[An essay I wrote for my English 102 class. It is on how the media has failed to give international coverage a more serious consideration.]
"WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE: HOW THE MEDIA HAS FAILED ITS MISSION"
"There is a crisis in international news reporting in the United States–and not one that should simply be blamed on the reporters, the gatekeepers, or the owners. We know that there is stagnation, and even shrinkage, in the number of international stores in the media and the number of correspondents in the field for most U.S. media outlets. But the primary reason for this decline is an audience that expresses less and less interest in the international stories that do appear. What we’re increasingly missing, as a culture, is connective tissue to bind us to the rest of the world." (Konner 1995)
No truer words were spoken-or written-in regards to American knowledge of international affairs. We, as a culture, tend to overlook the rest of society as we gloriously trump our own horns over the awesome might and prowess of freedom’s savior. However, this lack of interest, as is referred to, has more to do with the lack of understanding. Whenever we turn on our television sets and flip over to the local news channels, and indeed even satellite / cable access, we find ourselves inundated with bad news. Is the reason for this a lack of interest on Joe Public’s end? Wouldn’t he have tired of the barrage of carnage by now?
I think that it is far more likely that the media has just ceased truly functioning in this country. Granted, I don’t buy the media hegemony theory-that postulates the media is nothing more than the government’s lap dog-as the press is too incessant when something bad happens, especially when that bad happening involves a member of our ever illustrious governing body. The media revels in the carnage and has come to be dependant on it, so bureaucracy just happens to play into their hands.
The real issue, I feel, lies in how the media portrays its stories. It’s often all too easy to see where the media has failed given its overreaching quest for bad news-only reporting international news when some crises, prudent to American forces and / or the public itself-comes to mire democracy’s reach, this leading to a zealous pursuit of death and mayhem which implies that, perhaps, it’s the media who has a lack of interest in the real issues facing this Earth, and, of course, there’s the simple fact that the media reflects a self-absorbed mentality (either from the government or the public) that says that only America has what it takes to educate the world.
Given that this is the media, anyone with a TV can recognize their single-minded awareness of chaos undermining civilization. If something just blew up, they’re there to cover it. This isn’t to say that our media is alone in the world with this idiosyncrasy. The fact is most of Western society engages in negative news propaganda-even Japan covers the bad press-, it’s just that we do it better.
When the U.S. government invaded Afghanistan, that was all a viewer could see on the news as if all other news ceased to exist during the crises of the war. This followed on the heels of September 11th, 2001-the forever infamous terrorist strikes on American soil-, and any American can tell you what a historic event that became. It changed life as we knew it. But wait, so did World War II, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War. Now, our history eludes us once again as we contemplate the future of Iraq, and repeating past mistakes in the process. All of this being force fed by the media gurus who think all we’re interested in is chaos and crises facing potential democracies. One won’t see coverage of humanitarian aid in Africa, and if a viewer does, it encompasses all of ten seconds. What you will find in excess of, however, are instances like North Korea’s test launching of long-range weapons. Is this to say that this isn’t worthy or even important news? Not at all. It’s important and that we are made aware of events such as this. But it’s just as important to report on the good that is being delivered around the world. We lack sorely for international coverage stateside that deals with other issues of importance from every locale around the globe.
If we take Japan, for instance, most of their news is devoted to the international community. Their morning news deals in the crises oriented material prevalent in the world, while the evening news turns towards the more thought provoking topics making headlines, in which humanitarian aid and the issues important to society will surely be reported. 37 percent of Japanese television news coverage is devoted to international coverage with their newspapers (both local and national) supplying an additional 19.2 percent. (Cho & Lacy 2000) Of course, 53 percent of that coverage is devoted to conflict and crises-oriented stories. Yet that doesn’t quite match the 58 percent conflict coverage we receive in the U.S. (Cho & Lacy 2000) Even Canada focuses more on world events than the lackluster coverage given to America.
However, can it be said that the reason Americans receive negative news about the rest of the world is resultant of a lack of interest? I say that is hardly the case. If anything, it seems that the media outlets don’t think we’re interested in world affairs. Certainly there is more than enough international news to report to American citizens than what is being presented. I doubt that there is as large of a disinterest amidst the public as we would be led to believe.
In fact, it could be argued that there is more than enough interest in foreign affairs, it’s just that the base American citizen isn’t given the knowledge they need to say that they want to hear more. Or if they do suggest more, the media simply scoffs it away as if only one or two people cared enough to mention it. Right now, we’re flooded with images of maladjusted Muslim men wanting to destroy Americans anywhere and everywhere on the globe-well, us and those apparent Zionist Israelis. This leaves the public with the false conclusion that all Muslim men run through the streets chanting "Death to America!" when, in fact, most mid-easterners are fairly sympathetic towards American society-there is just a prevalent tendency to disagree with American policy, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given that over half of Americans disagree with American policy. Most Muslims are even embarrassed by the presence of groups like Al-Qaeda. However, Americans are led to believe, however inadvertent it may be, that we are just plain hated everywhere.
Yet, even this deliverance of material is "seasonal" at best, with journalists and reporters waiting for that next, big event.
At this moment in time, approximately 25 percent of the American media is devoted to international news. (Cho & Lacy 2000) And it is strange to note what percentage of that news is devoted to where and what. Take the following information presented by Samuel Huntington in an article dated to 2004-2005:
"One reason is that there’s little space or time to provide more nuance. According to one media analyst, the big three U.S. television networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, offer mere driblets of international news. For all of 2003, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict received a total of 284 minutes of coverage in the three networks’ weeknight newscasts, an average of less than two minutes per week per network. Afghanistan received 80 minutes, the global AIDS epidemic 39 minutes, and global warming 15 minutes. Iraq earned 4, 047, but only because of the U.S. invasion. Meanwhile, the number of foreign bureaus is shrinking. As of mid-2003, ABC, CBS, and NBC each maintained only six overseas bureaus with full-time correspondents, having scaled back even in major cities such as Moscow, Beijing, and Paris. But picking up a newspaper won’t necessarily fill you in: Nearly two-thirds of print foreign news editors polled in a 2002 study rate the news media’s foreign coverage as fair or poor, and more than half were critical of their own newspaper’s reporting."
This starkly contrasts with the mid to late seventies "when international affairs comprised an average of 37 percent of network newscasts" (Altheide 1984) with 40 percent international coverage occurring between 1976 and 1979. Still even more staggering was how CBS’s evening news "dealt with international stories" at roughly 50 percent. (Altheide 1984)
Now, compare that 50 percent international coverage rating to our current 25 percent and ask, is it a lack of interest by the public? Or did we just run out of wars? I can only surmise that the reason international coverage is even at 25 percent would be due to our current standing in Iraq, and that’s with most of the country distressed over its current conditions.
To counter-argue, one must, however, grant the journalists and reporters the saving grace of necessity over personal desire. Most reporters would rather give the public the stories they feel are important. However, it is often determined that there just isn’t enough time to cover all those issues, and are forced to take what seems to be the most pressing issues. And, often, those issues are crises-oriented.
Acting on necessity has been an issue for the media for years. In fact, a term was given over to the press-media hegemony-implying that they were the government’s go-to-boys to do as they requested of the media. (Altheide 1984) This, of course, is just not true-regardless of a few outlets that may be geared right or left, depending.
It is also true that the seeming lack of information of world news doesn’t really exist. The savvy person could just as well take it upon themselves to look up what is going on throughout the rest of the world through various media outlets that employ politically minded journalists willing to go just about anywhere in the world-and they often do.
Good reporters will often place themselves in harm’s way to get the most important stories that often, sadly, end up on the back-burner, cut, or as fillers for slow news days. Any way one looks at it, those stories and issues are treated by the decision makers as if they’re not important.
Even so, there still seems to be a steep self-absorbed attitude of the media towards the world in general-or, indeed, even to the state of our country. The media in general focuses on issues that of are alleged greater importance to the American public. If but 25 percent of news coverage is devoted to international happenings, then that leaves a staggering 75 percent coverage of self-interest. One doesn’t have to look far to see this factor in action.
All it takes on the evening news is one delinquent black male to stir up a media frenzy of crises and chaos. We find out that suspect has shot someone, or mugged someone, or raped someone and then that becomes the story of the day which will be repeated all day until some new suspect is found. With all this single-minded focus on one individual, what about the other stories happening around the country? Only if it brings the media ratings."We have trifled with our single most prized possession-credibility-in the pursuit of a few more viewers, a few more listeners or a few more subscribers. This was a large part of my message as I was sworn in as SPJ president in October, and it will continue to be a large part of my message throughout the year.
The short of it is, we’ve allowed our ethics to decay. We’ve come to think that it’s OK to hype a story to make it sound better than it is. We’ve come to think that it’s all right for the TV networks to treat promos for their prime-time entertainment shows as news. We’ve come to think that it’s OK to tell listeners that the interesting story is "coming up next" when we really don’t intend to air it until 20 minutes from now." (Carlson 2006)
If David Carlson is to be believed, then the media has an eye towards sensationalism in a mad quest for ratings. This then suggests only an interest in the events transpiring within our own culture, as the media believes that only American news would interest American peoples and that means big money for the networks.
Everything I’ve mentioned merely proves the point I’m trying to make, that our media needs to change the way it does business. There is much more transpiring around the world than the media covers. And this all has a lot to do with their desire of covering crises, this supposed lack of interest by the general public, and the self-absorbed mentality inherent within the media as an organization. Someone needs to let the cat out of the bag that the world doesn’t hate America, that we do have a positive impact across the globe. The public deserves to be informed of events beyond just life-altering crises. Until the media wises up and presents us with a global perspective without a limited view, then the mission they set out to accomplish-to inform the public of what is really happening around the world-shall always be mired in failure.
Altheide, D. L. (1984, Summer) Media hegemony: A failure of perspective. Public Opinion Quarterly, 48, (2), 476-490. Retrieved July 2, 2006, from Communications & Mass Media Complete. Accession Number 5550945
Cho, H. & Lacy, S. (2000, Winter) International conflict coverage in Japanese local daily newspapers. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 77, (4), 830-845. Retrieved July 3, 2006, from Communication & Mass Media Complete. Accession Number 4385540
Konner, J. (1995, Jan / Feb) World news: Truth & consequences. Columbia Journalism Review, 33, (5). Retrieved July 2, 2006, from Communication & Mass Media Complete. Accession Number 9504174005
Huntington, S. (2005, Spring) Tuning out the world. Wilson Quarterly, 29, (2), 94. Retrieved July 6, 2006, from Academic Search Premier. Accession Number 16805498
Carlson, D. (2006, Jan / Feb) Journalism industry must return to principles. Quill, 94, (1), 1. Retrieved July 6, 2006, from Communication & Mass Media Complete. Accession Number 19750182