Last week, CBC journalists Susan Ormiston, Corinne Seminoff and Jean-Francois Bisson made the 12-hour trek to CBC’s new pocket bureau in Moscow, Russia, where they’ll spend the next three months documenting the transformation of Russian society under Vladimir Putin’s leadership.
“Moscow is a place we haven’t been for many years,” says CBC managing editor Greg Reaume. “It’s a region that’s under-reported, given its growing influence and Putin’s willingness to be active in the world well beyond Russia’s borders.” He adds that some of these problems are extremely complex—like Russia becoming more involved in partnerships with Canada and the U.S. to contain ISIS and Putin’s aggressive response to foreign policy. “It’s of interest and importance to Canadian audiences,” he says. “We hope this will be an opportunity to address some of those issues.”
Permanent foreign bureaus once held a prominent place in broadcast journalism; high operating costs have made many disappear from the map. To maintain a presence in faraway lands where news is breaking, organizations are now looking to pop-up bureaus as a solution to fit the ever-changing news agenda.
“I think it’s the next best thing to having a permanent presence in a foreign country,” wrote Seminoff in an email to the RRJ. “But we’ve barely been here a week, and I already feel we will never get it all done. We just won’t have the time to do all the stories I’d like to do.” Still, Seminoff says that pop-up bureaus are a better alternative to no coverage or trying to report from home through agency material and Skype interviews. “We are very grateful that we can still do journalism the way it should be done, through our own eyes and with our own knowledge.”
CBC has less than half the number of full-time overseas bureaus it did 10 years ago (the Moscow bureau used to be a permanent one), but it’s been able to compensate through temporary set-ups in Hong Kong, Cairo, Berlin and Ghana. An emphasis on mobility has become a lot more important for foreign reporting, but pop-up bureaus don’t have the capacity to meet the long-term benefits of a full-time foreign placement.
Part of the problem is money. “We’re finding opportunities to do some really meaningful reporting while not incurring the extremely heavy cost of permanently locating somewhere where the news agenda may well wax and wane,” says Reaume. According to a report by communications strategist and former CBC reporter Dan Halton, “International News in the North American Media,” operating costs can hover around one million dollars for a major television station.
In 2014, BBC launched a mobile bureau in the U.S. as part of an experimental project. The travelling bureau—a red SUV filled with camera equipment and a small team of BBC video journalists—relocated to a different American city each month to produce content for the global news services. One year later, in 2015, BBC Pop Up came to Canada to film a documentary series in Yellowknife.
To keep up with shifting news priorities, CBC is looking for other ways to expand its global footprint, says Reaume. With the summer Olympic Games on the radar, Rio de Janeiro will likely be the next bureau to pop up on the map.
This is an updated version of the story, which includes a quote from Corinne Seminoff.