Archive for the ‘international news’ tag

The report we didn’t set out to write

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We didn’t set out to write a report on international news. We (the Media Standards Trust) set out to get a handle on what had really changed in newspapers – in terms of content – over the last few decades. There is so much – understandable – focus on the immediate, ongoing, news revolution that we wanted to take a step back, take the long view.

To do this we headed out to the wonderful, wind swept Colindale, the British newspaper library stranded in the nether regions of the Northern line. Here we looked at national newspapers from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

Two changes were particularly striking (apart from the ballooning number of pages and supplements):

  • The fall in the extent and prominence of international reporting
  • The fall in the extent of regional news

We left the regional news for now (that’s for a separate report), and decided to concentrate on international reporting – to see if our eyeballing of the papers was born out by the figures.

Knowing we could not count every story in every paper since the mid 1970s (the library would have moved to Yorkshire before we were finished) we chose a sample of papers and years. We picked an average week in 1979, 1989, 1999 and 2009 – a week that wasn’t skewed by  a big news story that dominated the press, like MP’s expenses or the election – and four newspapers (Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Daily Mail and the Mirror), and we started counting.

And we counted. And we counted. We counted the number of international stories in the papers (being generous in our definition of international), and we counted the total number of stories in each paper – oh, and we made a note of the page number as well (e.g. 2 international stories on page 2 and 3 other news stories). In total we counted over 10,500 stories.

This way we could get an impression – and granted it is an impression – of how the extend and prominence of international news has changed.

The end result was pretty clear. International news in these four papers has declined in absolute and relative terms. In absolute terms, in other words in terms of the number of foreign news stories published, international coverage has dropped by almost 40%. In a working week in 1979 there were just over 500 international stories published in these four newspapers. By 2009 this had dropped to just over 300. The decline in international news as a proportion of each newspaper was even starker (because the papers have got bigger as international coverage has shrunk). So, in 1979 international news made up a fifth of each paper, on average. By 1989 this had fallen to 16%, by 1999 to 13% and by 2009 to 11%.

Having done all this counting we then wanted to see if these numbers correlated with the experience of foreign correspondents and editors. So we spent some time speaking to people from these and other news organisations. The numbers, they say, mapped quite closely to their own impressions. We then chatted to them about the reasons for the decline and discussed where they thought foreign reporting might be going.

We’ve captured some of their thoughts, and a few of our own, in the Media Standards Trust report published today: ‘Shrinking World: the decline of international reporting in the British press’ (November 2010).

You can download if from www.mediastandardstrust.org or, if you’d like a print copy, give us a call (020 7727 5252).

Written by Martin Moore

November 1st, 2010 at 6:21 am

Let Nation Speak Unto Nation

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Why now? Why have many countries decided that the best way to get themselves heard internationally is through 24 hour news channels?

Russia Today celebrates its second anniversary this week. To mark it the channel has taken out full page ads in lots of national newspapers – with the bizarre tag line of ‘Information only. No labels attached’. I’m presuming this is meant to mean independent news about Russia. Yet Russia Today’s website states that the channel presents ‘the Russian point of view’ (though it also says that it has a ‘commitment to independent journalism’). And I was speaking to a World Service journalist yesterday who helped launch the channel who told me it has strayed a long way away from its original aspiration to independence.

And France 24 is about to celebrate a year on air – by all accounts feeling rather pleased with itself. Al Jazeera (representing a region/perspective rather than a country) has been around a few years now and its English language arm was only launched a year ago – and now reaches about 100 million households worldwide (from David Crow, The Business, 1-12-07).

So why now, and what does it mean? If you were being pessimistic you could see it as the Balkanisation of international media. A nationalistic reaction to the internationalising force of the internet. As such there is a danger it could lead to less understanding and greater tension between nationalities.

Yet you could also argue it is a positive response to the democratization of access to news and information, and gives people the opportunity to view the world from lots of different perpectives, be they Russian, French, American…

Unfortunately, what many of these channels lack is genuine independence. The French and Russian services are heavily subsidised – as is Al Jazeera (by the Emir of Qatar). Though the channels claim these subsidies do not influence their output, it is hard to imagine that they don’t feel constrained from doing difficult investigations into government as a result.

Indeed some of the articles on Russia today are astonishing light on substance. Take ‘Finance Minister visits deputy in jail’ today. It tells you that Sergey Storchak, the deputy, ‘is accused of attempting to embezzle more than $US 40 million from the state’, but that the Finance Minister will ‘vouch personally for Storchak’s proper conduct if released’. A few weeks ago, when his deputy was first arrested, the Minister said ‘he struggled to understand the accusations’.

But there the story ends. There is no examination of the charges, the motivation behind them, what repercussions they might have.

The BBC’s World Service had to prove its independence through the crucible of the Second World War. Despite funding from government it insisted on maintaining editorial autonomy and has built up a reputation for that autonomy over the past 75 years.

The newer channels have yet to prove their credentials and, by current reckoning, have no intention of launching difficult investigations into their funders any time soon.

Written by Martin Moore

December 14th, 2007 at 1:17 pm

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