In ‘Into the Field’ a Veteran Foreign Correspondent Tells His Own Story

By David Brown and Trace LevosOctober 2, 2014 4:29 pm

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through technology, the need for international news has steadily increased. But America’s appetite for foreign journalism has never been that large.

Many traditional news outlets have cut down on foreign correspondents, which makes author and professor Tracy Dahlby an increasingly rare subspecies of journalist. Dahlby’s memoir, “Into the Field: A Foreign Correspondent’s Notebook,” provides a remarkable look at his vast experiences in Asia and the transformation of media that’s still on the way.

Dahlby first got the itch to go abroad while still in college.

“I was an undergraduate at the University of Washington trying to study a little bit of Asian history,” Dahlby says. “I had really never been anywhere or done anything. … I think I say in the book, ‘The world was burning with action and energy and I wasn’t close enough to toast a marshmallow.’”

After listening to a radio report about the Cultural Revolution in China, Dahlby realized that becoming a foreign correspondent would be his calling.

“I heard the voice of the ‘unseen observer’, and it really clicked at that point,” Dahlby says. “I thought that it’s not only knowing about China or Japan or Korea, but it’s really about that person out there road-testing the theories that really gives you something that, in the end, holds water.”

Despite the recent reports of the dangers faced by international journalists, the seasoned correspondent said that facing perils has always been part of the job.

“I think there’s always been a risk there,” Dahlby says. “The advantage that I had was going to work for a big news organization where you would learn from other reporters … Most of the British editors that I worked for had been in World War II.”

“One of the issues might be that, with the decline of the newsroom, you have a lot of people going out as freelancers and they don’t benefit from the kind of resources that we did that made sure that you kind of knew what the rules of the road were.”

Dahlby, who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin, is confident about the future of international journalism, thanks to the experiences he’s had with his students. They are currently reporting in various spots around the globe, from China to Brazil.

Reporters like them are who Dahlby thinks are critical to continue feeding information to the world.

“The danger is that we think we know something when we don’t,” Dahlby says. “In many cases, still, I think you need to parachute in, get your boots on the ground and really figure out what’s going on.”