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Invest in International News

"If the market for global news is growing, why is the delivery of it shrinking?"


There's money to be made for commercial media in the business of global news.Sure, news audiences appear to be shrinking, the big media companies have spent the years since the Cold War cutting news staffs and foreign bureaus, and American consumers still appear more interested in the latest travails of Britney and Paris than in what's happening in China. But there is mounting evidence of an audience-and not an insignificant one-for international news.It will come as no surprise to anyone that the U.S. news industry is struggling. In response to the rise of the internet and the disappearance of traditional revenue streams, most media outlets have cut expenses by laying off staff and closing international bureaus. Television news networks have reduced the number of foreign bureaus by more than 50 percent over the past two decades. Similarly, the number of foreign correspondents working for U.S. newspapers dropped 25 percent between 2002 and 2006.Even worse, the global coverage that does appear is increasingly restricted to a few high-profile topics. A 2004 study found that only 12 percent of local television news was international, and of that, 81 percent was devoted to the so-called war on terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The paltry remainder-49 minutes out of 48 analyzed hours-was spent on all other international issues.
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If the market for global news is growing, why is the delivery of it shrinking?
To be fair, not all global news has faded away. Some of it has migrated online. But even on the internet, the most heavily trafficked sites-like Google News or Yahoo!-are not necessarily offering more global content than the traditional news outlets. They merely offer the illusion of abundance. A recent study analyzed a day's worth of stories on Google News' front page. The 14,000 stories all covered the same 24 news events. Similarly, a study featured in EContent magazine indicates that much of the international news available from leading U.S. news providers consists mainly of recycled stories from the wire services.But according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, which has measured Americans' interest in global news, the number of Americans who say they follow overseas news closely most of the time grew from 37 percent in 2002 to 52 percent in 2004. The increase was especially notable among women, African-Americans, and people without college degrees. In addition, the percentage of Americans who follow international news very closely grew from 14 percent to 24 percent from 2000 to 2004, the largest increase in any category of the study.So, if the self-identified market for global news is sizeable and growing, why is the delivery of global news shrinking?art of the explanation comes from the fact that covering celebrities is cheaper than having traditional foreign news bureaus. But it is also due to the fact that media companies are still looking at the market through "old media" lenses. Even today, traditional media-industry market reports continue to segment the market by delivery mechanism-radio, TV, print, online-rather than by the type of specialized news beat, such as international news across radio, TV, print, and the web.Hopefully we can learn from the British, whose websites and magazines (like the BBC and The Economist, respectively) have seen a big boost in business from American audiences eager for international coverage. There are some positive signs: ABC News recently announced that it will establish mini-bureaus in Seoul, Dubai, New Delhi, Mumbai, and Nairobi. These will not replace larger bureaus around the world, but they can provide important news reportage for digital platforms without much overhead. Even more recently, CNN announced plans to open new offices in nine countries, including Afghanistan and Vietnam, in order to decrease its reliance on the Associated Press and Reuters.If these trends don't intensify, this one will: Americans will know less and less about the world they inhabit. Knowledge about international affairs has declined significantly over the past 20 years. In 2007, college graduates knew less about the world than their peers did in 1989; the same goes for high school graduates. The result is that these laggards will be less competitive globally, just as their jobs are being shipped overseas.Companies can give Americans the international news they want, or we can continue our precipitous slide into national ignorance. Investing in international news makes sense.
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