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Mari Karppinen
“I wouldn’t be anywhere else than here right now. We are living through some interesting and scary times,” says Mari Karppinen, the US correspondent for the Finnish MTV3 News. The photograph was taken in Alabama during the filming of Karppinen’s documentary.Photo: Jaakko Slotte

The divided states? Journalist Mari Karppinen has a unique job as US correspondent

As a foreign correspondent, Tampere University alumna Mari Karppinen closely follows the turbulent political affairs in President Trump’s administration and reports on US events to the Finnish audience. The job is unique, but the pressures that come with the role can make it hard to switch off.
4 min

Back in 2014, when Barack Obama was the President of the United States, American society might have seemed peaceful and full of good will from an outsider’s perspective. However, the situation within the country was far from this simple.

“In the Midwest, many people still found it strange to have a black president,” says Mari Karppinen, the US correspondent for MTV3 News, Finland.

Karppinen moved to New York in the summer of 2014 to work as a correspondent covering US news. She argues the tensions that have led to the current polarisation of US society were already bubbling under the surface at the time. The catalyst for the current disruptions was perhaps the shooting of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 – the incident resulted in unrest and widespread demonstrations.

A nation divided

The first two years of Trump’s administration have been characterised by political drama. White House staff have been hired and fired at an alarming rate and many have claimed that numerous presidential statements have been either misleading or outright lies. Indeed, President Trump’s relationship with the news media has deteriorated even further over time.

“He has declared that the free press is a public enemy,” Karppinen points out.

The current political situation in the United States has had serious repercussions for people across the world. According to Karppinen, the country is split in two: those who support Trump and those who are against him.

“Older Americans have told me that they have not seen such a deep chasm between people in their lifetime, nor such a divided nation. The current fearful atmosphere is quite exceptional,” Karppinen explains.

A one-woman team

The opportunity to report from the United States is unique. However, one must keep one’s cool amidst the various rumours.

“The commotion during Trump’s campaign and the first months of his presidency was so loud that I was only able to relax by travelling outside the country,” Karppinen says.

She soon realised that she had to focus on the bigger picture. A journalist must have a clear idea what is important and worth reporting to the audience back home.

“There is no need to report every fake news allegation on camera, because sometimes such topics are also an attempt to distract reporters from the really meaningful news,” Karppinen explains.

Nevertheless, being ready on standby is part of the job. Finland is seven hours ahead New York, so when Karppinen wakes up, she may need to appear on live news very soon. As a video journalist working alone, she is not only responsible for the content of the news, but also for finding a suitable location to report from and for ensuring that the necessary technology is working. Given the continental size of the country, travel also takes up a lot of her time.

In order to find good interviewees, a reporter needs to create proper networks and to sell the idea of the story to the interviewees to ensure their participation. Preparing for the ever-changing circumstances also requires the ability to adjust.

“I went to report on the race riots without proper riot gear and nearly ended up getting hit in the head by a rock,” Karppinen says about one of her first news stories in the United States.

In today’s 24-hour news cycle, some events require round-the-clock reporting, meaning that Karppinen has to feature on both the morning and evening news in addition to producing constant online updates. One such event happened near the Mexican border, when a large group of migrants arrived there recently. The standoff saw authorities deploying tear gas for the first time.

After particularly mentally taxing and arduous stories, Karppinen tries to take several days off to ready herself for the next big news event.

Mari Karppinen
Before her current post, Karppinen had already travelled to various European, Asian, African and Latin American countries as a foreign correspondent for MTV3 News. “There is no other way for a media outlet to get the same sort of reports other than from journalists who live in the country and reflect on the issues through their everyday experiences,” she adds. Photo: Jaakko Slotte

A journalist from Tampere

Karppinen majored in journalism at the University of Tampere. She became interested in broadcast journalism during a course on television work, and started her career working for a current affairs programme produced by Yle, Finland’s national public broadcasting company.

Before her current post, Karppinen had already travelled to various European, Asian, African and Latin American countries as a foreign correspondent for MTV3 News.

Many media houses in Finland have recently reduced the number of foreign correspondents, relying instead on international news agencies to provide stories from the scene.

“News agencies are good at disseminating information, but their stories are often too simplified or they neglect to tell the other side of the story,” Karppinen notes.

“There is no other way for a media outlet to get the same sort of reports other than from journalists who live in the country and reflect on the issues through their everyday experiences,” she adds.

Either friends or enemies in Trump’s America

News reports typically only last for a few minutes, and this means there is barely enough time to report the facts and include comments from interviewees. However, Karppinen wanted to convey the moods she has experienced while living in the US in a longer form. Acting on this desire, last year she created the documentary Trumpin Amerikka - jakautunut kansa (Trump’s America: A Nation Divided). The documentary premiered on MTV3 at the end of 2018.

Trump’s aversion to the mainstream media is seen and felt by all journalists in their work, but Karppinen thinks that it might be easier for a Finnish reporter to approach people. In the United States, television is the most important news outlet for the majority of people, and the main channels are quite clearly divided along liberal and conservative lines.

“When a president says that the press is a public enemy, there are concrete repercussions. Under normal circumstances, people might be shy in front of the camera and a reporter, but at first we were looked at really doubtfully and people wanted to know whether we were friends or enemies. There are currently no other alternatives,” Karppinen says.

Mari Karppinen

  • Was born in Oulu, Finland, but she now lives in New York.

  • Graduated as a Master of Social Sciences from the University of Tampere. She majored in journalism, and her minors were sociology and Spanish.

  • Works as a video journalist, and is co-owner of the KOKOmedia production company.

  • Is foreign correspondent for MTV3 News, Finland.

  • Travels to Finland twice a year especially to visit her mother and grandmother.