Laura Postma's PhD



In this blog I will share insights from my research process that are either inspiring, surprising, fun or just interesting. These could be quotes from academic articles or qualitative interviews, or thoughts on specific elements of the methodological trajectory. No literal sections of the dissertation will be copied or posted and all quotes are with the correct references.

Let’s talk about fixers

Fixers are essential to foreign reporting and to foreign correspondents in many parts of the world. Yet, they hardly ever appear in the credit lines and their work and contribution remain mainly anonymous.

As a freelance journalist and foreign correspondent working in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, I also often worked as a so-called ‘fixer’ for Dutch television. In their academic article, Kotisová and Deuze define fixers as “locals who assist or collaborate with foreign correspondents in making news while playing three major main roles: as logisticians, editors, and cultural translators.”

In the context of existing hierarchy in journalism and, as Kotisová and Deuze found in their literature review, in the sphere of dominant Western journalism standards, a fixer is often considered ‘lesser’ than the editor or foreign correspondent. However, in a world that is divided in important and less important countries (see my blog post about the World System Theory), fixers are essential mainly in countries where no correspondents are permanently stationed, or even more so in areas of conflict. Two illustrative quotes from the article:

“The power to construct social reality, and to communicate transcultural spheres is ultimately in the hands of the foreign correspondent and is inherently linked to their role. (…) Fixers lend the journalists their own eyes and ears, and most information that the journalists receive passes through fixers.”

In other words, fixers are not just ‘fixing’ something. They are often (local) journalists, and work as researchers, producers and translators at the same time. They are there to give the foreign correspondent, and therefore the audience abroad, a better understanding of their part of the world.

Is Global Journalism a myth?

Global journalism as a specific type of journalism seems the logical consequence of globalization in general. But does global journalism actually exist?

What is global journalism exactly? One clear definition that all scholars agree on, does not exist. One could say global journalism can be interpreted as a way of covering the news that addresses ‘ever-more complex relations between peoples, places and practices’ (Berglez, 2008). A type of journalism that looks beyond national interests and borders and covers the world for a global audience. But is it possible to practice journalism specifically for a global audience? Even with international news and reporting, journalism remains mainly ‘homeland-oriented’. News from abroad is being covered for the audience in the home country. On top of that, a global audience is quite intangible. It could be everybody and no one at the same time.

Scholars have over the years tried to grasp the concept of global journalism, define it or have even tossed it completely. A main argument that many seem to agree over, is the fact that global journalism is, or at least should be, a natural consequence of globalization. The theory sounds plausible, but research has shown is it very hard to prove it. In analyzing news articles for example, when can an article be defined as global journalism?

Therefore, as for now, global journalism seems to be an interesting part of the bigger debate on international news and foreign reporting, but it is also the most difficult one to pin down. Global journalism might never be fully empirically defined, and might just always stay a myth.

The power of language

Language is an important general factor in journalism, and one way to analyze news values is through language.

According to researchers Monika Bednarek and Helen Caple (2014), news values do not appear naturally, but are actually more ideological. They argue that news values are mainly socially and culturally constructed through discourse (Bednarek & Caple, 2014). It is therefore possible to use linguistic techniques to identify the newsworthiness around a specific topic:

“A systematic linguistic analysis can tell us what kind of discursive devices are repeatedly used in, say, the British press, to construct different news values and to perpetuate the ideology of newsworthiness in itself – namely, that negativity is interesting, that elite people are worth listening to, that what is near to us is more important than what is far from us, and so on.”

Shout-out to foreign correspondents

This post is a small shout-out to foreign correspondents all around the world who would like to participate in the qualitative research part of my PhD.

An important part of my dissertation, in the methodological section, will be qualitative interviews with foreign correspondents. As I am now getting closer to finishing my literature review, the next step will be to talk to foreign correspondents about how they see their professional role and how they relate to news values.

The goal is to talk to as many correspondents as possible, to get firm and clear results. The more diverse the group in terms of location, employer (or freelance), gender, background and so on, the better. So if you are a foreign correspondent and would like to contribute to academic research about your profession, please contact me through this website.

The World System Theory as a meta news criterium

An interesting conceptual approach in identifying the determinants that may affect the structure and process of foreign and international news flow and coverage was created by Tsan-Kuo Chang in 1998.

Chang took the world system theory as a starting point for his case study on how press agency Reuters covered the WTO Conference of 1996 in Singapore. The world system theory suggests a hierarchy among countries, divided by the so-called ‘core countries’, ‘semi-periphery’ and ‘periphery’. It is believed that the status of each country is “considered an important factor in shaping the content direction, and volume of traffic of news, entertainment, and information from country to country, especially between developed and developing nations” (Chang, 1998). Meaning that some countries are simply considered more important than others.

The world system theory as an important determinant of international news coverage is an interesting one. It can be seen as a meta news criterium, under which other news values, such as (but not only) drama, conflict and cultural proximity fall. Therefore this article is considered an essential part of my literature study. Chang’s conclusion:

“All countries are not created equal to be news in international communication. For those countries in the core zone of the world system, their chances of being in the news are higher than those in the semiperipheral and peripheral strata. Nations in the other two zones will have to go through several filters before they make it to the news.”

The essence of why international news is important

In my literature study on international reporting, foreign correspondence and news values, I came across an article by Professor H. Denis Wu.

In 1998 he wrote one of the leading academic articles on the determinants of international news flow and his findings are still relevant today. This citation from the article summarizes the essence of why international news is important:

“International news has become increasingly important as the world gets smaller and international affairs tend to engage lots of dissimilar citizens from various countries. This daily, if not the only, source of knowledge about other countries can be expected to have a tremendous impact on how we comprehend the world and communicate with people of different nationalities.”