Why don’t we get more foreign news?

Kosher McDonalds restaurant in Ashqelon, Israel

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Alisa Miller’s entry in Seth Godin’s new eBook caught my attention (pg 34).  In the entry, and a TED presentation, she talks about the abysmal state of global news coverage by the US press corps. Anybody who’s ever been subjected to around-the-clock styled American news programs can nod at the following.

Too often, American commercial news is myopic and inwardly focused.

This leads to a severe lack of global news.  And increasingly, a shortage of “enterprise journalism” – journalistic depth built over time through original sources – that provides the context and enables thoughtful response.

Too often, the news sticks to crime, disasters, infotainment, and horse-race politics.  Many important topics such as education, race and ethnicity, science, environment, and women and children’s issues are often less than 5% of all news combined.

Much of widely-seen online news isn’t better – it’s often just re-circulates the same stories.

The result: much of our news can’t be called “knowledge media” – content that builds insight about our world.

Things happen all the time, everywhere.  What gets made news, and what doesn’t, more often or not depends on where the news take place, and whether the happenstance in question belonged to one of the above-mentioned items deemed headline-worthy.  When we think about it, it’s really not at all unlike an abundance of trees falling in a remote forest.  Trees fall all the time, but only those that fall at the right time, at the right place, witnessed by the right bystander that deem it important enough, will have their fate made known to the world.

As indicated by Miller, Americans are becoming more, not less curious about what’s going on around the world, aove and beyond what the cable networks are able to deliver. It is evident, because British media outlets  that do a much better job with their foreign correspondents are eating into the audience pie. BBC and Guardian, not to mention the revered Economist, all command respect and eyeballs of those across the Atlantic.  But with cost-cuts and and ensuing shutting downs of foreign bureaus, especially for on-air networks in the US, we hardly get a glimpse of the outside world beside bombings and disasters.  That job has been relegated to public broadcast outlets such as PBS, NPR, and new private outfits the likes of Current and GlobalPost.

How did it come to this?

1. First and foremost, the race to top of the ratings league, and the focus on profitability have most likely doomed the industry to short-sightedness.  Should one fixate on ratings numbers and profit to the exclusion of any long-term vision, then the quality of stories will most likely keep falling to meet the lowest denominator. Until one day, 75% of your programming is spent chasing after Anna Nichole Smith, MJ, the balloon boy or Jon and Kate+8.  When that happens, you have essentially stooped so low as to talk to the entire American demographic as though they are stay-at-home moms.

2. Reporters should be story tellers, not type-writer monkeys that intercept wire stories and churn them out through templates. Yet most outfits lack the will and ambition to unveil global stories with the right kind of background and context to render them relevant.  I don’t mean one has do a song and dance number in order to “entertain” and bribe its audience members into attention.  But there are ways to of framing an issue, of presenting a coherent (and more importantly, accurate) chain of events to make us listen.

It may be more costly and time-consuming to produce, but credibility is gained through hard work behind honest reporting that happens day after day. And quality definitely trumps quantity, right? Instead of crappy live reporting 7 hours a day, how about quality, educational reporting, for just 1 hour a day?  If it’s that good, I promise, I will watch it 7 times.

On a side note, CNN, you are going overboard with your Twitter and Facebook shenanigans.  For someone with your kind of newsroom reach and brain power, why must you have Jim Clancy read out incoherent 140 char tweets?  We know what you are trying to do, and the game is lame.

3.  For the better part of the last decade, political culture in America has become more inward-looking.  Unilateral political actions has triumphed over multi-lateralism, and its influence has clearly permeated the culture fabric, making its impact on the general public felt.  By blithely shunning its allies and pulling away from global governing bodies, the unspoken message seemed to be: there’s no need to get too involved, or interested, in the rest of the world.

Similarly, globalization has sometimes been mistakenly painted as Americanization – every city’s getting its own Starbucks and McDonald’s.  The popularity of American culture and language has for decades perpetuated the very illusion.  As global trade continues, the exchange of culture has more or less been a one way street – much on its way out, and very little coming in.

So now big media is in trouble, and everyone’s hyperventilating. There’s a lot of talk about going local, even hyperlocal, whatever that means.  But my question is, why not go out, go global, go hyperglobal?  After all, there really is such a lot of world to see.

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