Credit: Flickr: Kenneth Lu

If you have been scouring the job market for your dream role and have yet to find it, your thoughts might have turned to the multitude of editorial jobs available overseas.

Whether it is for a big newswire such as Bloomberg, Reuters or Dow Jones – who recruit worldwide – or an English-language broadcaster or publication in a far-flung country, the opportunities are there and the jobs market is global. But where do you start? spoke to five people who have made the move, to ask them how they got the job, what tips they would give others, and how to prepare for life as a journalist abroad.

Why do it?

There can be many reasons why a journalist would want to change scenery. It could be for family reasons or a company transfer. In the case of Francesco Zaffarano, social media editor, The Telegraph, he came from Italy to the UK in 2018 in search of innovation in journalism.

Having worked for major Italian newspapers, la Repubblica and la Stampa, he grew frustrated with being introduced as the 'first hire from the 90s' and getting pushback to take the titles into new directions. An English-speaking market would give him the opportunity he needed, he felt.

"What I thought was interesting was not seen as a priority," he explained.

Since coming to the UK, he has found titles which have matched his aspirations and embraced strategies around Instagram and TikTok, for example.

It was the other way around for visual journalist, DJ Clark, who now works for China Daily, an English-speaking news organisation based in Hong Kong. He moved to China 15 years ago to teach multimedia journalism and has been in Hong Kong for the last five.

But he has always been interested in foreign affairs, with 30 years of experience in freelance journalism, reporting from the West Bank in Gaza and a year in the US.

The competition for these types of assignments, he said, is considerably less because success depends on strength of contacts and willingness to travel. He reached a point where he could complete five and 12 major assignments a year.

So, here are our interviewees' top tips on how to succeed in a journalism job abroad.

Understand how the industry ticks

When Dan McGarvey, a British journalist, was hired by CBC Calgary in Canada in 2007, he had already taken a year out to absorb the culture and the contacts.

He moved there for family reasons but took the decision not to rush into the local journalism industry. Instead, he soaked up hours of Canadian TV and radio and started to familiarise himself with routes he could go through as a journalist to find stories.

"I got to know what makes the city tick, what drives the economy, who the reporters and news organisations were here, along with building a good sense of the country’s history, politics, culture, society and economy," he explained.

Develop and retain contacts - not all jobs are advertised

Contacts, as he alluded to, are also key to securing your next potential employer. Where do you find them? Networking events and university are two possibilities.

Marie Segger, data journalist for The Economist moved from Germany to the UK to do a masters degree in data journalism. She found the course and the contacts the ideal keys to secure her place alongside a strong portfolio of work, university projects and internships. But it is also important not to lose touch with former co-workers too.

"I think the most important thing you can do in this industry, especially in my niche which is data journalism — in both countries — is to establish and maintain really good contacts to former editors and colleagues and future ones from reporting trips, conferences or anything else," Segger said.

Be culturally aware

It can be a massive culture shock to change your surroundings. You can imagine the shock McGarvey had from doing vox-pops in Middlesbrough town centre to interviewing a local band Chief in Canada. This transition was made easier by taking time to absorb the surroundings.

This was slightly easier for Nigerian-born journalist Stephanie Busari, who heads up CNN’s Nigeria bureau. She was transferred from London where she had spent eight years, to Lagos in mid-2016 to oversees CNN’s digital operations in the region.

While she had a network of contacts to call on upon arrival, she said journalists attempting to do the same without the luxury should visit for at least two or three weeks before trying to work on any stories.

"You must attempt to be culturally aware, so that you don’t appear arrogant or unwilling to adapt," Busari explained.

"Working in a place like Nigeria, you must also be willing to sacrifice a level of comfort and roll with the punches. In a developing country, many things you take for granted are simply not in place, so you need to be flexible and go with the flow,” she explained.

Do not expect lightning-fast responses

Particularly if you are heading into a developing country, Busari added that you should leave your expectations at home. Routine inquiries to, for example, authorities and governmental bodies will take much longer to materialise.

“Often only one person that can give a comment because they are the most senior and no-one else has been authorised to speak in their absence. It can be frustrating but I have learned to be patient. You definitely need a lot of patience to work as a journalist here," she said.

Caution: press freedom restrictions

You also want to avoid hastily jumping into a new country with tighter press freedom; the prime example being China.

Clark said that a minimum requirement to work as a journalist would be a year of settling in before you can expect any form of access as a journalist. Having a journalist (J1) visa is critical to getting legal stories, as without it, the journalist would put themselves in serious danger.

Journalists can expect to face tougher restrictions in metropolitan areas, like Beijing, and should expect to sign disclaimers when presented. In Hong Kong, where he currently works, there is considerably less press restriction.

Busari added that working for a major broadcaster like CNN can also draw a lot of attention to you as a journalist when working abroad, so you should be mindful about the security aspects of that.

Learning the local language

Even if you are working for an English-speaking newspaper, as Clark does, it pays to learn the local language, embed yourself in the culture and then slowly work on small stories and scale up as you build contacts.

“You need a good fixer and a good translator. If you come to China for a one-off story, you will find it very difficult to get access.

“Come and spend a year here, then slowly put the feelers out - that’s the only way to get stories in China.”

Accents and jargon

Even if you share the same language in your new country, you can expect to get tripped up over pronunciations in your script, language discrepancies and finding out your accent sounds foreign.

This is what McGarvey found when he swapped the UK for Canada, and had to learn the new terms and find a rhythm in his news bulletins.

But if your working language is not your mother tongue, you are bound to get tripped up on new terminology.

'Jump cut' is a basic term often used in video editing, but a new one for Zaffarano when he started to work in the UK.

This is where studying journalism abroad can help to introduce you to these terms, but often it is a case of asking co-workers to explain what they mean by 'B-roll', 'opacity' or any other jargon.

Contributing in editorial meetings

It is a regular source of frustration when trying to convey a creative strategy and lacking the right words, Zaffarano adds. It can limit your contributions in news meetings too, but he urged people not to hold back their ideas in these moments.

"Care less," he said. "When you have a meeting and 10 people are looking at you when you speak, you feel like [you are under pressure].

"But if they don’t understand, they can just ask you to explain what you mean - that’s fine."

Note: This story is an updated version of an article originally published on 17 October 2014 by Paul McNally

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