International news coverage in the United States has declined dramatically in the last two decades, leaving the American public lacking in awareness of the world’s diversity and beauty. This is unacceptable. The public has access to many forms of media-radio, network and cable television, newspapers, magazines and the Internet-yet lack a basic literacy in international issues. The media no longer provides comprehensive coverage of world news. However, as a far-reaching medium, American news media has an obligation to educate as well as inform the nation’s populations.
Therefore, despite a post-Cold War political calm, competitive media markets, and fewer foreign correspondents, news mediums must forge a new framework from which to cover international topics.
A survey by Harvard showed that network’s coverage of international news has declined by 70% and newspaper coverage by 80% since the 1970’s (American Society of Newspaper Editors). Both of these drastic drops have come since the end of Vietnam and the end of the Cold War. In the years of East-West mentality when American’s saw Communism as a collective enemy and there were devastating military entanglements, the public was regularly up-to-date on current international events. They were personally invested, and therefore had the initiative to maintain worldly literacy. After the Vietnam War in the 1960’s, the nation began to pull back from foreign concerns as the nation became enthralled by Watergate and its aftermath.
The 1980’s closed the Cold War, also closing collective national fears of international violence. The decade following, American citizens began thinking as isolationists with a greater concern for domestic affairs. Editors in tune with the times began reducing the coverage of world issues as readers were purchasing fewer papers with international stories. Likewise, network news sliced the minutes of its world coverage as people began turning the channel (See Appendix A).
The reduction of international stories in American news coincided with a general change toward consumer-driven journalism. What began as basic good business, news sources strove to give customers what they want by putting more weight in polls.
However, this need to please for profits has since overshadowed all else. Media venues like Internet news, news magazines, reformed newscasts are born by the minute, all seeking to tap into profitable audiences (Dennis, Merrill, p.221). Journalistic quality and content has taken the back seat to the shrewdly delivered big boom stories of violence, tragedies, celebrities-stories that can be packaged with colorful graphics and photos-stories that catch readers’ eyes and get them to buy.
Editors, faced with the facts that readers don’t purchase or watch international stories, have cut back coverage to give room for more splashy stories. Editor of Media Industry Newsletter, Steven Cohen, complied the following list of some of the worst selling magazine covers in 1994: Newsweek, “Bosnia’s Anne Frank,” February 28; New Yorker, Yasir Arafat, May 16; U.
S. News & World Report, Nelson Mandela, May 9; Business Week, “China: How Much Change?” June 9 (Hohenberg, p88). Given such statistics, and increasingly competitive media venues, news sources have sacrificed international coverage. Journalism business ventures center on cutting back on spending while in the search for big-selling stories to entice advertisers. While diversity of coverage as well as the coverage’s quality dwindles, one of the largest forfeits of budget cuts is the elimination of foreign bureaus and correspondents.
Dan Rather of CBS says ” ‘the trend in American journalism is away from, not toward, increased foreign coverage.
Foreign coverage is the most expensive. It requires the most space and the most time because you’re dealing with complicated situations which you have to explain a lot.'” (Hohenberg, p6) This summarizes a journalistic business viewpoint on international news coverage, and typifies the reasoning behind foreign bureau cut backs. Estimates range from $125,000 to $300,000 for supporting a correspondent abroad for one year, which varies more if correspondent has a family (Hachten, p.111). News sources refuse to invest in in-depth foreign correspondence when their stories do not sell as much as cheaper coverage of domestic affairs.
In addition to market pressures, other factors play into the decline of foreign correspondents. Correspondence abroad has intense requirements of an individual-an educational background in languages, history, writing, and diplomatic norms; ceaseless travels; little or no time for family or personal .