Following an event organized by the Georgetown University Lecture Fund, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs sat down with ABC News foreign correspondent Alexander Marquardt (SFS '04) to discuss his career, his experiences as a journalist, and his thoughts on the present state of journalism.
GJIA: First, could you give some insight about your career and how you got into the field of journalism?
AM: I thought I was going to go into finance like most Georgetown kids, but as I went through the interview process I realized I was lying to myself: I didn’t want to work in finance, and had no passion for it. When I was a sophomore, before the 9/11 attacks, I joined GUTV, where I enjoyed the medium and the people I worked with. When I graduated, I had enough experience to apply to the NBC page program, which is an incredibly tough program to get into, but I knew it was a launching pad for many individuals’ in the media field.
The page program helped me get a job at The Today Show. When the 7/7 bombings in London happened, I witnessed firsthand what happens in a news organization when breaking news hits the air. From that moment, I knew I wanted to be in journalism. I wanted to go international, so I got an agent and joined CNN, where I learned the basics of journalism. I wanted to be a reporter, because I wanted to tell the stories. I then got a job in Moscow, even though it turned out to be a bit boring as it was right after the Obama’s administration’s “reset” with Russia. I had always wanted to go to the Middle East, so when CNN’s Jerusalem office offered me a position, I jumped at it. I convinced the producers to establish a Middle East office after the Arab Spring to better cover the magnitude of the events. And we did, and it’s where I ended up.
GJIA: What have you seen while on the job and on the ground that is not reflected in American media?
AM: I think most things have been reflected — after all, it’s our job. The main problem is getting across the nuance and depth of a story. For example, if you have an attack in Paris, most people will read the headline and scan an article to see how many people died. But rarely do media consumers delve into the depth of a story. For example, it’s difficult to relay why a French citizen got frustrated enough to become radicalized and commit an act of terror.
GJIA: What are the procedures and protocols involved in your reporting?
AM: I go around with a team consisting of a producer, a cameraman, and a fixer, who is generally a local with connections to whomever we are interviewing. We also hire security if it’s an especially dangerous place. We do extensive planning beforehand and file risk assessments with the executives at ABC.
GJIA: Have you ever had to miss out on what you thought was an important story because of security concerns or because of the bureaucracy above you?
AM: Absolutely. There are situations where I want to go certain places, but my editors and my organization — both of which have different, more big-picture concerns — don’t want me to go. For example, the week that Richard Engel from NBC was kidnapped by Sunni militants was the same week that I had wanted to cross through Syria. There was certainly a risk being kidnapped. Ultimately, I didn’t go to Syria, much to my frustration. But at the end of the day, there is mutual trust between me and my bosses, because it’s they who would have relay news to my parents and to the ABC audience should something happen to me.
GJIA: What is the future of journalism, particularly as situations around the globe get more and more dangerous?
AM: At one point, journalists were basically untouchable; reporters used to stick large stickers reading “press” on their flak jackets. Now, those stickers are a bullseye. There are places, like northern Syria, where — even before the rise of ISIS — criminal gangs were kidnapping journalists. An entire industry has grown around kidnapping journalists, because companies and certain countries are happy to pay ransoms. That’s why we try to avoid those types of areas.
GJIA: How do you see social media impacting the future of field reporting?
AM: Our role is certainly evolving. Journalists used to solely file stories for major networks. Now, I’m doing stories over multiple media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. The evolution of media means we must feed all the beasts and difference audiences out there. Our younger audiences will consume stories on social media, while old stalwarts will stick to nightly news. In order to reach all of them, journalists need to be versatile. Eventually, everything’s going to be online. But we don’t know what form it will take, so we are trying many different forms and seeing what works. This is why it’s a particularly exciting time.
Alexander Marquardt is a foreign correspondent reporting for all ABC News broadcasts and platforms from hotspots and front lines around the world. Based in Jerusalem and then Beirut, Marquardt has spent recent years covering the Middle East’s upheaval and the ramifications beyond.