December 31, 2007

Bureaus and freelancers: Imporant to news coverage

December 31, 2007
Most Networks Scrambled to Get People to Pakistan After Killing


ABC and CNN were the only American television networks that had full-time employees in Pakistan when Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, was assassinated Thursday.

The significant time lag between her death and the arrival of Western correspondents forced the networks to hustle and improvise. NBC, MSNBC and Fox News Channel relied on phone reports from freelance journalists in Pakistan.

These freelancers, commonly called stringers, are local journalists who live in far-flung cities and are kept on retainer by news organizations.

CNN was the only network based in the United States that had a full-time producer at the site of Ms. Bhutto’s rally on Thursday. The producer, Mohsin Naqvi, spoke with the opposition leader hours before the attack and provided reports on CNN by phone throughout the day. CNN sent its anchor, Anderson Cooper, to Pakistan so he could do his nightly show from there on Friday.

Twelve hours after the attack, the NBC and CBS evening newscasts led with reports from correspondents in Washington and London. ABC led with a report from its full-time producer in Islamabad, Pakistan. By Friday morning, each network had at least one correspondent in the country.

Despite the continuing war in Afghanistan and the unrest in Pakistan, no United States television network other than CNN maintains a permanent bureau in either country. This is partly because it is so difficult and dangerous to keep employees in volatile parts of the world, but it is also a reflection of budget cutbacks, which led the networks to close many foreign bureaus in the 1990s.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks reversed some of those cutbacks, but since 2003, most networks have had to devote their international budgets to covering the Iraq war, said Andrew Tyndall, publisher of a newsletter that tracks evening newscasts. His data indicates that after Iraq, the biggest overseas stories on network news in 2007 emanated from Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.

Among the broadcast networks, “they don’t have permanent bureaus in any of them,” he said. BRIAN STELTER

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