Conversations in Diplomacy: Roger Cohen

  • Charles Hobbs
| Jan. 18, 2012 Series: Conversations in Diplomacy

The Evolution of Journalism in an Interconnected World


Roger Cohen, columnist for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, was a Future of Diplomacy Project Fisher Family Fellow in the autumn of 2011. Near the end of his visit, Cohen spoke with R. Nicholas Burns, Faculty Director of Project, to discuss his experiences while covering international conflicts and his views of the role of journalism and diplomacy in an increasingly interconnected, globalized world.

For Cohen, who has covered numerous international conflicts during his 30-year career, rapid advances in communication technology since the 1980s have fundamentally changed not only the way that the public consumes news media, but also how journalists themselves go about covering events as they unfold. At the time when Cohen was on one of his first postings in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, journalists would often have more freedom to move about independently of the outside world. “There are advantages [today] in that you’re always connected,” said Cohen, “but on the other hand back in Beirut…you were completely immersed in whatever situation you were in.” Yet despite the opportunities for broad lens coverage that technological change has brought, Cohen was adamant that there can be no replacement for the benefits of intensive on-site coverage. “The view from the ground,” he remarked, “is what it’s all about, bearing witness is what its all about, for a journalist: to be there, to feel it, to look somebody in the eye, to talk to them.” For diplomats as well as for reporters this type of hands-on experience provides unique opportunities for dialogue, outreach, and understanding; conversely, “when there is non-communication, is when you can have misunderstandings that can have tragic consequences.”

In addition to his thoughts on journalism and on diplomacy, Cohen also discussed his views on the future of Iran. Much like the protestors that have changed the face of Northern Africa and the Middle East this past year, Cohen says that Iranians have “a deep desire to have a more decent, more transparent, more accountable society.” In the near future too, the Iranian regime may find itself facing “a very delicate moment” when it looks to find a replacement for Ayatollah Khamenei. Even so, Cohen warned that “very often, in my experience, the really world changing events are very hard to foresee, and then the importance of the diplomat and the journalist is how you respond to that [event].”

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Hobbs, Charles. “Conversations in Diplomacy: Roger Cohen.” News, , January 18, 2012.

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