By G. Michael Dobbs
It’s interesting how two different conversations with very different people pointed me to a shared conclusion.
Last week I had the pleasure and privilege of sitting down to breakfast with a group of people on a State Department-sponsored trip to this country. The World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts asked if I would talk to them about covering municipal government.
We sat down at Hot Table in downtown Springfield and spoke for a little more than an hour. It was great.
The group included people from Hong Kong, Kosovo, South Korea, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Uganda. Some worked in government, some did not.
The questions they asked were insightful and specific. They wanted to know about Springfield, its history and its status today. They were intrigued about the casino issue and how it figured into the economic development of the city.
They also asked questions about taxation. It’s an interesting exercise to explain how taxes vary from community to community, in some states from county to county and from state to state.
Toward the end of our discussion, I apologized for my ignorance. I explained that American media does a lousy job covering events in most other countries. I confessed I knew next to nothing about events in Uganda, Nigeria and Kosovo. I see coverage about China, largely because of the connections with American businesses and see stories about conflicts in South Korea and Afghanistan.
I said that generally American media only covers famine, war and natural disasters in most nations – the stories that have the least complicated plot.
A few days later I had a conversation with a close friend who expressed in no uncertain terms how compromised American media was. He was so disgusted with the coverage of the George Zimmerman case on both liberal and conservative programs that he has sworn off network news shows.
He wanted me to explain why the Zimmerman case was considered “news,” when so many murders take place every day. It was a good question and the answer that I gave – it’s an easy, cheap story to cover, it has several elements that could be exploited – wasn’t satisfactory.
I told him that news coverage has deteriorated with the decreasing budget news outlets have been given and that easy stories to cover – celebrity stuff, trials – are economical.
The truth is in many ways American media has always covered these cheap and easy elements, but in the past there was also a commitment to be more ambitious.
My buddy concluded by saying that coverage of foreign countries is really bad in most American outlets he has seen – he did like reports he has seen on the Current cable channel about events in Mexico – so he has made a habit of reading the websites of foreign newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post. He sees news coverage about this country that he doesn’t see in American media.
Despite the technological breakthroughs that have made news reporting easier and less expensive, at the heart of all media coverage is profit and always has been. There is greater profit in reporting stories with cheaper overhead – stories such as trials that happen in one place or a celebrity event.
We now have the means for a greater understanding of the world through the Internet than we ever had in the history of mankind. We now comprehend that our nations are linked together in ways that in the past might have been more difficult to assess. We now realize the influence multi-national corporations have our lives, governments and the press.
If we truly want to be more educated about what is happening, we need to venture beyond the television newscast that take complicated stories and reduce them to two minutes of force-feed us fluff. Get online. Go to different sources and see what is happening elsewhere.
It’s a lot more work, but it’s worth it.
Where were you?
As a final word on the Springfield casino vote, remember that less than 25 percent of the eligible voters in the city determined the economic development fate for the city.
Where was the other 75 percent?
Now let’s see how many people turn out in West Springfield.
Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.