While the opportunities for media houses to send journalists abroad have been shrinking, the ability of journalists to cover issues taking place on the other side of the world has been greatly increased thanks to recent advances in communication technologies. In fact, most coverage on global issues is now done from behind a desk. Fortunately, it is possible to produce high quality coverage on global issues, including migration, from this setting. All it requires is a fresh approach and a shift in perspective.
Most journalists, especially in countries where the media has limited financial resources, have relatively few opportunities to go into the field, especially abroad. But in reality, these restrictions might not be as important as they sound.
This is the way things stand, at least for now, and by and large journalists have been able to adapt. In fact, the vast majority of all coverage on development and global issues, including migration, is done from behind a desk – if it happens at all.
And sometimes even a small shift in your approach can bring change, not to mention the continued development of technologies that enable us to communicate with the rest of the world in a way that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
If whole communities of migrants can live in a transnational world, who else if not journalists should be able to adapt to this new arena of globalized information and learn how to use it effectively to enhance their own work?
Of course, journalists might need to overcome certain instinctive perceptions of borders, international space and other conventional ways of fragmenting the world (evident in the traditional division between domestic versus foreign news). They might need to work on developing their global imagination. But it is possible. While opportunities to travel shrink, the opportunities for journalists to cover world issues from behind their desk are improving rapidly.
Once you have overcome the established habits that prevent us from seeing past borders, you won’t see much difference between writing a story on migration patterns in a remote region in your country or on the very same processes within West Africa. And, with proper research and engagement with local voices through email, mobile phone, Skype or other technologies, you would not necessarily need to go to either of these places to present a picture to your audience of the situation on the ground.
This sort of ‘remote coverage’ is not without its potential pitfalls, and it’s important to make sure that any gaps in our knowledge aren’t filled with simplified narratives. This can happen, for instance, when journalists rely too much on institutional resources and generic agency news coverage that focuses narrowly on either large politics or on sensationalist issues, offering simplified pictures built on security discourse and framing of issues such as corruption, terrorism or criminality without examining the nuances.
But if certain rules and advice are followed, this sort of coverage can still be balanced and accurate enough to widen the global imagination of your audience. And it is important to recognize too that journalism depends on attitude and perspective as well as physical proximity – there are plenty of examples of Western journalism produced ‘in the field’ that nevertheless falls victim to many biases and assumptions about developing country contexts.
With commitment and humility, however, quality coverage of issues and events related to migration can be produced from behind a desk – regardless of whether that desk is located in Sofia, London, Nairobi or Buenos Aires.