How to Become an Expert in Foreign News?
September 14, 2014 2:53 PM   Subscribe

I have been offered a somewhat prestigious job in foreign news. I have been working in other areas of journalism for the last decade, but am not particularly well versed in international news. So I am looking to bone up on, basically, the entire history of the world, all of its current political leaders/conflicts, geography, current expert thinkers/critics on regional international questions. Aside from getting a world map shower curtain, what else should I be doing?

Hello Collective Internet Brain! Thank you for your help.

I will obviously be consuming a lot of traditional journalism to prepare, so I don't need a suggestion to listen to the BBC. But I would love your suggestions on other excellent background materials. For example:

— What books should I read as good regional primers for specific areas?
— What podcasts/documentaries should I queue up on my playlists?
— What international radio or television shows should I be watching?
— What unexpected blogs/social media accounts should I be following?
— What little hacks can I build into my day (like the shower curtain) to stay smart?

Thank you!
posted by amoeba to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I have this neat little book, the Atlas of World Affairs. I haven't read it, but it looks like something you might find useful and it's short. It's obviously out of date, but so much of this stuff has so long a backhistory, that getting that backhistory in a short book is a good idea.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:07 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

This question is insanely broad! I'd recommend subscribing to the Foreign Policy Morning Brief newsletter and the Economist's Week Ahead podcast. Do a little research on each story that is featured.
posted by bimbam at 3:15 PM on September 14, 2014

To get a survey of the issues, I'd go back and read the 2-3 page "The World This Week" section in the Economist. Start 10 years ago and read every one up to today - it won't take you that long, and will give you a good foundation for identifying what you know and where you need to spend more time getting smart.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:15 PM on September 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Might be too obvious, but Global Voices.
posted by wintersweet at 3:15 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

In terms of podcasts, the international hour of Diane Rehm's weekly Friday News Roundup is excellent. It's basically a roundtable where three or four journalists discuss the week's most important international news stories.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 3:15 PM on September 14, 2014

Maybe read one BBC country profile a day? These are handy, short guides that summarize each country's recent political situation.
posted by shivohum at 3:27 PM on September 14, 2014

In addition to the other suggestions here, start reading The Economist.
posted by nightrecordings at 3:38 PM on September 14, 2014

I find Vox Cards to be well-done. I spent an afternoon with the one on the Israel/Palestine conflict, and after a lifetime of having no idea what was going on, I now have a (very) basic understanding of the history.
posted by jbickers at 4:16 PM on September 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Constant exposure to international news feeds will get you up to speed on the small stuff pretty quickly, but be prepared to do research on the fly to fill in any unexpected gaps. I remember coming back to the international desk from a months-long secondment on a local story, and finding that suddenly none of the news coming out of Papua New Guinea made sense. Turns out, there'd been an election while I was gone and I had completely missed it. That feeling of "huh, that's weird" is a good sign that you have probably missed something.

Resources that I found helpful:

Pew Global has loads of data on what people in different countries think and believe, which is helpful for putting news events in their cultural and social contexts. So, Country A is headed toward democracy…how are the people likely to vote? Pew can probably tell you.

The CIA World Fact Book. Good for looking up demographic data and getting potted histories of individual nations. Obviously it approaches the world from a US-centric perspective, but it's still useful if you read between the lines.

Voice of America Pronunciation Guide. Even if you don't work in broadcast, it's nice to be able to check pronunciations so you don't embarrass yourself when speaking to colleagues or sources.

Every Time Zone. A world clock that doen't suck. Not really a route to becoming an expert, but certainly a useful thing when you're calling people all over the world.
posted by embrangled at 4:50 PM on September 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For world history I recommend John Green's Crash Course series on YouTube. It's concise, funny and will provide you with a good overview that will give you a framework for more specific topical research. I love historical atlases too :)
posted by feets at 7:51 PM on September 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: - The Department of State daily press briefings show what topics are of most interest to your peers right now, maybe a good start.
- I actually like the free Stratfor email newsletter - it does a good job of analyzing what's going on in different parts of the world, and is a great start to doing more research on issues of interest.
- If you are not using an RSS reader, you should be - headlines from a curated list of RSS feeds is the best, fastest way to get an overview of what's happening on any given topic. As you identify sources of useful info, add them to your reader, then tweak. will allow you to create RSS feeds for sites that don't offer them. I use Feedly for an RSS reader.
posted by gemmy at 8:12 PM on September 14, 2014

Best answer: A friend of mind follows a bunch of foreign newspapers' front pages from newseum.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:12 PM on September 14, 2014

The shower curtain is a good idea. Also take the time to learn the capitals of all those foreign countries.
posted by lester at 8:24 PM on September 14, 2014

Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service has a class called Map of the Modern World that teaches exactly this. Maybe try to find out what materials they're using to go with the class these days (in the past, there was a book called 'Geography' that was prepared/published specifically for this class).
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:17 PM on September 14, 2014

For basic memorisation, Anki cards are good. Making the cards yourself helps greatly. The Guardian Weekly is a deeper look into international news than most dailies.
posted by kjs4 at 10:16 PM on September 14, 2014

Best answer: I got through a slow period of work at one point by adding daily geography quizzes to my day. Very fun and effective (particularly the world capitals one -- can't remember which of the sites had it, but it included pronunciation recordings).

Also - Bob Harris's Who Hates Whom gets recommended on the green a lot for good reason. Slightly out date, but still a very quick engaging read on current conflicts.
posted by susanvance at 6:39 AM on September 15, 2014

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