Thursday, February 14, 2008

Filling the Foreign Gap

American news coverage isn't known for being very worldly and the declining circulations and ad revenue of newspapers isn't helping the situation. As this has lead to more and more job cuts, foreign bureaus are disappearing fast. But this isn't just for newspapers. Even broadcast news is lacking in coverage.

According to an article published in 1998 by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, a 1997 study by Harvard showed that time spent on international news coverage by network television declined from 45 percent in the 1970s to only 13.5 percent in 1995. For newspapers, the amount of space dedicated to international coverage dropped from 10.2 percent in 1971 to less than two percent in 1998.

While September 11 was supposed to be the wake-up call for Americans to start paying attention to the outside world, it seems like we're still stretching out our limbs and yawning. More recent studies discussed in this 2007 Columbia Journalism Review article, show that the overall number of foreign correspondents working for American newspapers fell from 188 in 2002 to 141 in 2006.

Philip S. Balboni, president and general manager of New England Cable News, is attempting to change all of this with the launch of his Global News site, the first U.S.-based site devoted only to international coverage. It's expected to launch early next year and will include correspondents from 70 countries. Balboni will be leaving the NECN next month.

Along with wire services for breaking news, the site will also use free content supported by advertising and premium content sections available to users for a small subscription fee.

It's a good step for journalism as it's sad to say that in 2008 the United States still doesn't have a site like this.

Discussions in my ethics class last semester focused around the notion that the media caters to what Americans want to know about and that seems to be the latest Britney fiasco or which celebutante has ended up in rehab. As a 22-year-old, yeah, I admit I love learning about the latest celeb gossip, but only to a certain extent. I'm still aware of the current crisis in the Congo or the recent violence and unrest in Kenya or the disturbing genocide occurring in Darfur. I would hope that the American media could give the public a bit more credit than this and it's encouraging to see plans in development.

Global News could be filling a big void that is not necessarily the complete fault of the mainstream media since, as mentioned before, the dropping circulation and ad revenue is clearly the culprit.

My only complaint is the small fee to subscribe for some of the content. I'm used to getting my online content for free and I kind of like it that way.

The project is a year away so there's no telling right now whether this will bring Americans up to speed with what's going on in the rest of the world but it's at least an attempt. People can't be forced to learn about what they don't want to, but at least we can say it's out there.

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