Media needs to be more thorough with foreign coverage

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CST

International news is a key part of the “full access to the day’s information” recommended by the Hutchins Commission for journalism. The quantity and quality of world news presented by and for Americans is important for U.S. citizens because news coverage often affects political opinions and actions. For this reason, it is necessary to assess the coverage of American newspapers like the Missourian and provide a comprehensive look at international issues.

Most newspapers focus on local and national news, with very little news from beyond our borders. The countries that do earn a spot in an international section are usually those directly tied to the U.S., either by trade or through news agencies. American citizens learn hardly anything about most of the nations of the world because international sections focus only on those countries that are related to America at the time. A 2007 study by Boston University professor Dennis Wu found the top ten countries most reported on by U.S. media are all either U.S. trading partners, such as the U.K., China and Canada, or were conflict areas in which the U.S. has been involved, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. This means Americans read a large amount of information about few countries. Many other countries go completely unnoticed simply because no one reports on them. The quantity of news needs to be increased.

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One of the biggest criticisms of American international news coverage is the negativity. It appears as though the only time we care about world issues is when there is some sort of crisis or conflict. The idea that “pictures sell” puts reporters in a place to look for the most sensational images from a situation (video and still pictures). Most of the images my generation has seen regarding Palestine have been of devastation and war. While these are major issues for Palestine, there are other stories within that country that never get told. Journalists fly in, turn a quick story about the event and get out before ever getting to know the country beyond stereotypes. This idea of “tourist journalism” hurts media output. Reporters are not always in the country long enough to get the complete story, and their readers, who are usually uneducated about the country, have to piece together what they have seen.

International news is important for U.S. citizens because media coverage affects mindsets. The images we see regarding certain countries and the news that is produced from other places help us make up our minds about those countries and their leaders. If the only news Americans ever get from Turkey is related to extremism or terrorism, then they are likely to have a negative opinion of the country in general. These people will not be open to exploring the country or its culture, which would be a shame because there are some beautiful parts of Turkey that have rich culture.

The information Americans receive about foreign countries from the media also affects opinions on foreign relations, which are reflected in poll results. The more the media told of the atrocities of Saddam Hussein, the more citizens supported war. On the flip side, the more the media showed of the devastation of the war itself, the more people began to disapprove. In 2005, President Bush’s approval ratings plummeted to 40 percent in response to the growing number of stories on American casualties and increased coverage of anti-war crusader Cindy Sheehan. Media, therefore, greatly influences where Americans stand on many issues, so journalists need to be thorough.

It is up to reporters to tell people what they need to know, and world issues are becoming more important as our country continues to globalize. The quality and quantity of international news should both be taken to the next level.

Ashten Kimbrough is a former reporter for KOMU 8 News. She is originally from Mesquite, Texas, and will graduate from the MU Journalism School this month. Ashten plans to attend law school next fall at the University of Alabama.

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