assignments:

  • Suzy Hansen, Notes on a Foreign Country, “American Dreams: America, Iran, and Turkey” (Chapter 7, pp. 215-238)
  • Suzy Hansen, Notes on a Foreign Country, Epilogue (pp. 239-247) 

Written Assignment:

NONE. Work on Story 2.


So far this semester, we’ve looked at how what is happening in other countries often has something to do with US policies, whether political or economic. What does this mean for how we can frame and report international stories? What can we do reporting wise without ever leaving the US? Andrew Lehren will join us to lecture on the tools available to journalists working on investigations outside of the US and on how to develop international investigative stories. 

Reading Assignments:


Be prepared to lead the workshop of the story you have been assigned. Note the lede and whether it draws the reader in; find the nut graf and evaluate how it correlates to the lede and whether the article delivers on what the nut promises. Note what each graf does and whether the ordering is logical and has smooth transitions. Note the quotes and if they are effectively used. Note the sourcing. 


We’re at the end of our semester, and many of you are about to go abroad (hmm, maybe not). We have another semester together when you get back. But we’ll pause here to review what we did over the last semester, discuss what you want out of your summer, and how to best use the fall. We’ll also take some time to celebrate.


  • Please select and present a song or a music video from either: 
    • your beat,
    • or from your diaspora’s motherland,
    • or from where you are headed this summer. 

Be prepared to share it during class and tell us a bit about it, including why you chose it and what you think it means. Here’s an example from Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila that I will tell you about. (Turn the subtitles on.)