The first of this series that I watched dealt with the issue of new media and how that is affecting modern communication methods. As an aspiring journalist, this has special importance to me. Zeinab Badawi presented this discussion, and her panelists were Nakhle el Hage (Director of News for Al Arabiya); Alison Smale (Executive Editor of the International Herald Tribune); David Plotz (Editor of online magazine Slate) and Mark Byford (BBC’s Deputy Director General). Rather than tell you what I think and make this a commentary like the rest of my posts, I’m going to give you a blow-by-blow account of what was discussed, and I’d like your opinions. Let’s have a dialogue on this.
The 3 key questions Zeinab discussed were (1) “How relevant is international news to peoples’ lives?”, (2) “Why should you care what goes on in Peru, Botswana or Hungary?” and (3) “How should this news be best delivered in this modern age?”
Zeinab started with why – what makes us care? The panel brought up issues of globalisation and the slow eradication of borders that comes with it; the fact that many peoples’ friends, families and jobs are in countries outside their own; that the global audience is getting more and more connected by the day. A final point made by Mark Byford was that international news and the interconnectivity we feel allows us to lead more purposeful lives and be more engaged in global events. It’s certainly why I want to be a journalist – to get people to think, act and feel, and to provoke a reaction from the audience.
The panel went on to discuss the ability of a journalist to engage audiences in big global stories and the relative difficulty in getting viewers interested in smaller and more localised ones. Nakhle El Hage said it was easier for him and his agency of Middle Eastern journalists to cover external news rather than get the audience interested in local stories. The key barriers to this, he said, are sociological; he also discussed the key differences between Western and Middle Eastern media. The prevalence of a Western frame of thinking and operating in the workforce means that Western perspective are given more credibility, with local ideas taking a backseat.
In the context of external forces affecting the day-to-day work of a journalist, David Plotz talked about the “real breadth and opportunities” coming from amateurs – citizen journalists. In the context of the Iranian election, news came not only from correspondents but from locals sending in video clips, photos and comments through mobile phones, e mail and other such forms of technology. This is a new perspective, he said, which enhances the role of a correspondent.
But does it not also pose a threat to a journalist’s career? With the global recession, US newspapers are pulling back on their foreign bureaux and foreign correspondents are now covering local news. The New York Times is one of the few remaining sources of news with international bureaux still working. This hasn’t diminished our need for international news – all it’s done, if anything, is make us want it more. What’s happened with the diminishing role of the international correspondent, is allow for a rise in citizen journalism. It’s not a substitute for global correspondence, but rather enhances it.
In light of this rise of citizen journalism, coverage is also affected. El Hage’s argument about Western and Middle Eastern media was one of the highlights of this debate – he talked about Western media not being interested in the Middle East until 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’ began. And after that, the region was viewed as harvesting ground for terrorists and little else. The perceived superiority of the Western media has affected their journalistic objectivity, which makes us in turn see the Middle East through these skewed lenses. For example, 5 British hostages were recently taken in Iraq, and this story has made headlines in nearly all Western papers and news stations. In Nigeria, Phillipinos and Japanese people have been taken hostage, yet this gets no Western coverage. We have to ask ourselves at this point, what makes the first story noteworthy and the other insignificant?
So what’s the future of global news, if everyday citizens are turning into amateur journalists? TV networks are getting smaller, and international news coverage is diminishing – a few sources like the BBC and NY Times will remain but for the most part, citizen journalism will replace agencies like USA Today and smaller channels like ITV News. This may not be a bad thing though – as El Hage pointed out rightly, there is a skewed angle adopted by Western media. It is time we stopped viewing each other through clouded glasses and got as real a vision of the outside world as we can. And how better to achieve this than through people *in* the outside world themselves? Those brave enough to risk imprisonment and their lives to report events on the ground and share it with whoever can access the Internet. I have a feeling that the more we see of this sort of amateur journalism, the better our own perceptions of the world around us will be. We’ll find ourselves slowly realising we’re all in essence the same, and that certian regions of the world are hardly anything at all the way we let the media tell us it is.