Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 23, 2008

The Decline of Foreign News Reporting

For some time now I had the impression that the number and quality of reports on foreign issues in the U.S. media decreased. A recent study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism confirms my subjective assessment:

[I]nternational news is rapidly losing ground at rates greater than any other topic area. Roughly two-thirds (64%) of newsroom executives said the space devoted to foreign news in their newspaper had dropped over the past three years. Nearly half (46%) say they have reduced the resources devoted to covering the topic–also the highest percentage recording a drop. Only 10% said they considered foreign coverage “very essential.”

With the U.S. involved in two official and several unofficial wars, an increasingly global economy and huge international problems like climate change one would think that the U.S. public needs more, not less information on foreign issues. But the only issues on which the papers increased  their reporting are local news.

The reasons are likely financially. Serious foreign reporting is a bit more expensive than covering the local football league. A lot of advertising has moved to the web. But there is also the increased expectation of profits.

As former editor of the LA Times John Carrol explains:

All three papers I've been editor of, particularly the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun, are achieving [a 20 percent] profit target. ... But they're achieving their profit targets only by cutting resources every year, getting rid of reporters, giving the readers fewer pages of news in the paper. You don't have to be a mathematician to know where that goes.
...
I think that newspapers could operate at a 10 percent average operating margin very, very robustly for the indefinite future. It would give them a better product, and it would give them money to invest in their future, which is a Web-based future.

Expectations of 20% profits in any long term business are overblown. But such expectations were the trend in the last decade heated by leveraged buy outs and other unhealthy greed schemes.

The economic bill for such behavior is currently presented. When the mess is over people may have a bit more frugal expectations and renewed interest in what is happening around the world.

Posted by b on July 23, 2008 at 13:42 UTC | Permalink

Comments

The shift has been occurring for the last few years because Bushie has ran the country into the ground and focus has went to local, state and federal issues. I also think the long presidential election has contributed.

The 20% profit margin is due to the Wall Streeting of the US. 401Ks, IRAs and other investment funds have contributed to Wall Streets power to ask for higher profit margins. People need to wake up to the fact that their 401k is putting them out of a job. Wall Street demanding higher and higher profits to invest in a company leads to the situation happening in newsrooms. Less jobs, less news and higher profits. This mentality over time will put the company out business. If you don't provide a product people want, substitution will happen and thats where the internet has triumphed over traditional media. The large papers, radio, and TV news do not provide the in depth news so alternatives are popping up.

I was reading an article on Exxon-Mobile and they are spending more money on stock buy backs and dividends than exploration and creating their product. They refuse to invest in alternative energy, so, the company is headed for extinction. That could be good, but Wall Street and the corporate world have very messed up priorities.

Posted by: jdp | Jul 23 2008 16:27 utc | 1

Perpetrators isolate their victims from anyone who may interfere with their planned assault.The abuser often will use this method to isolate a victim from their friends and families (support people) refuse or fail to provide basic life necessities such as food and water, medical care,(see Katrina, Iowa, the infrastructure) etc, social life, (see TSA) basic needs,(See food prices) soon the victim is conned into feeling sorry for the scammer (we need more money to fight the evil doers) and buys them what ever it is they want.

Victims personal belonging and heirlooms begin to disappear (see selling off of public trust, privatization etc...) and are sold to give the money to these sociopath criminals. Soon everything is gone and the victims sells his/her home (see the Subprime Mortgage Scandal) and other belongings. Read how they transformed Patty Hearst and you can get a picture, an idea of what they are doing on a collective mass scale. The Marine is "trained." The inmate is "rehabilitated." But Patty Hearst is "brainwashed."

The most scary thing is victims fall in love with their abusers...

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Jul 23 2008 16:59 utc | 2

U$, you nailed it.

$300B bailout to the Fannie/Freddie frauds, paid-backwards from future tax revenues which will continue to decline, continue to be cut by the Executive, means that the $300B will have an interest-only balloon payment over infinity, or else $300B in health & human services will have to be cut immediately upon Obama's ascension.

They're already talking about a second $320B Economic Stimulus "rebate", and we haven't even spent the first one yet, which with their 50% origination fee and interest-only repayment plan deferred indefinitely, will be nearly another $500B
coming out of health & human services on the next social writedown.

With those two economic stimulus packages, and the mortgage bailout, but no Fed spending/entitlement cuts, with continued capital gains and estate tax cuts and declining (real) tax revenues, Congress has blown $1,000B within the space of six months, basically, another GW2, that will have the effect of doubling our ultimate tax liability, at a time when Americans are deeply into negative savings territory.

US R NEO-SOVIET NOW...

But we love it! Big screen TV's all around!! Orange County is saved!! Halleluah, faith-based economics does work, my friends. You see, you just have to believe,
be well-intentioned and above all, most importantly, be deserving. [John McCain]

Now think what you'll know tomorrow.

Posted by: Pierre Letouche | Jul 23 2008 18:50 utc | 3

Yeah, what Uncle Scam said. And it is not only lack of foreign news - the greater world out there - but lack of any hard hitting or investigative, or even speculative, critical, etc. stories.

Local news has the advantage of being safe, because it can be reported on in a more-or-less truthful manner as divorced from larger issues. And it is one area in which newspapers do compete well with the internet and even TV. There are no (?) general local news internet sites (can’t be done, too expensive) except those run by newspapers. Also, for local news a critical mass of readership is needed. People want to be informed of the official, the same, local news, hold the same narrative. The newspapers are hanging on to their clients as best they can, with their sure selling card. So the commercial aspects, political climate, and state of the world hang together.

Posted by: Tangerine | Jul 23 2008 19:15 utc | 4

I hate to say it but we're the problem. No not us at MoA specifically but all the net news heads who greedily grab their bookmarks every morning or flick thru their rss feeds first thing. Since so many of us have been getting our news straight from the horses mouth or so we erronously think, the pressure on media holdings (too polite I know) to leaven their gossip and local man eats dog stories with hard news has been greatly reduced.

So a combination of greedy media owners (less polite), deliberate slashing newsroom overheads by decreasing expensive foreign correspondents and investigative reporting, combined with the backs to the wall situation that many news magazines have since the revenue from net advertising hasn't matched the lost revenue from print advertising, has led to a massive drop off in print media hard news.

As for TV well, as long as most peeps prefer a shaky vid fresh from a mobile phone of an incident as it happens to a well shot vid of a talking head telling us what they saw, the numbers of network news crews sent anywhere (the war in Iraq or following the exec rumoured to be crooked) will continue to fall.

Of course much of this has played into the hands of those who want to spin world events. Murdoch, Bush, Obama et al can be a lot more confident that exposure of their gross distortions and outright lies is a more remote possibility now that less reporters are in the field.

It will get worse before it gets better because local institutional memory has been seriously curtailed by the introduction of the so -called 'centres of excellence' in the print media. This is a central location frequently remote from any newsroom, where a team of technicians do the work formerly done by sub editors at each media outlet. They correct grammar and spelling gaffes, write headlines, and are also meant to fact check. That is a less simple task to do for a range of different publications (one center of excellence can service many newspapers and magazines) since local knowledge and contacts are important for accurate fact checking.

The loss of institutional memory is even more dangerous of course. A press release offering what seems to be a wonderful new investment can be reprinted without anyone knowing that the investment is being floated by a bloke who fleeced everyone a few years back. That is but one example; another is politicians who break promises, they also benefit from having a media with no memory.

Unfortunately we can't just sheet the blame onto the media owners and hope a change will occur. The simple fact is that the best journalism school graduates rarely go into prestige newsrooms any longer. They know that in a newsroom they are going to have to work long hours covering bullshit stories for low pay.

The media sub-bosses, the news editors, spend the day sorting throw the stack of 'press releases' put out by the new graduates former class mates, who armed with a list of their fellow alumni contact numbers, have gone to a cushy job 'managing the news'.

Sure news editors may send a reporter to the terminal to check some of the facts the politician or corporation or 'interest group' claims in their release, but they rarely override the impetus, or slant of the release.
More importantly by just reprinting what the publicists have given them, the media has conceded the vital task of setting the news agenda to those with a special interest. The result is a distorted view of events that serves special interests yet doesn't even require corruption.

The journalism school graduates who made the grade who are working in the office of the politician, corporation or special interest group, earning more money for less hours than the newsroom gang, are the reporters who really hold the reins now. This is where the decisions about what stories will run are really made now. This pr hack as a source of the news scam started a while back and is now endemic.

Just look at the sickeningly overlauded Tim Russert who served as an important conduit for Karl Rove and the rest of the BushCo machine. He allowed these scum to get out their lies, half truths and misconceptions. Before 'meet the press', this 'media expert' had cut his teeth on news managing asshole pols such as Patrick Moynihan and Mario Cuomo.

I just spent a bit of time researching Russert's career and as far as I can tell the 'expert' that his audience looked to for insightful commentary on the press, had never ever done the hard yards in an actual newsroom.

A media expert unfamiliar with the complexities of a major media newsroom seems odd until you understand that those days have gone. I suppose in Russert's worldview the notion that news is a commodity created by any group with a special interest and the resources to get their point of view out, seems reasonable. Hence the lack of real analysis in the lead up to the illegal invasion of Iraq. Those in favour of an invasion had much to gain materially, that meant they were prepared to invest big bucks on selling their story, which would give them more credibility in the eyes of a suck hole such as Russert, than any number of impassioned types long on facts but short on financial resources.

If the news is controlled by people who went for the jobs that paid the most rather, than the jobs that allowed a reporter to uncover an important story, it stands to reason that the world that these types inhabit is a world where material gain is the chief yardstick of credibility.


Posted by: Debs is dead | Jul 23 2008 22:04 utc | 5

I hate to say it but we're the problem. No not us at MoA specifically but all the net news heads who greedily grab their bookmarks every morning or flick thru their rss feeds first thing. Since so many of us have been getting our news straight from the horses mouth or so we erronously think, the pressure on media holdings (too polite I know) to leaven their gossip and local man eats dog stories with hard news has been greatly reduced.

So a combination of greedy media owners (less polite), deliberate slashing newsroom overheads by decreasing expensive foreign correspondents and investigative reporting, combined with the backs to the wall situation that many news magazines have since the revenue from net advertising hasn't matched the lost revenue from print advertising, has led to a massive drop off in print media hard news.

As for TV well, as long as most peeps prefer a shaky vid fresh from a mobile phone of an incident as it happens to well shot vid of a talking head telling us what they saw, the numbers of network news crews sent anywhere (the war in Iraq or following the exec rumoured to be crooked) will continue to fall.

Of course much of this has played into the hands of those who want to spin the world events. Murdoch, Bush, Obama et al can be a lot more confident now that exposure of their gross distortions and outright lies is more remote now that less reporters are in the field.

It will get worse before it gets better because local institutional memory has been seriously curtailed by the introduction of the so -called 'centers of excellence' in the print media. This is a central location freqently remote from anuy newsroom where a team of technicians do the work formerly done by sub editors in each media outlet. They correct grammer and spelling gaffes, write headlines and are also meant to fact check. That is a less simple task to do for a range of different publications (one center of excellence can service many newspapers and magazines) since local knowledge and contacts are important for accurate fact checking.

The loss of institutional memory is even more dangerous of course. A press release offering what seems to be a wonderful new investment can be reprinted without anyone knowing that the investment is being floated by a bloke who fleeced everyone a few years back. That is but one example; another is politicians who break promises, they also benefit from having a media with no memory.

Unfortunately we can't just sheet the blame onto the media owners and hope a change will occur. The simple fact is that the best journalism school graduates rarely go into prestige newsrooms any longer. They know that in a newsroom they are going to have to work long hours covering bullshit stories for low pay.

The media sub-bosses, the news editors, spend the day sorting throw the stack of 'press releases' put out by the new graduates former class mates, who armed with a list of their fellow alumni contact numbers, have gone to a cushy job 'managing the news'.

Sure news editors may send a reporter to the terminal to check some of the facts the politician or corporation or 'interest group' claims in their release, but they rarely override the impetus, or slant of the release.
More importantly by just reprinting what the publicists have given them, the media has conceded the vital task of setting the news agenda to those with a special interest. The result is a distorted view of events that serves special interests yet doesn't even require corruption.

The journalism school graduates who made the grade who are working in the office of the politician, corporation or special interest group, earning more money for less hours than the newsroom gang, are the reporters who really hold the reins now. This is where the decisions about what stories will run are really made now. This pr hack as a source of the news scam started a while back and is now endemic.

Just look at the sickeningly overlauded Tim Russert who served as an important conduit for Karl Rove and the rest of the BushCo machine. He allowed these scum to get out their lies, half truths and misconceptions. Before 'meet the press', this 'media expert' had cut his teeth on news managing asshole pols such as Patrick Moynihan and Mario Cuomo.

I just spent a bit of time researching Russert's career and as far as I can tell the 'expert' that his audience looked to for insightful commentary on the press, had never ever done the hard yards in an actual newsroom.

A media expert unfamiliar with the complexities of a major media newsroom seems odd until you understand that those days have gone. I suppose in Russert's worldview the notion that news is a commodity created by any group with a special interest and the resources to get their point of view out, seems reasonable. Hence the lack of real analysis in the lead up to the illegal invasion of Iraq. Those in favour of an invasion had much to gain materially, that meant they were prepared to invest big bucks on selling their story, which would give them more credibility in the eyes of a suck hole such as Russert, than any number of impassioned types long on facts but short on financial resources.

If the news is controlled by people who went for the jobs that paid the most rather, than the jobs that allowed a reporter to uncover an important story, it stands to reason that the world that these types inhabit is a world where material gain is the chief yardstick of credibility.


Posted by: Debs is dead | Jul 23 2008 22:05 utc | 6

Aw shit sorry fer the double post bernhard what's up? the software seems to be up to it's old tricks again which must be a pain in the ass for you. Now I know I'll check before hitting post.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Jul 23 2008 22:07 utc | 7

What a nightmare. Without Marx or Jesus, we have a functioning totalitarianism not requiring planning nor rigid central control. It is characterized by state distribution of wealth to subscribers with pretense of functioning market,where transactions are gamed to favor subscribers. There is mass surveillance and self inflicted censorship. Policing and justice follow doctrines laid down that celebrates cruelty and punishment. And nothing trickles down.

Posted by: YY | Jul 24 2008 0:29 utc | 8

And lies abound. Mostly because news favors story lines (hate the word narrative) and fiction is fine if it generates revenue. The revenue tap is sufficient to suggest what content matters and what do not. Basically it boils down to lack of integrity among the participants. Television has always been prone to enhancement and alterations.

Posted by: YY | Jul 24 2008 0:35 utc | 9

So dead sheiks (sheiks? tribes? what we are we dealing with here) come back alive to satisfy a story, dreamed up by failed advertising hacks in the McCain campaign to make up the news. And it is sloppy, but then the candidate is getting old anyway.

Posted by: YY | Jul 24 2008 0:39 utc | 10

Chris Hedges does a good piece on this.

Posted by: beq | Jul 24 2008 11:21 utc | 12

the first rule of empire is that you do not talk about empire

if the u.s. were to increase foreign reporting, it would (eventually) lead to reader's forming unavoidable conclusions which don't bode well back in the homeland. something about the incompatibility of democracy & empire abroad...

so for now, it's not surprising to see more comments in foreign media, like this one in the pakistan daily

It's amazing i have to come here to get the truth. There sure isn't any left in my country.

Posted by: b real | Jul 24 2008 15:33 utc | 13

(media) Guy Debord on? speed? Err, Ritalin today. What happens to a society when evil (the Serbs as stand ins, far off, past history to boot, etc.) is portrayed as residing in some fictional yet based-in-reality cartoon-like characters who wear weird disguises, are fugitives, resist arrest, are triumphantly captured, etc.?

Not that the line between truth and fiction should be drawn, can be drawn, as for humans, any fact is hinged to its interpretation (..see endless philosophy, science, media studies, even mathematics, etc.) but that having it ignored completely, or eliminating the possibility of the distinction, an awareness of it, discussion of it, the opportunity to cook a snoot in function of it, call spin, have a position, is a sleight of hand so pitifully low words fail me.

Where is the fault?

The loss of politics, of civics, of the commons, some might invoke religion, moral values? Capitalism? The failure of democracy? The unimpeded rise of an international predator class? (yes to this one) A comfort glut in the West? Globalization and its new perceptions, manipulations? Failed education, workers becoming or staying low skill and cogs under the ferule of despots? Loss of individuality, through an obligation to adhere to prescribed roles (e.g. reporters), alienation? Inherent rapacious human nature and the inevitable exhaustion of the world’s resources (energy, agri, oceans, climate change, etc.) The population explosion? Hubris and skewed expectations?

How to make sense of all this?

McLuhan was not, contrary to popular belief, positive about the ‘global village.’

Posted by: Tangerine | Jul 24 2008 18:17 utc | 14

(media) Guy Debord on? speed? Err, Ritalin today. What happens to a society when evil (the Serbs as stand ins, far off, past history to boot, etc.) is portrayed as residing in some fictional yet based-in-reality cartoon-like characters who wear weird disguises, are fugitives, resist arrest, are triumphantly captured, etc.?

Not that the line between truth and fiction should be drawn, can be drawn, as for humans, any fact is hinged to its interpretation (..see endless philosophy, science, media studies, even mathematics, etc.) but that having it ignored completely, or eliminating the possibility of the distinction, an awareness of it, discussion of it, the opportunity to cook a snoot in function of it, call spin, have a position, is a sleight of hand so pitifully low words fail me.

Where is the fault?

The loss of politics, of civics, of the commons, some might invoke religion, moral values? Capitalism? The failure of democracy? The unimpeded rise of an international predator class? (yes to this one) A comfort glut in the West? Globalization and its new perceptions, manipulations? Failed education, workers becoming or staying low skill and cogs under the ferule of despots? Loss of individuality, through an obligation to adhere to prescribed roles (e.g. reporters), alienation? Inherent rapacious human nature and the inevitable exhaustion of the world’s resources (energy, agri, oceans, climate change, etc.) The population explosion? Hubris and skewed expectations?

How to make sense of all this?

McLuhan was not, contrary to popular belief, positive about the ‘global village.’

Posted by: Tangerine | Jul 24 2008 18:18 utc | 15

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