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What’s Up?

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.

12 thoughts on “What’s Up?

  1. The good news it, that international news IS pretty readily available to anyone with net access. We don’t have to read the filtered stuff served up in the Washington Post and the NYT. The bad news is that most people don’t use it. Hell, most people don’t read the Post or the NYT or even the Strib.

    Seems the Right understand this–as long as the overall matrix of information is under control, they can rule. Look at the nut-case right-wingers running Maine and Wisconsin. They were *elected* by people voting against their own interests. This could very easily have happened in Minnesota–not that we are really that far away from it.

  2. I would so watch a show made up of international news sources! That is such an excellent idea and I hope someone does it. It would be a lot better than hearing about Donald Trump or other people I don’t care about.

  3. Alan: Yes, but you have to find it. That’s always the hard part. I do think that “curation” will be more important because there is so much in the way of news that a human or (staff of humans) who we have grown to trust can deliver things outside of our normal perspective and give us stuff we might not otherwise think of. I’m very glad to have what we do, but making the best use of it is very difficult.

    Anna: I’m very tired of “celebrities”. There is so much that doesn’t make the public discussion that would be far better use of the airtime. Ug.

  4. Eric, there are lots of operations aggregating news, such as Truthout, Above the Fold, and Reader Supported News. These are my main sources as they fit my interests and/or leanings. I’d think there are plenty more with different orientations. Are you envisioning something very different from this?


  5. Alan, I’ve been thinking about this some more. The reason I’d like to see it on a mass media like cable TV is that I would like to have real news play a bigger part of the discussion nationally, as it does in just about any other nation. Truthout is a good example of an aggregator, but they only have about 30k visitors a day from what I can find.

    But as I think about it, they and similar aggregators are about as likely to grow as any cable show is to get much over 1M viewers, so it may be that cable tv and the 24/7 news stations are just not particularly useful in the long run.

    I’m going to keep thinking about this. The real goal is to get rid of the fluff that pollutes our airwaves and I took off from a tangential story, the one from “On the Media” that I cited. That may be too tangential after all.

  6. Eric:

    I couldn’t agree more.

    The US population is being infantilized by it’s disconnection from reality. It’s hard to factor the causes of this out: technological changes in information transmittal, ownership concentration, unreasonable profit objectives and other changes on the business side, the cohesion and effectiveness of the right-wing corporate-front movement, (arguably) deterioration of the educational system. What’s cause? What’s effect? Can it be turned around? Maybe the most productive line of inquiry is to compare ourselves to other countries. Perhaps non-English-speaking ones as the UK, Canada, and Australia seem to have many of the same problems–if to a lesser degree.


  7. I know you put it up there as a throw-away but I couldn’t help but notice that you’re telling us Fox only has a tiny “fringe” of followers. If that is the case, and I don’t doubt it, why do they have so much influence? It has nothing to do with the quality of what they say and report.

    I think that most people already know that what they get from these channels is pure BS and that is why they don’t watch them at all. Your suggestion is not a bad one for starting a low-cost alternative but I bet that a real news channel would have more viewers and a bigger budget. Just my 2 cents.

  8. To kind of jump into the middle of this conversation it is a matter of influence and the media hypes each other to prove they all have more influence than they probably do IRL. The news channels like Fox & CNN might have a million people watching their shows but I wonder how many really believe what they see?

    I talk about news I’ve heard from a lot of different sources with people all the time, it’s still a good conversation starter like the weather. I don’t think anyone really just believes what they see. Not hearing about important topics is a bigger problem & I think most people would handle news from a lot of sources pretty well. I already do that at work & with my friends.

    Alan – my only worry about news aggregating sites on the web is that I don’t know what keeps them afloat financially so they just can’t be professional / sustainable. Maybe we can change that but I do worry about them.

  9. Great stuff! Thanks everyone!

    Alan, “infantalized” is an excellent and descriptive word. I know I can handle things for myself, but I worry for the future of our nation. I have two kids that have to cope with whatever world we’re creating for the next 70 years or so and I’m not happy about it. The trend to globalism is a wonderful thing in many ways but we are getting left so far behind by insisting that nearly everything we hear about is filtered through our own narrow perspective.

    Jim, yes the people who watch that crap are a “fringe” at best and are NOT a significant part of the population. It’s like what I always say about Michele Bachmann being a fairy – if everyone ignored her, she’d become invisible. I’d like to see most of the playground-rules games that pass for “analysis” on all of these channels become invisible. But I agree that most people take it with a grain of salt.

    Dale, I think you have a good point about how they all inflate each others’ influence. It’s like the story of having one dog or two – one dog may bark at the mailman once in a while, but two dogs will never stop barking – they keep whipping each other up. In a certain sense maybe I should think of them as one channel and they all have about 3% of the population in total, which is less of a fringe group, no? 🙂

  10. Don, my impression is that the left/progressive aggregators hang by a thread. At least, they bombard their readers with ever-increasing begging emails. They also do, or sponsor, a limited amount of original reporting. It could be that dependence on large numbers of small donors is actually beneficial from the standpoint of quality and integrity. I say this because when the big environmental NGOs transitioned from relying mainly on membership dues and door-to-door canvassing to relying mainly on foundation/corporate grants, they lost their edge, and often control over their own agendas….

    The right-wing shops tend to have more solid funding and don’t have to beg, at least as publicly.


  11. Dale, Alan, I see a lot of cross-currents that seem to connect here.

    I’ve been thinking for a while that some kind of new institutions are needed on the left – something that does have the air of permanence that we just don’t have in media or online generally. This may be a good place to create such a thing because there is a well defined need.

    We have DailyKos, Truthout, perhaps even (ack!) PuffHo, but what is the end result of all this? It’s worth thinking about and supporting.

    The left always has less money but more people power on its side – that’s our history. Getting people engaged is the key to a resurgent left – and it also helps keep things relevant. Perhaps there is the nucleus of a very important institution online that will make all the difference if we get our act together. I think we have identified several needs that work together.

  12. Seems to me that traditionally more populist or “left” causes and media were supported by organized labor; in effect, by aggregated union dues. The right was supported by corporations, banks, and individual wealthy reactionaries like H.L. Hunt, the Coors family, the DuPont family, and now, notoriously, the Koch brothers. What’s new is the extreme imbalance: The near-collapse of the labor movement in the US has left the right with a clear field…. This is not rocket science to figure out–the question is how to fix it.

    But this must be far from the whole story. Minnesota is a highly literate place–full of thoughtful, progressive people writing in blogs, local papers, and email lists. This hasn’t prevented the present spasm of fact-free politics.

    This morning I went to a “Town Hall meeting” put on by Congressman John Kline in Red Wing. (At 9:30 on a weekday morning!) He’s a smooth talker with lots of charts and graphs…but not much that he said was objectively true.

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