Parachute journalism and why I’m obsessed

By Beatriz Silva

I wanted to be many different things as I grew up. But something that I was mesmerised by from a young age was the idea of becoming a foreign correspondent. There was something about the job that seemed to fulfil many of my deepest longings and address my anxieties, one of them being the fear of life being too short to see the whole world. The idea of traveling from place to place and meeting different people from around the world all the time was alluring. It was as if I would get to do many jobs at once throughout my life whilst bringing attention to real issues and holding leading political figures accountable for their actions. Being a foreign correspondent was a job for the brave, and I thought I had just the right amount of reckless disposition to danger. Admitting that I once felt this way truly makes me cringe, and is slightly embarrassing. 

For the past couple of years, and in recent months, my perception of the job of a foreign correspondent has changed dramatically. LSE and the people I’ve met here have led me to question whether this job is useful, if not potentially harmful to the local communities from which foreign journalists report. I became obsessed with this issue this August when US troops left Afghanistan. The reporting by major Western news outlets was mostly praised on social media by prominent journalists and audiences in general. What we were praising is the usual set-up of parachute journalism: when an award-winning, white (and preferably good-looking) journalist is sent to a country to report on whatever terrifying situation is unfolding, and manages to dehumanise even more people of that country by centering the events taking place around them, rather than lifting the voices of ordinary people. This shocks me every time. The job of a journalist is to inform, not to exploit human suffering for personal gain. I have come to realise that even the idea of being a foreign correspondent is part of the Western imaginary, and of a white saviour complex that continues to creep in in unsettling ways. We Western audiences have also come to unconsciously adhere to a notion that the story can only be told by Western media because it is the only neutral source of information, as if good journalism doesn’t exist anywhere else.

I was conflicted about this topic over the summer. At one point I deleted Twitter so that I would stop thinking about parachute journalism at once. Sometimes I felt like I was going crazy because no one else seemed to be uncomfortable in the least by this type of reporting. I would tell myself, ‘Why do you always have to criticize everything? Calm down Beatriz’. But as weeks passed, I continued to think about this often. I once wanted to do a job that I now despise and I am starting to believe that foreign journalists are egomaniacs. Sure, nothing is black and white, and I don’t mean to say that this profession shouldn’t exist or that there aren’t good foreign correspondents out there. I am simply constantly enveloped by a sense that some serious reflection has to be made about how to decolonise the job, without wanting to overuse the term. Because if what we have been seeing on social media and television is what journalism is all about, then I guess I don’t want to be a journalist.


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