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When financial pressures mean news organisations are forced to make cuts, foreign bureaus and correspondents are often some of the first to go.

As a former senior correspondent for Reuters in Afghanistan, Amie Ferris-Rotman has seen many news outlets shutter their bureaus over the last few years.

And as a result, newsrooms are increasingly reliant on freelance foreign correspondents, many of whom take enormous risks in return for relatively little pay.

"Just finding adequately paid staffers abroad is becoming more and more rare", said Ferris-Rotman, speaking at the launch of the latest Index on Censorship magazine on the future of journalism.

"I saw this myself when I worked in Kabul where – as the story calmed down and also as bureaus and news outlets haemorrhaged money – they slashed the number of foreign correspondents.

"Bureaus were shutting down and people were disappearing, and this was in 2012."

The more prestigious the outlet, the less they payAmie Ferris-Rotman, former Reuters correspondent
Ferris-Rotman, a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University, explained the impact theses cuts were having on international coverage in the media.

She pointed to Pew Research Centre's 2014 State of the News Media report, which found the number of foreign correspondents working for US newspapers had dropped by almost a quarter in the last decade, from 307 in 2003 to 234 in 2011.

With news outlets turning to freelancers to fill the gap, Ferris-Rotman noted that the increasingly crowded market for overseas stringers means it is difficult for many journalists to make a living.

"We're seeing freelancers, lots and lots of freelancers around the world, competing with each other for the better stories, the better jobs, the more prestigious outlets," she said. "And the more prestigious the outlet, the less they pay."

"As one freelance photographer who works in Afghanistan recently told me, he had put together all of his earnings from last month and he realised he'd be better off, hour-for-hour, working at Walmart."

News outlets have a responsibility to the freelancers they use for foreign reporting, she said, many of whom are not only working for less money and less job security than staff journalists, but who are also at greater risk of getting killed.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based press freedom lobby group, Syria is now the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, with 61 journalists abducted and 21 killed in the country in 2013.

This is perhaps most visibly demonstrated by the murder of American journalist James Foley, a stringer for Agence France-Presse (AFP) and GlobalPost, captured in Syria in 2012 and executed this August.

Following Foley's death, AFP's global news director Michèle Léridon issued a manifesto for the agency, stating that it would "no longer accept work from freelance journalists who travel to places where we ourselves would not venture"'

Ferris-Rotman hailed the manifesto as "a very brave move" and encouraged other news outlets to follow suit.

Yet she added that news outlets should be investing in training reporters local to the areas they are covering, noting that they are cheaper to hire and "often produce better stories, simply because they know their countries better".

Looking to the future, she pointed out that news outlets are currently "in transition", with digital-only outlets such as BuzzFeed and Vice News picking up the baton for foreign reporting. However, financing remains an issue, she said.

And finding a successful model for foreign reporting was essential to ensuring audiences were able to get "the full picture" of news and current events around the world.

"If something dramatic does not happen, if we do not change it, I think the world will suffer enormously... as a world we're going to be less and less informed."

Update: This article has been updated to show this was an event organised by the Index of Censorship to mark the publication of their latest magazine on the future of journalism.

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