Journalism and its Discontents, Part I

 

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 11.06.17Over the weekend, we had an interesting discussion on the Member Feed about journalism as a profession. Southern Pessimist asked me this question: “Give me some ideas,” he wrote, “of what you think needs to be reported that is not being reported.”

My answer to this is so long that I’ll break it into a few parts. What should perhaps precede this post is a detailed historical account of what’s happened to the news industry since the end of the Cold War. I’ll come back to that, though, because the first point I want to make is that these changes have had significant consequences — largely, and surprisingly, bad ones.

So let’s in fact call this Part II. Let me begin by talking about foreign news coverage, since this is what I know best. I wrote this piece a few years ago: How to Read Today’s Unbelievably Bad News. Please do read the whole thing, but these are the key points:

Something has gone very wrong in American coverage of news from abroad. It is shoddy, lazy, riddled with mistakes, and excessively simplistic.

Above all, it is absent.

Many things are to blame for this. In 2009, I wrote a piece for City Journal observing the disappearance of international news from the American press. It is a long-term trend. A number of studies suggest a roughly 80 percent drop in foreign coverage in print and television media since the end of the Cold War. it seems to me—based upon my casual perusal of the American media—that the trend is accelerating. …

… In-depth international news coverage in most of America’s mainstream news organs has nearly vanished. What is published is not nearly sufficient to permit the reader to grasp what is really happening overseas or to form a wise opinion about it. The phenomenon is non-partisan; it is as true for Fox News as it is for CNN.

Yet this is odd. In the era of the Internet, mobile phones, social media, and citizen journalism, it has never been easier to learn about the rest of the world. So why have American news collection priorities changed so dramatically? What effect does this have upon American national security? The answer to the first question is complex; the answer to the second is simple: a bad one.

During the Cold War, every major American newspaper and television station covered foreign news, particularly from the Soviet Union and Europe. American television networks set the standard for global news coverage and — this is important — they drove the global news agenda. All the major networks had bureaus across the globe, staffed by correspondents who had been on the ground for years. Whether they were in Berlin, Cairo, Istanbul, or Moscow, they knew their region, they knew the people, they spoke the local languages, and knew the history of the stories they covered. …

In the Cold War era, US network news coverage was delivered worldwide: ABC fed Britain’s United Press International Television News, NBC fed Visnews, also based in Britain; CBS had its own syndication service. Few national news stations outside of the United States had the capacity to cover international news, but the United States did. During the final decades of the Cold War, for example, CBS had 14 massive foreign bureaus, 10 smaller foreign bureaus, and stringers in 44 countries.

CBS has since shut down its Paris, Frankfurt, Cairo, Rome, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Beirut, and Cyprus bureaus. The other large networks have downsized similarly. US news stations have decided that some places aren’t worth covering at all. We have almost no coverage out of India, for instance — disasters, yes, but nothing else. Likewise with Africa. As for the Middle East, we hear an enormous amount about Israel, but ask yourself what you’ve heard, recently, about Libya — a country where we recently toppled the government. Does it not seem odd to you that almost no one is reporting on the aftermath?

More than ever, news is reactive: There is no coverage before a story breaks, even if people on the ground could have spotted it coming a hundred miles ahead. So Americans are shocked when an emergency occurs overseas (or, for that matter, at home, as on September 11) — because they had no idea it was even a situation.

In the event of a massive breaking story — such as the uprisings in Tahrir Square — the networks parachute their people in. They bone up on the story by reading the local English-language newspapers (and in any country where English isn’t widely spoken, it is important to ask: Why does it have an English-language newspaper? The answer, usually, is that the paper is trying to sell a particular version of local events to investors and to English-speakers — a version, needless to say, that is not necessarily the whole truth). In this scenario, the US correspondent functions as a talking head: He repeats the locally-produced news story in front of a camera.

In other words, the pattern has now been reversed. Whereas local news stations once relied upon American networks for global coverage, American networks now rely upon local news services for their global coverage. Many dedicated and talented freelancers pick up some of the slack, but there is no substitute for the support of a fully-staffed local newsroom with collective decades of institutional knowledge — and as someone who has been trying to earn a living as a freelancer for many years, I can promise you that the job insecurity is enough to discourage many talented people.

According to the American Journalism Review, at least eighteen American newspapers and two chains have closed every last one of their overseas bureaus since 1998. Other papers and chains have dramatically reduced their overseas presence. Television networks, meanwhile, have slashed the time they devote to foreign news. They concentrate almost exclusively on war coverage — and then, only on wars where US troops are fighting. That leaves the big four national newspapers — the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times — with independent foreign news coverage. But they too have closed foreign bureaus in recent years. In 2003, the Los Angeles Times shut down 43 percent of its foreign bureaus. This is especially significant because the Los Angeles Times provides foreign coverage for all the Tribune Company papers.

But couldn’t this be seen as a good and inevitable thing? Aren’t local news services inherently more qualified to provide this coverage? Isn’t it obviously more cost-effective to rely upon them? Yes, and no—but mostly no.

First, the system has not yet been replaced by a platform of highly-competent local news agencies that share a commitment to the basic codes of journalistic conduct that even the sleaziest of American papers take for granted — by this, for example, I mean that one shouldn’t just make up quotes, or grossly alter them to change their meaning, and that one should at least try to confirm rumors before reporting them.

Second, there is little diversity. Without much exaggeration, we can say that Al-Jazeera has replaced American television news as the global driver of the television news agenda, and not only in the Middle East. Al-Jazeera’s coverage of Cuba, for example, is unexcelled by any American media outlet. Compare its coverage over the past year to CNN’s, for example. But Al-Jazeera is Qatar’s foreign-policy arm, not ours …

… So what’s happened here? For one thing, the Internet and other technological revolutions in news gathering have resulted, to put it simply, in giving consumers who are in no position to determine what’s newsworthy too much power to decide what they think is important. News consumers may now customize the news they receive to an extraordinarily high level of precision and ignore everything else. Because stories are no longer bundled together in a single physical item — the newspaper — the reader no longer has to slog through, or at least cast his eyes over, stories about high-level meetings on nuclear disarmament in order to get to the sports page. We choose each item with a mouse-click—bye-bye, P5+1, hello, Jerry Sandusky.

News producers rely increasingly on independent companies to sell their ads; they are now dependent upon aggregators (such as Google) and social networks (such as Twitter) to bring them a large part of their audience. Consumers read stories that interest them; the aggregators, noticing that a consumer liked a story, offer them more of the same — stories, in fact, as similar as possible to the ones they just read. Obviously, readers end up having their biases confirmed this way, rather than being exposed to stories that might disconfirm them.

Similarly, sharing stories on Facebook and Twitter means, by definition, receiving your news from people who have been pre-selected to be very much like you in their political instincts — but not people who have been pre-selected to be good news editors. …

The people who understand how to target content and advertising to fit users’ interests are not foreign news specialists. They’re software programmers and technology companies. Most wouldn’t recognize a significant foreign story if it bit them in the ass. …

We are in a recession, and Craig’s List killed the advertising model for local newspapers. Local papers no longer have the resources to pay for foreign correspondents and their housing and their staff. It’s easier and cheaper to run wire-service stories. It makes perfect economic sense for local papers to focus on local news. But obviously, the reliance on wire services grossly reduces the diversity of reporting and reinforces the echo-chamber effect—it’s all Pussy Riot, all day, and it’s springtime or a nightmare in the Arab world, and who knows what’s happening in China, not me, for sure. Nor is the slack being picked up by bloggers: Their domestic focus is almost identical to that of the mainstream media, suggesting that the mainstream media is still driving the agenda.

This is not solely an American problem, by the way. A report titled “Shrinking World” published by the Media Standards Trust suggested that international reporting in UK newspapers has decreased in the past 30 years by nearly 40 percent. Let me point out a particularly disturbing line from that report: “In such a setting, it’s no surprise that UK-based correspondents rely on news sources from the country of origin as well as newswire content like that provided by Business Wire to fill in the gaps, turning the loss of foreign correspondents in UK newspapers into a gain for PR professionals and their clients.”

Let those words roll around in your mind—”a gain for PR professionals and their clients”—and think about what that entails. What it entails is this, as I’ve noted before:

‘Wikileaks is at it again, this time, leaking a (promised) two million-plus emails from the Syrian regime, which has in the past eighteen months tortured, raped and killed at least 15,000 of its own citizens. And look what we have here: A memo explaining how to get away with it from Brown Lloyd James. …

I believe I’ve quoted myself enough. If you’d like to read the rest of that piece, please do; I think there’s quite a bit that’s important to grasp in it. Since I wrote it, the situation hasn’t improved.

Part III will be another post: I’d like to give you a detailed account of what I saw in Turkey that was never reported. Anywhere. I’ll explain why this mattered so much. But that will have to be for another day, lest this be too much to digest.

Having left Turkey, of course I regained some perspective. It is not really so surprising that Americans don’t find themselves fascinated by the minutiae of (seemingly) internal Turkish political power struggles. I paid attention as if my life depended on it, but that was because it did. Absent such motivation, sure, it all looks rather boring. I used to assign to that general inattention some kind of moral importance. I recognize that now for the cognitive distortion it was. I confused myself with the center of the world. It happens.

But that doesn’t mean there’s not a problem. In the worst-case scenario, the conclusion I might draw is that I’m not a writer of talent sufficient to make an interesting story interesting. (If you’ve read this far, you can assess that hypothesis yourself. Let’s assume that’s a possibility, but set it aside for a moment for the sake of the argument.) But in the next-worst case scenario, the free world can’t survive. Now, my narcissism might not be of such importance to you, in which case you may reorder the priority of worst-case scenarios.

I have a strong sense, and in many cases evidence, that our disastrous foreign policy is connected to what’s happened to the way we receive our news. I am not quite sure in what way, or in what order of priority. But in my worst fears, it involves a contradiction in the idea of a free society.

Here is where things become inchoate, and where your thoughts might be useful. My own career seems to me a case in point, but that’s exactly why my thinking about this is suspect. Still, my career suggests there’s a problem that involves “How to get the money,” versus  “How to do the kind of reporting I think should be done.” And  some part of the answer has to involve thinking about this: You can’t shove a story down peoples’ throats. You have to make it entertaining, and you have to make it fit whatever the revolting term “narrative” implies.

The only alternative is coercing Americans to read the news in a way that’s incompatible with any ideals we might still have about living in a free society. Forcing people to read the news? That’s obviously out. State-controlled media? Ixnay. But if you can’t entertain your audience or satisfy their need to believe what they want to believe, you can’t sell it.

And if you can’t sell it, too bad. That’s life in a liberal democracy with a free market. And this too is a principle in which I deeply believe.

As far as editors are concerned, their first priority is to stay in business, so that story has to make readers want to read it. A journalist must be able to deliver a coherent and entertaining “narrative,” and do it every single day and on a deadline. Someone who does it four times a year, or turns it in 20 minutes too late, is no use. So already, you’ve got a very narrow pool of people with the real skill set needed, and no demand for the kinds of stories that I suspect people really do need to understand. Can this readily be exploited by sinister people? It can be. Is it? Yes. I promise you, it is.

But does this matter?

That’s the key question. Perhaps it all balances itself out. The sinister have no more luck getting anyone’s attention than the well-meaning. And it does seem important evidence that we’re still here, even though it seems to me as if this is a vulnerability so huge you could drive a Mack truck through it (or planes right through the Twin Towers, for that matter).

It wasn’t until I lived in Turkey that I began to notice a hugely significant disjunct between “what was reported” and “what was around me.” Of course I’d seen such things occasionally, but enough to chalk it up to “bad reporting,” as opposed to “systemic flaw.” Now I notice it in everything I read. Everything.

One thing is clear to me: We know thanks to a number of leaks (of which I disapprove wholeheartedly but nonetheless studied carefully) that good reporting can be done. The employees of our State Department are not nearly as stupid and credulous as the editorial board of The New York Times, for example. (Still a bit stupid and credulous, from the looks of it, but not that stupid). And their ridiculous marketing aside, Stratfor seems to have quite a reasonable handle on things. So there are people producing the kinds of reports that should be produced, and someone, somewhere is able to read them.

But surely they’re not the only people who need to know? The idea of democracy is quite hollow if we think so, isn’t it? And this is a special problem in foreign policy, where there are huge disparities of power between nations, and where even a well-meaning superpower is capable of blundering spectacularly. If the public has no understanding of what we’re doing or the effect it has on other countries, it can’t reign in the people and organizations making our policy. State and Stratfor may be able to produce a higher-quality internal product, but it isn’t designed for the purpose journalism is supposed to serve. Journalism is at least supposed to tell the people (as in “We the People” — anyone remember us?) that “This is the effect policy X has on country Y, and the effect such a policy might have on you, and you thus now have enough information to decide whether you approve, and vote accordingly.” Right now, it does no such thing. Not as far as I can tell.

This lack of accountability and oversight — surely it has consequences? The founders of our nation thought about problems like this. My guess is that this does, of course, affect us, if only more slowly than we realize. It certainly affects people in countries affected by our superpowers, who don’t get a vote on US policy.

Even with the passage of time and some perspective, I can’t escape the feeling that it matters very much that Americans don’t understand, if only in outline, the story of our involvement in Turkey and what has happened there in the past decades — and understand, too, that this happened in some part as a consequence of our decisions.

Turkey is a more limited case. But there are vastly more spectacular cases. It matters when Americans don’t know enough to stop their government from, say, turning Libya from a garden-variety menace into a dangerous failed state. Or even realize that this is in fact precisely what we did. It matters a great deal that Americans don’t realize, generally, that in all matters of foreign policy, their government must be watched like a hawk — and we must watch it just as closely as we would watch it in matters domestic.

But.

Here is where I run into a bit of an epistemological crisis. I don’t know how it would be possible for us to watch it that way. It seems to me that’s genuinely impossible, to the point of being logically impossible. Who on earth, with a normal life, a job, a family to support, could follow all of this in the requisite detail? And if it’s impossible, what does that say about the entire American project?

You can see where this train of thought becomes grim. The modern nation-state with universal manhood suffrage is still quite new. There’s really not much with which to compare this state of affairs. But the degree to which Americans are indifferent to foreign news is new, and demonstrably so.

I’m not arguing that the root problem is that journalism has changed. Perhaps the reasons for this change are more important to consider than the fact of it. Perhaps it’s a symptom, in other words, not a cause. But whatever the deeper cause, this is a problem that may, perhaps, have a solution. I haven’t yet figured out what that might be — but that only means I haven’t figured it out, not that it doesn’t exist.

So let me put these thoughts to you first, for discussion, because this is already very long. Tomorrow and the next day, I’ll write more about the history of these changes in the news industry and about the specific case study of Turkey, because it’s very compelling evidence for my argument that yes, it matters when important stories aren’t reported.

Then I’ll get to Southern Pessimist’s questions. I’ll tell him both what I think the top reporting priorities should be — in an ideal world — and what I think I could do, on my own, if only I had a budget in which to do it.  On the next day, we can discuss domestic news coverage — obviously just as much of a problem, albeit with some different features. So it will be a long week, alas.

But perhaps if we all give this some thought, we’ll come up with some good ideas together.

 

Published in Foreign Policy, General
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  1. user_44643 Inactive
    user_44643
    @MikeLaRoche

    Très magnifique!

    • #1
  2. user_44643 Inactive
    user_44643
    @MikeLaRoche

    I am reminded of a quote from Isabel Allende: “From journalism I learned to write under pressure, to work with deadlines, to have limited space and time, to conduct and interview, to find information, to research, and above all, to use language as efficiently as possible and to remember always that there is a reader out there.”

    To be sure, I learned many of those skills myself from academia.  And you did, too, I assume, with your Ph.D. from Oxford.

    • #2
  3. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    To get the grim out of the way first, is the syllogism this?

    (P1) Western democracy requires the informed consent of the governed

    (P2) No voter can be expert in all areas of globe where the government might (have to) act

    (C) (Therefore) a democratic foreign policy is impossible

    If so, there seems to be a problem with P1, at least.

    Elsewhere, however, you speak of accountability and oversight, and reining in the folks making policy. Here we need to think about structures and potentialities: if policy is going awry, are there structures available to rouse the public so that they may, if they wish, rein in their government.

    There may not be. But this seems at least possible, whereas a project of ensuring that everybody knows everything about everywhere all the time is not.

    • #3
  4. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    I was amused to read this in the Gatestone piece you linked to (and excerpted above):

    the system [of culturally embedded foreign bureaus offering secure employment] has not yet been replaced by a platform of highly-competent local news agencies that share a commitment to the basic codes of journalistic conduct that even the sleaziest of American papers take for granted—by this, for example, I mean that one shouldn’t just make up quotes, or grossly alter them to change their meaning, and that one should at least try to confirm rumors before reporting them.

    I do not share your confidence that journalism as it is actually practiced in the US shares any such commitment. I think making up quotes, grossly altering them to change their meaning and the printing of unsubstantiated rumours is common practice in precisely the sort of journalism that touches most closely upon the democratic process.

    • #4
  5. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    This, too, seems a little excessive:

    the Internet and other technological revolutions in news gathering have resulted, to put it simply, in giving consumers who are in no position to determine what’s newsworthy too much power to decide what they think is important. 

    Let’s strip away “newsworthy” and concentrate on “important”. I have a fairly instrumental view of factual knowledge: unless it is going to change something you do, it is not important to know something. (Although I spend lots of time reading information about sport, it’s not likely to change something I do, so the information is not itself important, although I do gain pleasure [and pain…] from such information, so it is important – on some level – for me to know it.)

    One important reason to know things about the world is to be able to make correct decisions about who to vote for, or what questions to ask your local representative, or otherwise participate in the democratic process. But if you feel that your vote doesn’t count, your question will be brushed off, and that all politicians are pretty much the same, why bother being informed? In such a case, reading about Turkey is as ‘important’ as reading about the Kardashians: entertaining to those of a certain bent, but strictly useless.

    Another important reason to know things about the world is if you are one of the vanishingly small number of people making policies and decisions about it. But that’s another problem.

    • #5
  6. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @IWalton

    There’s a book in there.  Write it.  

     Family and friends abroad echo whatever dominates US news cycles.  They get their information about the US from US feeds.  Sure economics drives it, but content changed.  Bloom captured it in “The Closing of The American Mind”;  why be curious about the world if it doesn’t matter, if there is no truth just perspective, nothing to learn? But it is more than flabby nihilism or its cousin neo-Marxism.   I’d see it as I returned from postings around the world.  I’d be told  not to worry about political correctness or bizarre views, that it’d be laughed out of existence but the next time back the same people who said to laugh not worry were into it.  People I’d have great fun discussing politics with over the years began to hate, couldn’t discuss the same subject that had been good sport.  Abroad we seldom saw journalists except those who followed a Presidential or Sec State visits, and they just hung around for the canned press briefings.  

    There was a gradual change in official policy as well.  It became more driven by political leadership tied to news cycles and more ideological.  The  sense of what we can do, or control  became exaggerated as knowledge of and curiosity about the world wained. Another important reality, the expanding administrative state must believe it knows the unknowable.  Not knowing, it must form operational abstractions  which drive error but prevent learning.

    • #6
  7. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    You say:

    Journalism is at least supposed to tell the people (as in “We the People” — anyone remember us?) that “This is the effect policy X has on country Y, and the effect such a policy might have on you, and you thus you now have enough information to decide whether you approve, and vote accordingly.” Right now, it does no such thing.

    Putting aside whether that is, in fact, supposed to be the job of journalism: has it ever done such a thing? Were the newspapers and news magazines and news programs of the 80s, the 70s, the 60s full of policy articles? Were Pulitzer and Hearst, Upton and Tarbell presenting “here are the facts; the conclusion is up to you” stories? How were Reagan’s and Thatcher’s policy prescriptions presented to the public?

    • #7
  8. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    I am not keen on this ‘narrative’ thing either, but how much of this disinterest is because international news is no longer an American (or even a Western) narrative by default any more?  I know that my own family fell upon Aljazeera with glad cries because finally somebody seemed to be telling the story from our point of view – or at least including our point of view.  Is increased American disinterest a function of increased competition wrt world view?

    Depending on things like AP for news does carry the risk of creating an echo chamber, but how diverse were the viewpoints of US news sources when more of them were reporting form overseas?  How diverse are their views about places they all cover now – say Israel?

    I suspect that the increased disinterest is a function of the decline of US dominance wrt telling the world’s story.

    • #8
  9. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    The press, throughout our history, has always been dishonest and biased.  They push what sells; the Haywood Hale Brouns of “journalism” are rare enough in the sports world, and virtually non-existent in the news world.  Walter Cronkite comes to mind as a modern failure of news “reporting.”

    Most of us have always known that and read the sheets with jaundiced eyes, for all that that was most of the information to which we had access.

    The modern nation state with universal manhood suffrage is still quite new. There’s really not much with which to compare this state of affairs. But the degree to which Americans are indifferent to foreign news is new….

    Couple things here.  First, our indifference isn’t new at all.  The foreign news interest of our early years, such as it was, generally was limited to foreign wars in which we’d involved ourselves, merchants doing foreign business, and folks interested in the old country because they still had family there.  Today, the foreign wars part remains, but most of us don’t have family in the old country, and most of us aren’t doing business (except as several removes) with foreign enterprises.

    The other thing is the modern nation state with universal manhood.  That’s on us.  We don’t have to accept that.  We don’t have to accept the toilet flushings of moral equivalence.  We don’t have to accept that all cultures are equal and no one need assimilate into the culture whose superiority to their own drew them here in the first place.

    And we don’t have to accept the Big Government that is the root cause of the pseudo-complexity in the world that confronts us.  The idealist in me, and the optimist, says we can fix this.  It just can’t be done with a single one-size-fits-all bit of legislation as the Dems, and too many Repubs (including too many Conservative Repubs) hold out for, nor can it be fixed in a single election cycle.

    This is a generational struggle, and it’ll take perseverance and patience.  The modern state of journalism, IMNSHO, isn’t the important thing here.  It’s an important source of information, certainly, and it always will be.  But it’s not materially worse than it ever has been.

    Eric Hines

    • #9
  10. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    In the mid to late ’80s the news consulting firms came up with a phrase that I absolutely detest: News You Can Use. It was all about tailoring your news coverage into “relevance” for every day life. Mindlessly repeating weather every ten minutes, doing traffic cams as if those in traffic are watching TV, shoving fluff pieces on that nights network entertainment offering – all of it came at the expense of things you should know.

    As for the closing of bureaus overseas, some of that is just the changes in technology. Why run an expensive bureau when I can monitor the local broadcaster anywhere in the world via the Internet?

    • #10
  11. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    The problem, in part, is cultural rather than institutional.  If people don’t care about coverage of foreign news, there isn’t much a news gathering organization is going to be able to do to fix it.  If people are more interested in “Three Simple Rules for Eating Seafood,” how could an editor or publisher change that?  If you get rid of them, people will go elsewhere to find them.

    • #11
  12. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    EJHill:Why run an expensive bureau when I can monitor the local broadcaster anywhere in the world via the Internet?

    Well, depends why you read the news. If it’s to know what the local broadcaster is saying — makes no sense to have your own bureau. If it’s to know what’s actually happening there, then makes great sense to have your own bureau, in many countries. Because in many countries, the local broadcaster is under instructions to broadcast whatever the government tells it to. And very often, that has nothing whatsoever to do with reality.

    • #12
  13. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: If it’s to know what’s actually happening there, then makes great sense to have your own bureau, in many countries. Because in many countries, the local broadcaster is under instructions to broadcast whatever the government tells it to. And very often, that has nothing whatsoever to do with reality.

    Oh, they know that. But, hey, pictures are pictures! Rip’n’Read, baby!

    • #13
  14. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    I wonder what consequences the influx of graduates from “journalism” “schools” following Watergate were. There is a suspicious correlation between the entry of these folks with their manufactured ideas of “ethics” and “public service” into middle-management and e.g. the accelerated decline of TV news.

    • #14
  15. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @

    “In other words, the pattern has now been reversed. Whereas local news stations once relied upon American networks for global coverage, American networks now rely upon local news services for their global coverage. Many dedicated and talented freelancers pick up some of the slack, but there is no substitute for the support of a fully-staffed local newsroom with collective decades of institutional knowledge — and as someone who has been trying to earn a living as a freelancer for many years, I can promise you that the job insecurity is enough to discourage many talented people.”

    I wonder how much of this is due to local news services getting much more professional in their presentation of the news, so much so that it passes as a reasonable facsimile of what US networks produce.

    • #15
  16. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    One of the blessings of American liberty is the right to tune out political harangues and “eat your vegetables” we-know-what’s-good-for-you journalism. I admire what you do, and would love to see news aggregation move to a non-profit model that could support good work, but don’t think forcing folks that prefer fantasy football or reality TV to educate themselves is a good policy. For the same reasons I object to universal voting, I don’t want my vote cancelled out by a homeless guy voting for a pack of cigarettes.

    • #16
  17. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Miss Berlinski, I know we’ve gone through this previously, but allow me to repeat what passes for insight with me. Americans are honest in their carelessness for the world your gov’t feels is so interesting, not to say captivating.

    Bad news, a weak foreign policy class that’s shown up just about every time they attempt something on behalf of the public, & the ingratitude nature & God have not seen fit to remove from mankind compound the problem.

    I can offer you two basic reasons why someone should care about foreign policy; the one, a kind of public spiritedness–foreign policy is the only thing you’re likely to read in the papers or watch on the news that matters to Americans as Americans; the other, a kind of desire for gain–say you do international business, then you might care about certain dangers or opportunities. You could say, some are just brought up that way by their parents; some want to leave America; these are not really different to the basic possibilities, I would answer.

    I think you see that there is a failure of public spiritedness behind the way things are now. Policy, leadership, & institutional failures are not the cause.

    • #17
  18. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    I have thought seriously about your initial post. I could go into a long philosophical discussion about the corrosive effect of nihilism (modern form deconstructionism) on journalism (or any other fact based activity). Instead lets just limit this to the question of media.

    Newspaper > Network TV > Cable TV > Web Site

    What does an informed citizen of a democratic state look for in a media? They look for the most timely and direct source with the best quality in depth writing. Wherever they can find this they will go.

    It is time we cut to the chase. Everything is rapidly heading for that Web Site. Why is Drudge so influential? Because he uses the power of hyper links on a single page to its maximum advantage. Web Sites are the most powerful media on the block by far. This is just an objective informational fact. Everything else is prejudice. You write for City Journal. I was only aware of this Web Site because you write for it. Of course, I noticed the quality of it immediately when I went there to read your articles. Unfortunately, I don’t see it as platform which gives your writing the kind of exposure that would have the most impact. I have a limited budget of time and I don’t read WSJ but look quickly at their Web Site. I don’t read National Review but read much of their Web Site often. I don’t read The Financial Times but when I want something with a little European perspective (can’t read French, Spanish, German) I go to their Web Site (By the way their tablet app is absolutely first quality. Tablets will get rapidly better & much cheaper. Reading the news on a pad is great). I specifically try not to read the NY Times as it is so prejudicial and time wasting. However, hyperlinks on a daily basis force me to drop in there. Within seconds my general disdain is reconfirmed and I leave as fast as possible.

    What does this add up to. It’s time to get serious about what’s happening Web Site by Web Site. How many people and of what kind are clicking. You should be asking yourself what Web Sites should you target to pick up your material. The Internet is already dominant and will rapidly get more so. I didn’t make that happen Gd did. So lets get with the program or please stop boring each other with hand wringing about everybody’s favorite media of the past. If you want to understand how foreign news is covered you must ask what are the Web Sites that people will read or at least hyperlink to. We must construct a discipline for evaluating the real environment we are already in.

    We must get out in front of this tidal wave and either ride it or try to redirect it. We don’t really have a choice.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #18
  19. Jim Kearney Contributor
    Jim Kearney
    @JimKearney

    And yet the whole world saw pictures of that hippo on the loose in Georgia. Thank you, Matt Drudge.

    Claire, when I tell my mass media students about City Journal and The Weekly Standard, etc. their faces are politely blank. Bulk free issues of the Times are delivered daily steps from our classroom, and go unread.

    Still, this past semester students volunteered news items gathered from BBC.com, CNN, Sky, Vice, and other internet sources, always with pictures or video.

    Keyboards are becoming journalism’s past. It’s future is images, audio, and video uploaded from smartphones. Every bureau closed by CBS is an opportunity for local stringers, freelancers, and the aggregators they supply.

    Is international news coverage on a YouTube “channel” a viable outlet, or is there some other distribution mechanism with global, usage based advertising support?

    • #19
  20. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Petty Boozswha:One of the blessings of American liberty is the right to tune out political harangues and “eat your vegetables”

    Absolutely, and I hope I made it clear that this is why I see this problem as a dilemma. I’m not willing to entertain the idea of forcing the news on people because it’s good for them. But I also believe that without a good press (not just a free one), voters can’t properly hold their elected officials responsible.

    • #20
  21. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Jim Kearney:Is international news coverage on a YouTube “channel” a viable outlet, or is there some other distribution mechanism with global, usage based advertising support?

    I’ll get to this — because freelancers have been trying everything, believe me, and I should go into some detail about what we’ve all tried — but the short answer is that none of us have been able to make it work. Yet. A few can sort-of-barely stay afloat, but the burnout rate is high: you basically wind up spending far more time trying to sell and advertise your stuff than you do on reporting and writing.

    • #21
  22. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    James Gawron:We must get out in front of this tidal wave and either ride it or try to redirect it. We don’t really have a choice.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Oh, no argument from me. None. The old stuff isn’t coming back. It’s just that we’re in a limbo between something that worked better (not perfectly) and whatever will again work better (presumably not perfectly, either, but better than the situation now). Obviously, newsprint isn’t coming back, period.

    • #22
  23. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Obviously, newsprint isn’t coming back, period.

    But, but–with what will I swat my grandkids?  That’d be too hard on my laptop….

    Eric Hines

    • #23
  24. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    James Gawron:We must get out in front of this tidal wave and either ride it or try to redirect it. We don’t really have a choice.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Oh, no argument from me. None. The old stuff isn’t coming back. It’s just that we’re in a limbo between something that worked better (not perfectly) and whatever will again work better (presumably not perfectly, either, but better than the situation now). Obviously, newsprint isn’t coming back, period.

    Claire,

    The quality of your writing and your research will come through. It is just a question of transmission. Why be afraid of YouTube? So there are opportunities for the amateur. Talentlessness will wash itself out soon enough. Why is Obama afraid of Drudge? An amateur front page of the paper of record updated continuously. If the editor had no talent why would it last more than a few weeks or months. When the NY Times puts Marco Rubio’s family fishing boat on the front page and calls it a luxury speed boat who is the amateur?

    Think anew and act anew. Disenthrall yourself and save journalism.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #24
  25. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Zafar:I am not keen on this ‘narrative’ thing either, but how much of this disinterest is because international news is no longer an American (or even a Western) narrative by default any more? I know that my own family fell upon Aljazeera with glad cries because finally somebody seemed to be telling the story from our point of view – or at least including our point of view. Is increased American disinterest a function of increased competition wrt world view?

    Al Jazeera has done many things right. But the biggest reason for their success is that they have an almost literally unlimited budget. Qatar made an incredibly shrewd decision: What’s the best diplomacy a small, oil-rich emirate can buy? Hey, how about buying the global news?

    They can do things no other news agency can do. They buy the best reporters in the world, the best film crews; they pay travel expenses — and a lot of their reporting is absolutely outstanding because of it.

    Depending on things like AP for news does carry the risk of creating an echo chamber, but how diverse were the viewpoints of US news sources when more of them were reporting form overseas?

    Hugely more. Go back and look at the way — well, let’s take an event I know about, say the 1980 coup in Turkey. About 20-30 separate American newspapers each had their own reporters there. Reporting individually. You can just verify it for yourself; choose any event that interests you from, say, the 50s through the late 80s, and look through the archives from all the major metro papers. There was just so much more reporting, done by so many more reporters, and the quality of it was so much higher: The stuff was obviously written by old hands who knew the countries they were covering.

    How diverse are their views about places they all cover now – say Israel?

    I suspect that the increased disinterest is a function of the decline of US dominance wrt telling the world’s story.

    Sure. Or vice-versa: Either the decline of US dominance in this gives rise to the disinterest; or the disinterest gives rise to the decline of US dominance. I don’t know which.

    • #25
  26. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    James Gawron:Claire,The quality of your writing and your research will come through. It is just a question of transmission. Why be afraid of YouTube?

    I’m not at all — of course not. I just haven’t figured out how to get paid by doing it. Did you ever see this? The Jewish People are Dying Because of Your Shrewd Questioning?

    That was one of my experiments in trying to crowdsource funding for telling what I thought was a damned important story. Sadly, all I raised was about 120 dollars, which just wasn’t enough to keep going.

    Think anew and act anew. Disenthrall yourself and save journalism.

    That’s why I’m here — to get new ideas. To “brainstorm” with all of you, even though I hate that cliche.

    • #26
  27. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    genferei:I do not share your confidence that journalism as it is actually practiced in the US shares any such commitment. I think making up quotes, grossly altering them to change their meaning and the printing of unsubstantiated rumours is common practice in precisely the sort of journalism that touches most closely upon the democratic process.

    There’s a lot of that, for sure. I’ve even been the victim of it, once, in a really unpleasant way–I was accused of taking money from the Malaysian government to write stories critical of their opposition. I had not, of course. I could have sued for slander and won — even under the US’s very high standards — but I decided against it on the grounds that all I’d achieve would be to associating my name with the original lies, no matter what the courts said.

    But the degree to which this sort of thing happens in the US and the frequency with which it often happens elsewhere is orders of magnitude greater. And a matter of kind, as well as degree. I can give you some examples if you have the patience.

    • #27
  28. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    Quinn the Eskimo:The problem, in part, is cultural rather than institutional. If people don’t care about coverage of foreign news, there isn’t much a news gathering organization is going to be able to do to fix it. If people are more interested in “Three Simple Rules for Eating Seafood,” how could an editor or publisher change that? If you get rid of them, people will go elsewhere to find them.

    Well, maybe it’s cultural and nothing more. But maybe it’s also some very contingent events — that news is shared on the Internet makes it a a cheaper product, but one of much poorer quality.

    • #28
  29. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    James Gawron:Claire,The quality of your writing and your research will come through. It is just a question of transmission. Why be afraid of YouTube?

    I’m not at all — of course not. I just haven’t figured out how to get paid by doing it. Did you ever see this? The Jewish People are Dying Because of Your Shrewd Questioning?

    That was one of my experiments in trying to crowdsource funding for telling what I thought was a damned important story. Sadly, all I raised was about 120 dollars, which just wasn’t enough to keep going.

    Think anew and act anew. Disenthrall yourself and save journalism.

    That’s why I’m here — to get new ideas. To “brainstorm” with all of you, even though I hate that cliche.

    First, Gd tests us. The idiot rabbis of Neturei Karta are an extreme test of all Jews religious or otherwise.

    Second, the crowd funding concept is a good one but also about audience. An ancient Talmudic saying (that I just made up).

    You can’t get blood from a stone but some people will try to get blood from a pebble. They figure it’s so small they’ll be able to squeeze it harder. Pebbles don’t have any blood in them and no matter how hard you squeeze…

    You want to crowd source the right place. Like fishing the right spot. Where there are fish biting. I bet you already know a good place to do that.

    If not did you try my suggestion?? Get the editor’s cell phone number and text him a final offer. Please respond immediately or I will sell the story elsewhere!

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #29
  30. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.
    @Claire

    James Gawron:

    If not did you try my suggestion?? Get the editor’s cell phone number and text him a final offer. Please respond immediately or I will sell the story elsewhere!

    Regards,

    Jim

    Oh, wasn’t necessary — he responded and published it on schedule.

    • #30
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