Foreign Press Center Celebrates 70 Years of Supporting Media and Sharing U.S. Values

It was just past midnight on November 9, and there I stood in the middle of Times Square in New York City, among hundreds of Americans transfixed by the live election results that were flashing across the giant screens every few seconds…. America was on the cusp of history once again and as fate would have it, I was given a ringside seat to watch it happen. - Akil Yunis, Malaysian participant in the Foreign Press Center’s 2016 elections reporting tour.

This year, the State Department’s Foreign Press Center (FPC) is marking its 70th anniversary. As we celebrate 70 years since our founding, we reflect on the continued importance of the FPC’s work in providing critical access, information, and context to foreign journalists -- work that is surely as relevant as ever. Providing foreign media with access and information about American culture, values and policies ensures a vibrant two-way exchange with a global audience. 

Richard Stengel, former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, briefs foreign media in New York. [State Department photo]

Since 1946, when the State Department first opened a small press office in New York City to serve the few dozen foreign correspondents assigned to the newly-formed United Nations, there have been seismic shifts to the global media landscape. Smokey newsrooms and typewriters have given way to the 24-hour news cycle, the rise of social media, and citizen journalism. Meanwhile, the FPC’s branches in Washington, DC, and New York have grown to serve thousands of journalists from over 200 countries reporting in scores of languages for television, radio, print, and online media organizations all around the world. 

Although the size and scope of the FPC’s work has evolved, its mandate has remained largely unchanged: support for foreign media telling America’s story to the world. 

Ambassador Samantha Power meets with Russian journalists participating in the foreign reporting tour ""Digital Media Freedom and Online Journalism Innovation. [State Department photo]

President John F. Kennedy underscored the importance of this endeavor in a letter to foreign correspondents on the occasion of the FPC’s dedication in 1961, writing, "If we who live on this shrunken globe are to understand each other, there must be a free and constant flow of information among peoples and nations.… Truth is often elusive and rarely simple; if this [Foreign Press Center] helps you in the pursuit of truth, we shall feel adequately rewarded.”

Jake Sullivan of Hillary for America campaign briefs foreign journalists at the Democratic National Convention about the Democratic candidate’s foreign policy priorities. [State Department photo]

The FPC’s main tools for engagement include interacting with resident journalists through briefings, tours, cooperative media broadcast programs, and responding to information requests. 2016 was a particularly grueling year for the media, domestic and foreign alike, as reporters covered every development in the presidential election race. A large influx of journalists from around the world traveled to the United States to see the democratic process unfold and the FPC supported the foreign media’s coverage needs in a variety of ways. For example, we stood up our own filing rooms at both the Democratic and Republican conventions for experts to brief the foreign press. We also organized tours to swing states to provide the media with access to experts and contextual information that helped give journalists the right context for their stories. 

The floor of the 2016 Republican National Convention, covered by hundreds of members of the foreign media. [State Department photo]

In addition to directing international media attention to the U.S. political stage, FPC programs throughout 2016 provided foreign journalists with insights into U.S. foreign policy and trade, the dynamics of Wall Street, and the buzz of Main Street America.

The New York Foreign Press Center took journalists to Texas, the state that leads the nation in wind, solar energy, natural gas and oil production. [State Department photo]

We helped foreign journalists get a better grasp on U.S. efforts to counter violent extremism, confront climate change, and advance human rights at home and abroad. Seventy years after its founding, the State Department’s Foreign Press Center continues to serve as a critical link for foreign media, highlighting the importance the U.S. government places on fostering free media, free speech, and engaging in a global dialogue.

Foreign journalists tour the East Side Access public works project, and receive a briefing from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. [State Department photo]

Reflecting on nearly 20 years as a credentialed member of the Foreign Press Center, Slovenian Press Agency correspondent Robert Poderos - who met his wife, also a foreign correspondent, at the NYFPC -- wrote the following in a recent correspondence:

I came to New York to work as a correspondent for the Slovenian Press Agency in 1997 -- a completely different era. There were no smartphones and internet connection was AOL dial-up. My older friend from Slovenian television who worked as a correspondent in New York many years ago always says how lucky ‘we kids’ are because of the technological advances in our profession. In the old days, he went to the New York Foreign Press Center every day to get the wire news, to go through the newspapers and magazines, and to meet other colleagues to share information. To some, it may seem that the services of the FPC are not as indispensable today as they were in the dark ages of teleprinters, but nothing can be further from the truth. It is as indispensable and useful as ever before, and I can speak from years of experience. I cannot imagine how I would do my work as efficiently or as well without the briefings and tours organized by the FPC, or without the people who work there, many of whom I have the privilege to call my friends. They are always there to provide advice, offer information and contacts, point me to the right direction, and so much else. ….

The 70th anniversary of the Foreign Press Center is a good time to reflect on the importance of journalism and recognize those working in a profession that has become increasingly difficult and even dangerous. In a video message marking the occasion, Secretary of State John Kerry said that journalists are “watchers, questioners, discoverers, storytellers, guardians,” and they “deserve the utmost respect for playing those indispensable roles in the structuring of our societies and in the sustaining of our liberties and our rights.” Looking to the future, the State Department’s Foreign Press Center will continue its mission to meet the needs of journalists in a global information age and facilitate meaningful conversations across borders on the most pressing issues of the day. 

About the Author: Shana Kieran serves as Media Relations Officer at the New York Foreign Press Center.

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Posted by Shana Kieran
December 22, 2016

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