A Letter to The International

In Pittsburgh, Uncategorized on July 27, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Random Pittsburgh 012

NOTE: Last week, I applied for a position at The International, a professional-looking online newspaper headquartered in Canada. The position was “North American Journalist.” The day after I sent my query, The International sent me instructions for application: I was to write three essays and a sample article (the subject was “Assessment #523-14502-2039”). Their full e-mail is available below (under “more”). This letter was my response.


Dear Editors,

I recently applied to become a North American correspondent for The International. Now that I have received material from your human resources department, I have chosen not to pursue this position. The reason is this: You will never find the writer you want. Whomever you’re looking for, this writer does not exist.

Your HR department asked for three essays, answering three different questions. In brief: (1) How will we report for an international audience? (2) How will we report different perspectives? (3) How will we report first-hand observations and still maintain objectivity?

These questions are too banal to bother answering. It’s like asking a fire-fighter why putting out fires is important. It’s insulting, after 10 prodigious years, to be asked about bias and readership comprehension. All this suggests that you are looking for very green rookies, not hard-core investigative reporters.

That said, your HR team also requests a 2,000 to 2,500-word article on a story about “conflict.” To begin with, your armed conflicts must be “ongoing” and incur “1000+ deaths per year,” a measurement so shocking and arbitrary that I wonder what you would say to victims of short-term, <999-death conflicts. That aside, do you really expect serious journalists to compose a 2,000-word investigative feature — the equivalent of front-page, Seymour Hersh-style journalism — FOR FREE? And if this audition piece is worthy, are we to expect that you’ll abstain from publishing it, since there was no previous contract?

Even if I did answer your ridiculous questions and expose some Burmese war criminal or octogenarian Nazi fugitive, do you really think I’d waste my talents for CAN $30 per article? Since it would take at least a week to meet your golden standards, are you really paying your Woodwards and Bernsteins $120 per month — hardly enough to buy them cheap lunches, much less pay their mortgages?

The International has a fine layout and seemingly well-produced reportage — but how did this come to pass? What your little start-up needs is millionaire journalists, people who don’t need a living wage, because they’re independently wealthy. And instead of monitoring their vast wealth and fucking supermodels, they want to write for a tiny Canadian online newspaper, churning out the finest news fit to digitally print. What you need, in short, is Charles Foster Kane, who thought it would be fun to run a newspaper.

You are living a pipe-dream, and you have lost another fine applicant. You’re not the first — there are thousands of little Internet papers trying to make their way. But you are ruining journalistic standards, not re-building them. If you even read this — which I naturally doubt — I hope you will reconsider your business model. It’s upside-down, and soon, thanks to publications like yours, so will all the media. Good night, and good luck.


Robert Isenberg
Freelance Writer

Initial Letter from The International
Dear Robert,

Thank you for your interest in The International.

We are glad to let you know that you have been selected for an assessment
of your qualifications for the position of Journalist. You are asked to
answer three general questions and write one article.

Entrance at The International is highly competitive. Sometimes, there are
thousands of applications for only one vacancy. If you are selected, you
will receive CAD $30 per article and be required to write one article per

I. Answer the following questions and provide concrete examples:

1. How will you hold people and organisations that contribute to conflict
accountable and not fuel the conflict yourself by taking position?

2. How will you further the understanding of reasons behind belligerents’
actions and not normalise these actions?

3. How will you show the negative effects of conflict on people and not
resort to sensationalism?

II. Write one article in compliance with our editorial policy:

Journalistic standards

First and foremost, your article must be objective. If the goal is to help
achieve more peace, then all sides must be treated equally. It shall not be
sensed that there is an opinion behind the article.

The body of your article must be the following:

1. International understanding: First, one sentence that briefly explains
the event in a way that any international audience will understand. (e.g.
If you are writing about something happening in China, think about the
person in South Africa who reads your article.) Then, one (or more)
paragraph(s) explaining the event, again in a way that someone from any
culture would understand.

2. Different perspectives: Explain the different views on the event you are
covering. The point of this section is not to throw an unmanageable number
of facts at the reader, but to help him/her understand what is going on.
Put yourself in the mind of a reader: “These people don’t agree with those
people. How come? What happened? Why are these people angry?” You must
answer these questions. Be careful not to fall into the trap of reporting
everything as conflicts and debates. After all, peace is agreement, and not
endless debate. Discuss the differences of opinion, but make sure to give
good importance to the similarities of opinion. Where can the people of all
sides join and find a point of agreement?

3. Personalisation: Include a good quality testimony from a witness of the
event. It must be devoid of hatred, stereotypes, and must portray how the
event directly affects people. The testimony can come from your interview
with the person or from your research. If you are covering a conflict, you
must include a testimony from people in each of the sides involved.

4. Short history: Is there something deeper to the event currently being
covered? Has this been going on for a while? (e.g. The roots of the
Arab-Israeli conflict come from decades ago. The roots of the economic
come from decisions made years ago.) Again, make sure not to create
a debate where there is none; different perspectives must be explained for
the sole purpose of helping understanding. This section could get quite
long, and so your task is to keep it short yet very informative.

5. Solutions: When reporting about conflict, crisis, or poverty, what are
the possible short term fixes that can resolve the problem quickly
(peacemaking)? And then, what are the long-term solutions suggested
(peacebuilding)? In discussing these, you must be very careful, because
this is often where it gets political. Only report the different experts’
views on the question. Then, report what has been done before. Has it
worked? Why or why not? Focus on the fact that there are solutions that can
and do work.

Please also read and understand the mandate of the journal:


Your article must raise awareness about one of the following topics:

Politics: Ongoing conflicts with 1000+ deaths per year, as listed at
Commerce: Topics listed at
and (targets 1, 2, 3, and
Environment: Topics listed
Health: Topics listed
and (target 4).
Culture: Suggestions needed. Nothing can be published under this section
for now.
Rights: Topics listed at

In addition, you may cover stories listed
at If you want to
suggest additions to the list of authorised topics, please send an email to
the Editing department at

The length of your article must be between 2,000 and 2,500 words. You must
also include a photo; sources for non-copyrighted images include government
websites, Wikipedia, and Flickr. Send us the link to the photo you intend
to use.

You are prohibited from using participatory encyclopedias or news websites
for fact-checking. In order to get the big picture about an issue, you are
encouraged to visit your local library and consult Encyclopaedia Britannica
or other peer-reviewed scholarly sources. For up-to-date information, you
should consult the websites of serious NGOs and news outlets.

III. Please respect the following procedures:

You have until July 28th to reply with your completed assessment. Include
your article in the body of the email along with your answers to the
questions (emails with attachments are automatically deleted). Assessment
articles are not published or remunerated because they are for selection
purposes only.

Please also join our Facebook Page and invite your friends:

If you have any questions, let us know!

Thank you,

Human Resources
The International


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: