What’s Up?

 by Erik Hare|

So, what’s up?  It’s more of a throwaway greeting than an actual question answered plainly.  Yet news stands outside of daily slog and makes things interesting.

A global economy demands global information.  But do you really know what’s happening in Afghanistan right now, a place where we are expending a lot of blood and money? How about the nuclear crisis in Japan?  Or even in Libya, the source of fiery video just a few weeks ago?  There are reasons why these have fallen out of our daily news diet, according to an excellent analysis from NPR’s “On the Media”.  It’s expensive to send journalists all around the world to keep covering stuff that doesn’t change all that much one day to the next as a big event turns into someone else’s daily slog.

There are other ways of handling it, of course.  But that would mean listening to non-US sources.

We have had a number of cataclysmic events recently that sent reporters scrambling to be there for live coverage.  None of these events has been resolved in any real sense, however.  Egypt has yet to form a stable, civilian government and the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor is not yet under control.  Each of these stories became far more complicated than they seemed at the start and therefore much less interesting.

A year ago I wrote about how news outlets often get things wrong at first and how essential it is to correct the mistaken impressions formed by “instant analysis” of complex events.  Many events, however, simply slip into obscurity before we get anywhere near that stage.  News is expensive to produce.

Part of the problem that I think no one wants to talk about is that viewership on cable TV news shows is simply terrible.  “Fox and Friends” may get a lot of buzz, but less than 1 million people actually watch the show – which is to say about 0.25% of the population of this nation.  Glen Beck commands about twice as many people for his ravings, getting him up around one half of one percent of our population.  I mention Fox shows first because they are, as their slogan states, “America’s most watched cable news” – CNN is lucky to run half as many viewers.  Only “The Daily Show” hits Fox’s cable numbers.

By any measure this viewership is at best a fringe element of US society.  For an interesting comparison, BBC America’s “Doctor Who” commands over a million viewers as well – and Who Fans rarely regarded as mainstream.  And that brings up a potential solution to the cost of putting journalists into the field.

If about as many Americans turn to the BBC for entertainment as those who turn to cable news, it stands to reason that it makes about as much sense to rely on non-US reporters who are on the ground where news is being made.  Local people not only can find their own accommodations, but know their way around better.  They can give updates to stories constantly, perhaps edited down to short bursts.

But, of course, that means that sources like al Jezeera would sneak onto US tellies along with the lilt of BBC English.

Are we ready for a truly international news from diverse sources that we can watch objectively?  I think that one half of one percent of our nation probably is, if not a lot more.  Sooner or later, I believe, someone will assemble a news show from all of these sources for very little money and we will have to see how it goes.  The jargon term is “curation”, which rightly implies that the key is gathering up many sources and putting them together into one coherent and understandable whole.  It’s a very different skill than what we think of as “reporting”.

Do you really want to know what’s up around the world?  If so, it only makes sense to ask the people who live there and have to deal with it.  You probably know that you’ll get their side of the story and it may seem a bit unfamiliar at first.  But it will be an interesting perspective at least.  More importantly, it will be a perspective – a story that you might otherwise not hear in favor of something far less important (and perhaps manufactured) in the US.  That is, unless the questions we expect our 24 news channels to answer isn’t really a question but a greeting made from raw habit and little else.


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