A wealth of data: Too bad most people will not use it or know of it.

Once again the Pew Research team gives loads of information that requires time to look through.
The latest Pew survey was of the Council on Foreign Relations and the general public on international affairs.
The immediate down side is in the sub-head of the Pew report: Isolationist Sentiment Surges to Four-decade High

In the midst of two wars abroad and a sour economy at home, there has been a sharp rise in isolationist sentiment among the public. For the first time in more than 40 years of polling, a plurality (49%) says the United States should “mind its own business internationally” and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.

The survey shows a number of differences between the general public and the CFR. So let’s talk about this a bit.

Americans are notorious for being isolationists.

And in recent years the US media have made the situation worse.

The amount of reporting dedicated to knowing what is going on in the world — other than wars, coups and natural disasters — has been getting worse.

When I first moved to China in 1992, among the news organizations with bureaus in China was the Baltimore Sun. Now, the Sun doesn’t even have a bureau for Washington, DC.

Yes, the financial situation for U.S. news organizations is making reporting about the rest of the world worse, but this trend started before Craig’s List and the ever-present World Wide Web.

Publishers took the advice of “experts” who said people want local news. And this is true. But what the publishers heard was “What people want is ONLY local news.”

No one thought that as the world grew more interdependent economically and politically that newspapers and local television stations had a responsibility to explain how Main Street USA was tied to the rest of the world.

Judging by most of the U.S. media, besides Iraq and Afghanistan the only things that happen outside the US borders are natural disasters or coups. There are few stories that talk about the subtle political changes that are taking place in our trading partners. (Well, that is hardly fair. From watching CNN, MSNBC and Fox, they have problems doing those types of stories in the USA as well.)

But the lack of information presented in a way that is relevant and understandable to people in Bryan, Ohio, or Mt. Vernon, Iowa, is hurting American democracy and American international efforts.

People who stay on top of international news see things differently than those who only know what some talk radio blowhard says. China is a great example.

According to the Pew survey 21 percent of the CFR members see China as a major threat. Compare that to 53 percent of the general public.

Do I trust China? Absolutely not.

Do I think they are a threat? Yes, but with reservations.

But when most people just get information about China that is limited to problems in the factories affecting Americans or someone talking about the growing military threat China might pose and no context, what are they expected to think.

Reducing international coverage denies American media customers — our readers, listeners and viewers — that most important commodity that good journalism can provide: Context.

Without fair reporting from around the world, people will either get no information or self-serving information. (I mean really, do you really want to trust only the views of the Chamber of Commerce or Greenpeace on issues such as global warming or trade? But that is what is happening.)

Is it so hard for editors and reporters to open their eyes to see how local and international events are linked?

Is it so hard to think that local readers might want to see a story about how a large and peaceful demonstration in a country could mean a change in that country’s government? And how that change might affect the United States and maybe even those same local readers?

It just takes a bit of understanding that the rest of the world is important.

Unfortunately, too many working journalists and too many future journalists have not learned that lesson.



Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

3 responses to “A wealth of data: Too bad most people will not use it or know of it.

  1. Pingback: Journalism and the World » Blog Archive » Pew survey shows gap in foreign affairs perceptions

  2. Agreed. News from outside the borders of the U.S. is far more than disasters, wars and other tragedies. And what informed journalists can bring to the reader, user, viewer is context. The big question is how to break through the apparent editorial lack of concern for global perspective and get at context. Context is far deeper than the statements of public officials or public policies. Far more than sensational coverage of the dramatic or the stereotypical which we often see. The longterm neglect of coverage of the Horn of Africa, for example, will come back to haunt us I suspect as Somalia becomes a training ground for terrorists. But until young Somali men from Minneapolis returned to Somalia and become involved in these groups, there was very little coverage of that region in our media. What was covered was piracy. What was not covered was why piracy developed. The whole social context of the Horn has been overlooked.

    That’s only one region where our neglect of context appears. So, how do we change?

    • kubiske

      But it is the very fact that the Minnesota media have reacted to the local angle of the story that more information is getting out. Yes, it would have been better to do these stories earlier, but at least now the “Local Local Local” mafia have to face the facts that what goes on in the world affects them as so they better start doing something about it.

      I will bet a large number will do what most Americans do, put their heads in the sand. But a handful will look at the larger pictures being formed by local-global connections.

      Bit by bit. The Grand Canyon was formed over eons (despite the claims of the your earthers). In the same way getting journalists to understand the local-global connection and to learn enough to make those connections will take time.

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