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7 US Media Reduces Foreign Coverage

Title Good-bye World
Source American Journalism Review, November 1998
Author Peter Arnett
Faculty Evaluator Elizabeth Burch Ph.D.
Student Researcher Deb Udall & Monte Williams
Mainstream Coverage The Boston Globe, 11/15/98, D6, Editorial

Coverage of foreign news by the U.S. media industry reflects a continuing downward trend, despite evidence that the American public wants more international information (and at a time when the U.S. has become the world’s only superpower). Pollsters reveal that most Americans rely on TV for national and international news. Unfortunately, major network coverage of foreign news is currently 7-12 percent, and dropping—a sharp contrast to the at least 40 percent during heyday of Cronkite, Chancellor, and Reynolds. Coverage in print media is also down in large metro-area news markets. An example is the drop in coverage by the Indianapolis Stars from 5,100 column inches within a 30-day period in November 1977 to 1,170 column inches in 1997—a 23 percent drop over those two decades. Despite a critical examination by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and the continued campaign of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, major market editors seem to continue to focus on the production of a media diet of crime news, celebrity gossip and soft features in an effort to gain more market share and an increase in profit margins.

Coverage 2000

Although one wouldn’t expect to see front-page, top-of-the-hour mainstream coverage on the media’s own lack of foreign news reporting, the best response to Arnett’s story (written especially as it was within the pages of an industry journal) would have been an increased presence of foreign news coverage in the U.S. media. Alas, there was not.

The Project on the State of the American Newspaper this past spring took a sampling of foreign coverage in 13 papers around the country and found only three or four international stories per paper appearing in any one day. Large metro dailies gave about 3 percent of their news hole to international news, and others devoted even less-as little as 2 percent. And in a follow-up to last year’s story, the American Journalism Review surveyed foreign correspondents to see if more newspapers and newspaper chains had stationed reporters abroad. This, too, did not occur. The Washington Post’s own ombudsman took his paper to task for not offering “all the news-or even, with 25 correspondents, pretend to do so.” (To its credit, however, The Post is noted as one of the best sources for foreign news.) One finds little improvement since Peter Arnett wrote that foreign news coverage had “almost reached a vanishing point” in many mainstream papers. Industry watchdogs are concerned.

Two years ago the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Freedom Forum launched a campaign to boost foreign coverage. Last year the two groups took a series of workshops around the country and published a how-to booklet for editors (Bringing the World Home: Showing Readers Their Global Connections). Although newspapers are not providing more space for world news, some editors are finding work-arounds by giving international events a local spin. The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, for instance, recently ran a story discussing why nuclear tests in Pakistan were bad for wheat farmers in the Pacific Northwest. Before last year’s WTO meeting in Seattle, the paper wrote an article about world trade.

In general, though, the media has not responded to the foreign press vacuum-mainstream media, that is. Peter Arnett, the author of our original story, is now a correspondent for, an Internet news site dedicated to the international news scene. Though hardly a threat to broadcast TV yet, its exposure has increased by links to notable Internet sites such as Microsoft’s MSN.

An interesting editorial by Geneva Overholser examined the history of crime and crime coverage and in so doing made a noteworthy observation about international news coverage. Although the U.S. Justice Department has been announcing a significant decline in violent crime every fall since 1993, crime reporting has steadily increased in mainstream news sources, taking away valuable newsprint and space from other stories. Although Olserhaus also points to a slight reversal in this trend, news consumers in the meantime will continue to have to look to CNN and the Internet, alternative news sources, and the foreign press to find out what is happening in the world outside their borders.

Sources: USA Today, November 10, 1999; The Washington Post, December 5, 1999 & December 24, 1999; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 13, 1999; The American Journalism Review, June 2000, “It’s a Small World,” by Charles Layton’ Gannett News Service, October 23, 2000.

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