As a young woman living in Paris, I dreamed of becoming a journalist. Travel and interviewing people from around the world sounded exciting and meaningful. I hoped to be one of the faces on NBC, CBS or ABC, in the U.S., with visions of sharing news from around the world: stories about different cultures, ways of thinking, and making people feel they belonged to a planet that shrank to the size of a marble, the more we learned about one another.
Today I realize how miserable I would be to step in the shoes of Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer. Don’t get me wrong, I respect those two ladies, however, what we see on prime time television, is in my opinion, not news. Yes, I know, we get coverage on Iran, Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan, but when you compare U.S. news to BBC news, or other European channels, we get such a limited perspective on what happens outside the U.S. We learn more about blood pressure medicine, arthritis, viagra, acid reflux, loss of bone density and all the drugs we can take during ten minutes of commercials which interrupt the news, making it seem even more banal. Whenever we hear about other countries, it never seems to give us a positive view on what’s happening there, but rather a positive view on what the U.S. is doing for others.
I realize how ignorant I am about what’s going on around the world, including the country I live in when I visit my family and friends in France, Britain and Denmark. They quiz me on U.S. politics and I never really know what’s happening. I’d have to spend hours reading and doing my own research on various issues to feel informed enough to vote on a proposition, yet many voters base their decisions on thirty second ads they see or hear. That’s the wrong way to vote.
When I travel to Europe, I finally understand what’s going on in the U.S. Is that because I understand French better than English? I don’t think so. Often I see debates and interviews that never appear on U.S. television. When I return to the U.S., I have a fresh view of what’s happening in the world, in the U.S. and even in California. Why is that?
So how did this blog post start? From my European blogger friend, Phivos Nicolaides who sent me a YouTube video of a singer from Portugal. I’d never heard of this singer, and when I told him that, he made a comment which I agreed with:
To tell you the truth, in States they know very little about the other world…
When you are on the top of the world, you think there is nothing else to see, listen and learn…
This happens to every country when she becomes powerful. In the end of course things change one day dramatically…
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Gramma Ann says
Really, I have no thoughts, just wanted to let you know I enjoyed this very thought provoking post. A wake up call, so to speak. Who cares who Tiger slept with? I would like to learn more about what goes on in other areas of the world. Since I don't travel to other parts of the world, except through blogs, it sounds like I have a lot to learn. BTW, I enjoy your posts, just don't comment very often.
I totally agree with you. I can see this phenomenon here in Sweden too and really miss the international perspective of the BBC coverage. Thank goodness I can see it on the Internet!
Robert the Skeptic says
This is an issue of great concern to me; the art of "journalism" in the USA has declined to nonexistence. I have blogged about this myself. Were it not for Public Broadcasting, often there would be stories we never would have heard about any where else.
I agree with your European friend's comments; Americans don't believe that any place else matters. We have no clue how to solve our health care crisis, but Europe has had that figured for decades. We don't know what to do with our nuclear power plant waste, but France has been reprocessing spent fuel for decades. The list goes on and on.
The news here that isn't diluted with pharmaceutical ads, as you say, has lead stories about celebrities and warm-fuzzy human interest stories. Our media makes us cozy and complacent and keeps us ignorant. I don't see it getting better any time soon.
Miss Footloose says
Sonia, I have the same experience when I go to Europe, when I watch TV there, when I talk to friends and family. Although many Europeans have skewed and wrong ideas about the US as well, they do have a broader sense and awareness of the world beyond their won borders. In the US I am always surprised how little people know or even care about the rest of the world, as if it is not worth knowing (for whatever reason.)
The US is very, very large and people don't get the same opportunities to travel as the Europeans do, which is part of the problem. Growing up in Holland, all I had to do was drive at most 1 1/2 hours in any direction and I'd be out of the country — either in the water or in a place where I'd have to speak another language.
So very true and actually quite sad for Americans. They miss so much.
Warren Baldwin says
This was a gutsy post! I read news articles from Britain and some other foreign countries occasionally, and I've had the same feeling before as you express here – too often our news is fluff. They might mention something, but not really give details, and rarely give both sides. Reading foreign accounts gives clearer perspective.
The statement from your friend is really eye-opening and humbling. There may be more truth to it than we would like to admit.
Thought-stimulating post, Sonia.
I agree completely, Sonia. Both that the US has much poorer coverage of news than other countries and that it is getting worse. My husband, who taught journalism for many years, despairs over the quality of reporting in much of the media today. Democracy depends on information being accurate and a population that cares about what its government is doing–and what other countries are doing also.
Rayna M. Iyer says
The word I think is hubris.
Patricia Stoltey says
I do think we're in for some dramatic changes in this country. The state of our radio and television news media today is appalling. I have no confidence I'm getting the full story (even from AP), so I get most of my hard news from the internet, comparing sources from around the world. Many Americans don't seem to understand how slanted news reports are, and they make the mistake of believing what they see and hear. Not good.
So glad you enjoy my posts and you're always a welcome friend to stop by.
I didn't think Sweden was changing like the U.S. I still thought they had a more global perspective in their news coverage.
@Robert the Skeptic
I am sure this is something you're interested in as I always find your posts interesting and thought provoking. Your eyes are wide open, I can tell.
I'm glad to hear that I'm not alone in feeling this way when returning to Europe.
I agree with the fluff increasing. I think we're catering to more and more uneducated people. WHY?
I'd love to hear what your news is like in Botswana. maybe a post about it. Please let me know.
Your husband must be so upset. I agree with what you said about democracy and the news.
@Rayna M. Iyer
Good choice of words.
It's sad that it's up to us as an individual to do all the research on the Internet and double check it. I used to like relaxing in the evening to 30 minutes of great news coverage.
Gutsy, I agreed with you! I watched French news all the time and there's a worldwide view point. My significant other asked me about some major issue that had happened a few years ago and I didn't have any clue about it. When I looked it up, I saw that it was something big, and I didn't hear any news about it in the states.
Sonia, the news is skewed and manipulated to suit the viewpoint of the news channels. We listen to BBC. I feel I'm somewhat buried in the sand when it comes to politics.
What the news channels find as top news is something I usually don't care about–like G. Ann said, who gives a rat's butt about what goes on in Tiger's life? We're inundated in commercials, too–I'm so thankful for the Mute button!
I think you would have made an amazing journalist, Sonia–you have charisma, and you're smart–you'd roll over Katie C. or Ann C. in a heartbeat!
Polly Dunn says
My son Mike has complained about the coverage on the Olympics for years now because of this same reason…we only see on tv what "they" think we want to see and "they" think it is all about us all of the time. The Olympics have a great number of participating countries and not always is the US #1…so they don't show those sports. He says this year it was better though. I know "media manipulation" because I am guilty of putting "the spin" on p.r. where I work. Tell them the facts, but leave out what you don't want them to know. It is sad.
Very good post! We have been watching Fox News for many years now, and they never present much news from outside of the US. We love keeping up with US news, but would love it, if they would acknowledge the rest of the world once in a while….
I would love to see more international news as well and I make a point to listen to the BBC when I can so I can learn what else is happening. Of course, with internet news, we have a lot more control about the kinds of news we "consume" and can make choices.
It frustrates me that all the networks cover the exact same stories all the time. I wish there were more variety.
Phivos Nicolaides says
You raise a very big issue Sonia. Concentration of media ownership is an important issue as it relates to the editorial independence, media bias, freedom of press, manipulation of public opinion and propaganda in the end… Today, most of the media are owned by a small number of conglomerates and corporations (including Europe in some countries) and there is a lack of a healthy competition. If I remember well, when I was living in Minneapolis, Minnesota twenty years ago, there was only one main, daily newspaper (Star Tribune).
But above all these, there are also other factors which affect the whole situation. There are economic, sociological and cultural reasons.
When a super power is anxious to DOMINATE the globe, there is no much room to LEARN the world, others’ countries history, culture and civilization…
I remember professor Don Gillmor, a brilliant academic of University of Minnesota, School of Journalism, who was trying to teach us the difference between “public opinion” and “public judgment”. To cat the story short, I will recall the well know quote “The longer you face a mirror the less you see…”. Kind regards Philip
Turquoise Diaries says
This is a very nice post and I believe you are right. I am not also very happy with our news over here so whenever I need to see what is going on in the world, I always tune in to BBC. CNN World is not much different than our own TVS.
I have wished we had a more global perspective in our news coverage here for long time. When I travel out of the country it always come back to me how limited our perspective is. I watch way to much news, but always with a skeptical ear.
Sadly true, Sonia. "I can gather all the news I need from the weather report," was the way Simon and Garfunkel put it. And that's about right.
As someone who has worked in news (electronic and print) for over 30 years, I have watched with disappointment, then dread, as information has been replaced by infotainment, and how side-shows capture the bulk of "prime time." Others have already listed examples; I'll refrain.
But, hey, I'm from Canada; a place about which most Americans know nothing, other than it's "The Great White North." So what does this Bear really know?
Did you live in France? Glad you understand what I mean.
Funny how many of us watch BBC these days. Thanks for the compliment. I do think Diane Sawyer is very classy and great, as well as Katie Couric, who seems Gutsy too. I just wonder how much "say" they have on what is broadcast.
I had the same issues as your son regarding the lack of different events we see during the Olympics. Tell me what you do for PR. I'm interested. Thanks for stopping by.
I no longer watch Fox news or any news on TV, because of what you said.
You bring up a point that I also noticed. ABC, NBC and CBS, all carry almost the exact same 4-5 topics every night and when you switch, you feel you're being brainwashed.
Your quote says it all.Thanks for inspiring me to write this article with your quote.
Another person who watches BBC.
Thanks for your comment.
You understand too. Thanks.
Very funny. The weather report says it all. Right? How often are they right?
Ah, you got the point!
Infotainment. would be great if it weren't so pathetic.
and I agree with you.
But I guess in every country there's a certain group of people who are not interested other than their own life or what's going on in their own country > city > town > village.
Here in Egypt we've been watching CNN and BBC. What a difference!
Amanpour is one my favourites too.
I came also to say bye, bye for a while – I'm busy packing and then going to have relocation break!
See you again in April!
Great comment's yes. But do we as American's even know about our own country, look who the majority voted in as president and look at the mess we are in. The health care reform is a big issue to me as well as other's I am sure. But do we really want to give our selves over to the government completely like other countries who already have and lose our right to choose. Lose gun control our right to choose if we have health care. I remember a nation who stood for values and the true "Constitution" and the men who worked tirelessly to give this great nation the strength to be the great nation it was. Remember the tea party (The Real One) maybe some of you should watch the John Adams biography and watch honor in the work's.We have watched other countries and vowed not to be like "Hitler","Marx","Castro","Sadam", and many other's but the president we have in charge is really all of those men wrapped up in one and he has an agenda and it isnt pretty.(His wife wasnt even proud of our country)There was an island "Elise" I believe and it was to make a melting pot of many countries into one. United we stand was something I was always taught and still believe in. After 911 no one want's to talk about it any more or face the danger's we still face from terroist's. Yeah I think the new's need's to tell alot of thing's including with America, we should be interested in our own country first or we will fall, which seem's as if our government is hanging by a thread.America is suppose to be the other countries example. God Bless America, without God in the equasion there is no country.
Agreed. I think we get better coverage on US politics here in Denmark than, in the US. And it's unbiased, which is hard to say for US News, if you can call Fox "news". My husband is a political journalist, but me, I'm just a regular student/mother, and I know stuff my mother in Texas doesn't know. In the US, you have to be quite active to stay on top of things, there's a definite discrepancy in our news broadcasts. Quite unfair to a large segment of the population. But maybe that's the point…
Very thought provoking post my new blogging friend. I would have to agree. How can we call what we are bombarded with news? I have not had the travel opportunities that you have. I am going to make a concerted effort to try to read more foreign news for a clearer perspective. I am afraid I am one of those ignorant citizens you describe in your post.
I agree, here in the States we can get a very slanted prospective of the news that differs from channel to channel. Just give me the facts, baby!
God bless and have yourself the best day!!!
Yaya' s Changing World says
Once upon a time, I think, news was something to be trusted and believed. Unfortunately, those days seem long-gone and only a distant and faded memory. Today, it seems that truth in reporting is guided by the desire to be more popular or more wealthy. At least, that's the way it looks from where I stand. Great post.
Yaya's Changing World
Ballerina Girl says
This is a great topic and one that is very true, sadly.
I like living outside of the US because you get to see, hear, learn and discover so many other …things(for lack of a better word).
My husband and I watch some US tv through our Slingbox, and we are always amazed at the commercials, let alone any "news". They are always putting down one of the sexes…the constant dribble about pharmaceuticals, etc….disgusting, really.
I am not sure how my country will turn out in 100 years, but in a way, I wich that we could change the perspective. Unfortunately, as someone else posted, the people in the US have a very limited view of the world…they do not travel around as much internationally, and therefore, limit their knowledge to what they "see on tv:.
I do like the US and think that if anything else, we always have the opportunity there to try to make a change in people's minds….let's hope someday we can all help in doing that!
I am interested in what you said about"putting down the sexes" as I have not noticed that, and since I love comparing countries, please can you give me an idea? I don't get offended as consider myself "international."
I find apalling the level of ignorance the United States has sunk to.
I listen to BBC. I try and get information from news sources outside the U.S.
Still. I am woefully unaware of the happenings of the world. But at least I make an effort.
I have for many years felt that the USA is "sanitized" in its dealings with the rest of the world.
Your comments are very apt Phivos.
Sadly though, Tiger's supposed sleeping partners sell newspapers, magazines and TV "news" time here in Oz too.
I think it is called dumbing down …
Jasmine Marron Glace' says
Well that's an interesting perspective. Bruce Bawer felt very differently when he went to live in Norway with his (now) husband.
He went there feeling not so great about the state of the American media and when living in Europe found that the European media lies a lot to its own audience.
i know what you mean though – I listen to the BBC from Australia, and generally find it interesting. however, i am still aware that the BBC is deliberately biased, anti American, anti Israel and has admitted its bias in a past, not so long ago study.
I suspect that European news is a little more interesting becaseu it covers, after all, so many different countries, and if you like variety you'll feel like you're learning a lot more about the world. But tehy certainly don't mention everything of note and they have an annoying PCness infecting much of the reportage there. Their idolisation of Obama is also incredibly annoying.
If you want to read more about Bawer's very interesting comparison bewtween USA and European media and news knowledge, attitudes etc it's in his book While Europe Slept by Bruce Bawer.