COM 564 Final Paper / Decline in Foregin Bureaus


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COM 564 Final Paper / Decline in Foregin Bureaus

  1. 1. An Examination of the Decline in Foreign News Bureaus, the Change in How News is Reported, and the Impact of a Decreased Public Interest of International Issues Brian McLawhorn Elon University
  2. 2.   2   Introduction This study initially aimed to uncover trends or supporting evidence as to whether the decrease in foreign bureaus and increased reliance of new media journalists creates a less informed populace. Research into the issue, however, led to other revelations and possibilities. Rather than determining if and how the decline in foreign news bureaus has resulted in an uninformed society, findings directed attention to a downturn in interest of international issues, as well as differences in how news is brought to the public, both in form and breadth. These findings held particularly true with Millennials (18-31 years old) and Generation X members (33-47 years old), who have led the charge in the deterioration in interest of news consumption. Based on surveys produced by the Pew Research Center, the lack of enthusiasm for international news, and news in general, is not a result of fewer bureaus or less reporting, but instead a simple case of a drop in the enjoyment of news absorption. The idea of a decrease in interest holding a significant place in the lack of foreign bureaus and correspondents and not solely a result of financial constraints and/or the emergence of new media journalists (bloggers, citizen journalists, backpack journalists, etc.) speaks to a different set of issues. The focus of research no longer centers on the idea that progress in technology and its impact on the financial stability of news organizations is the lone driving force behind the elimination of foreign bureaus. With that in mind, there is still reason to examine the affects of new media on international news reporting and the traditional form of bureaus and correspondents. Interest in News on the Decline? In October 2013, the Pew Research Center released results from a survey that evaluated how and how often members of four generations – Silents (67-84 years old), Boomers (48-66 years old), Gen Xers, and Millennials – consumed news. The report paints a grim picture for the
  3. 3.   3   future of news organizations. The study researched news consumption of each generation from 2004 to 2012. The generational gap in time spent following the news is significant with Silents viewing an average of 84 minutes per day in 2012, Boomers 77 minutes, Xers 66 minutes and Millennials 46 minutes (Kohut). According to Kohut, the most concerning data relates to the lack of increase in news consumption over time for Gen Xers and Millennials. Each showed only an increase of three minutes per day on average from 2004-2012, Gen Xers reporting 63 minutes in 2004 and Millennials only 43 minutes. The report also indicated an increase in how Gen Xers and Millennials were receiving their news. From 2006 to 2012, Xers displayed a 19 percent increase in the use of Internet as their source for news. Over the same six years, television use among Xers has maintained steady between 46 percent and 53 percent. Newspapers have been on a steady decline, dropping from 32 percent in 2006 to 21 percent in 2012. Millennials is lower than that of the Xers in every category. Those Millennials that did pay attention to news consumed the majority of it from the Internet, peaking at 43 percent in 2012. Television news was second at 35 percent. Only 14 percent of Millennials consuming news received it from newspapers. In contrast to the uptick of Internet use for news consumption, Boomers and Silents turned to new media the least at 35 and 23 percent, respectively. Both groups overwhelmingly turned to television as their primary source of news with the Silents represented by 73 percent and Boomers 65 percent. With numbers clearly supporting the decline in interest of news in general, television networks in particular are adapting their programing, while newspapers are rapidly fading away. Newspapers are clinging to life through their online presence, and in the process having to change how they present the news; no longer can newspapers rely solely on the written word, multimedia components have to be intertwined as well. Television networks and cable news
  4. 4.   4   channels have adopted an online presence as well, but have also made changes in how they bring broadcast news to the table. CBS, ABC and NBC, often referred to as “The Big Three,” have drastically moved from hard news to “lighter topics.” In a study produced by the Pew Research Center that compared The Big Three’s programming from January-May 2007 to January-May of 2012, data showed a strong decrease in U.S. foreign affairs reporting. In 2007, U.S. foreign affairs led in program material for all three. ABC devoted 19 percent of its newshole to foreign affairs, while NBC focused 20 percent of its programming on the topic and CBS 17 percent. In 2012, ABC had dropped its focus to just 6 percent, with NBC falling off to 7 percent and CBS to 12 percent. ABC replaced its foreign affairs coverage by increasing its attention to crime reports by 6 percent from 8 percent in 2007 to 14 percent in 2012. ABC also added more politics and lifestyle coverage. NBC made up its difference by increasing crime reporting from 7 percent to 11 percent and political reporting from 11 percent to 19 percent. CBS transitioned most of its efforts to political reporting as well, spiking its coverage from 9 percent in 2007 to 21 percent in 2012. NBC and CBS each increased coverage of international issues as well, while ABC remained the same (Jurkowitz & Hitlin, et. al., 2013). In a report released in 1999, yet still very relevant to current times, Marc Gunther of Nieman Reports labeled the focus of The Big Three in the late 1970s as one that “presented news programming for the prestige it would bring to their network, to satisfy the public-service requirements of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission, and more broadly so that they would be seen as good corporate citizens.” Since the days of serving as news-driven networks, The Big Three have shifted towards moneymaking programming. With the public showing less interest in hard news, networks began turning attention towards entertainment based reporting. CBS was the first to place an emphasis on storytelling and the newsmagazine format when it introduced “60 Minutes” in September of
  5. 5.   5   1968. The debut of “60 Minutes” came long before the decline in news interests and the need for news networks to make money. The model proved to be successful, which resulted in ABC debuting “Nightline” in March of 1980 and CBS introducing yet another news-magazine in the form of “48 Hours” in 1988. ABC also created “20/20” and “This Week with David Brinkley.” ABC’s creation of the three shows made it the most profitable of the three networks (Gunther, 1999). Cable news networks also made significant changes in programming during the same 2007-2012 time period. Cable news made its mark on television by placing a heavy emphasis on breaking news and live event coverage. With public interest more focused on the entertainment aspect of reporting, these cable news networks began to shift programming models from factual reporting to opinion and commentary. CNN, which was known for its edited packages, began steadily decreasing its production of such pieces in 2007 and replacing them with interviews. Fox News and MSNBC had previously spent significantly more time focusing on opinion and commentary, but the gap was shrinking considerably. In 2012, CNN increased its use of interviews in evening broadcasts from 30 percent of the newshole in 2007 to 57 percent. The network then decreased its edited packages from 50 percent to 24 percent. Despite its increase in opinion and commentary programming, CNN still offers more factual reporting than either Fox News or MSNBC. In the Pew report, CNN still focuses 54 percent of its overall programming to factual reporting with 46 percent designated for opinion. Fox News uses 55 percent of its airtime for opinion and commentary programming, while MSNBC uses an astonishing 85 percent of its airtime on opinion and commentary (Jurkowitz & Hitlin, et. al., 2013). From these studies, it appears evident that public demand for less hard news and more storytelling is driving the direction of both network and cable news.
  6. 6.   6   Public Opinion and the Impact of Financial Struggles According to another study performed by the Pew Research Center, public opinion indicates the impact of financial challenges facing news organizations has resulted in a poorer product. Consequently, news consumers are leaving outlets due to less information and a reduction in quality (Enda & Mitchell, 2013). The study shows that 31 percent of those surveyed have abandoned a particular news outlet “because it no longer provides the news and information they had grown accustomed to.” Interestingly, the polls revealed that a surprising 36 percent of those surveyed knew nothing at all about the financial problems facing news organizations. An additional 24 percent had only “a little” knowledge of the challenges. The report showed that 17 percent had “a lot” of knowledge and 22 percent had “some” concerning news organizations’ financial difficulties. Of the 39 percent that were aware, 37 percent believed the financial problems made it more difficult for news outlets to cover international issues. The Pew Research Center also shows in the study that those mindful of the financial struggles were more likely to desert particular news organizations. That leads to the ‘why’ aspect of their defections. While a decrease in quantity did hold some weight to their decisions, the affect on quality was the bigger issue. In fact, 60.7 percent of U.S. adults that stopped receiving news from a particular outlet stated it was due to “less complete stories.” The decline in news consumption from a particular outlet based on quality as a result of a decrease in available funds brings up its own set of unique questions. Take for instance the notion of fewer foreign bureaus and correspondents in comparison to the rising number of bloggers, social media users (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), citizen journalists and backpack journalists. Technology has evoked a present day form of journalism that is represented by everyone from formally trained journalists to teenagers with a laptop or smartphone. Anyone can
  7. 7.   7   report what he/she sees with the presence of social media. The amount of international news available for public viewing is not in question, the quality and depth of the reporting, however, is up for debate. This concern is not relegated simply to the presence of citizen journalists and untrained bloggers. It also relates to the increased reliance on “hot spot drop-in coverage” and use of newswires. With speed and demand for instant coverage a prime component of news consumption in the age of online media, news outlets are forced to make a choice: get the news out or provide in-depth coverage. Without embedded foreign correspondents, producing authoritative reporting becomes a bigger challenge. Tobias Piller, a Rome correspondent for a German newspaper, views today’s form of journalism as one that “often results in a kind of painting in broad strokes” (Russo, 2010). Former Boston Globe foreign correspondent Pamela Constable wrote candidly about her experiences in overseas bureaus and experiences covering events in Latin America. Her time in such areas covered as many as 10 years at a time, placing her in the community and ultimately providing her with an understanding that newswire reporting, parachute journalists and backpack journalists cannot capture. She summed up her thoughts on the issue by stating “[newspapers] can put events in context, explain human behavior and belief, evoke a way of life. Foreign correspondents can burrow into a society, cultivate strangers’ trust, follow meandering trails and dig beneath layers of diplomatic spin and government propaganda” (Constable, 2007). While examples supporting this mindset are not difficult to uncover, public opinion also supports the idea that news distribution is better than it has been in past years, even when foreign bureaus were scattered all over the world. Arguments can be made that locals reporting news via blogs, Twitter and other forms of social media are not only keeping the world informed, some say more aware than ever before (Hodgetts, 2009), but also capable of providing in-depth
  8. 8.   8   coverage that has been lacking since the removal of most foreign bureaus. Hodgetts points out that it was a blogger that revealed Dan Rather’s reporting of fake documents that supposedly showed irregularities in President George W. Bush’s Air National Guard service. He also directs attention to a cell phone recording of George Allen’s “Maccaca” comment that likely influenced his loss in the 2006 Senate race. Both instances were cases of nontraditional journalists making a difference with in-depth and accurate reporting. In terms of international news reporting, there are concerns on the reliance of those already in place in regions throughout the world. Natives have the ability to offer a more organic form of reporting, but the possibilities of it being laced with heavy bias are very realistic. Russo acknowledges that there is much more to the uneasiness of relying solely on citizen journalists for foreign reporting than just a lack of seasoned perspectives. She states that “citizen journalists might have little commitment to objectivity; the line between a citizen journalist and an activist, between reporting and opinion, can be a fine one” (Russo, 2010). That said, media organizations are certainly not exempt from such concern, particularly in present day scenarios where networks lean in favor of one school of thought, i.e. Fox News (conservative tone) and MSNBC (liberal tone). Ultimately, the reports discussing displeasure in the lack of quality news coverage points more towards the ability of today’s journalists to dig deeper for underlying causes and support for why and how things are taking place. Russo quoted former NPR foreign news editor Loren Jenkins as saying “We are in a profession in which everyone lies to us – from the government all along the line on down – either intentionally or because they don’t know what is going on … Part of what journalism is really about is trying to pull through all the distortion. You shift and you find where in all that mix is the grain of truth, and that is what training and editors are about.” French reporter Yves Eudes also questions the ability of citizen journalists to bring the full story to the table. His assessment
  9. 9.   9   is not that citizen journalists do not dig deep for a story, but rather they are incapable of seeing the big picture and how a particular event relates to the overall story. “First-hand witnesses cannot see the big picture. They’re not trained to understand whether what they’re seeing is relevant to the big picture or to see what really happens. They’re trained to see what they want to see. If you only rely on Twitter or Facebook, you might end up howling with the wolves” (Krotoski, 2011). That lack of truth, understanding and deep coverage is what has driven adults in the U.S. away from news organizations. That lack of in-depth reporting can be tracked to insufficient financial capabilities to support foreign coverage. In 2007, costs of supporting foreign bureaus reached at least $250,000 (Constable, 2007) and as much as $500,000. Those numbers were reported for bureaus in low- security areas. Those in high security regions, such as Baghdad could balloon to four times the lowest reported number (Constable, 2007). Certainly financial restraints have played a major role in the demise of foreign bureaus. Other aspects, as mentioned in the introduction, have as well. If news organizations deemed international news as a profitable undertaking or something that served a strong public service, chances are there would be attempts to maintain at least some bureaus throughout the world. Public demand, however, has indicated a low interest in international news, and more entertainment based television, and web interactions. Two-Step Flow Two-step flow theory states that ideas flow from mass media to opinion leaders to the general population. In regards to news media, a study presented by The International Journal of Press/Politics relates the two-step flow to an international perspective based on reporting done by U.S. and Canadian television news. The study analyzes television news reporting of the United
  10. 10.   10   States’ NBC News and Canada’s CBC and CTV from 2004 to 2006. The study focused on news coverage of George W. Bush and the Iraq War. It concluded that evidence was present in Canadian reports that NBC News was leading the way for coverage north of the border. In essence, Canadian news viewed itself as opinion leaders in this scenario, leaning on NBC to take the lead in its own coverage. The question that is presented in this situation is where does NBC receive its information? According to the report, censorship is alive and well even in the United States. The authors state, “Some problems inherent in international reporting are at least partially beyond the control of reporters. Presidents can dominate news cycles, particularly when military matters are underway, reducing the ability and desire of other political actors to be heard. Explicit White House media management strategies, including the selective release of information and tightly controlled media access to the combat zone through ‘embedded journalism,’ can also raise credibility problems for wartime reporting. In addition, potential critics of administration policy may silence themselves rather than face charges of disloyalty from the White House, thereby depriving reporters of alternative sources of information and evaluation regarding presidential priorities” (Farnsworth, Soroka & Young, 2010). The argument presented in this article points out that government control over certain newsworthy topics makes it difficult for foreign reporters to gain access to information. The unwillingness of those in the know to shy away from limitations provided by higher officials results in fewer sources for these international news representations. Consequently, these reporters have the tendency to rely on in- country media, as well as Internet-based research for their newsgathering ((Farnsworth, Soroka & Young, 2010). In turn, bias enters not only domestic consumption of news, but also international, thus shaping the public perception of issues regarding foreign lands. Conclusion
  11. 11.   11   The rapid decline in foreign news bureaus tells the story of something much bigger than financial limitations. It describes more unnerving issues, namely, the decrease in American (and to a lesser extent other countries) interest in international news and news in general. Despite the increase in technology and its capability of opening up information from parts of the world previously deemed unreachable, or at least more difficult to reach, the American public is not necessarily more or less informed than it was before the emergence of the Internet and social media platforms. There are more opportunities to obtain hard news and an awareness of international issues, but in many cases they are merely surface-based, superficial reports. The near-elimination of foreign bureaus has resulted in a decrease of in-depth, contextual reporting that offers a deeper insight to an issue. Today, however, that fact does not seem to matter. Younger generations are consuming less news than previous generations, and there are no signs that an increase in interest will take place. Storytelling and entertainment reporting drives the public interest and news networks have heeded the societies requests shown through public opinion.
  12. 12.   12   References Adams, S., Anderson, M., Hitlin, P., Jurkowitz, M., Mitchell, A., & Santhanam, L. (n.d.). The Changing TV News Landscape. The State of the News Media 2013. Constable, P. (2007, February 18). Demise of the Foreign Correspondent. The Washington Post. Retrieved from dyn/content/article/2007/02/16/AR2007021601713_pdf.html Enda, J., & Mitchell, A. (2013). Americans Show Signs of Leaving a News Outlet, Citing Less Information. The State of the News Media 2013. Retrieved from page/citing-reduced-quality-many-americans-abandon-news-outlets/ Farnsworth, S., Soroka, S., & Young, L. (2010). The International Two-Step Flow in Foreign News: Canadian and U.S. Television News Coverage of U.S. Affairs. Retrieved from Hodgetts, P. (2009, July 31). How has technology changed news reporting? Retrieved from Jones, T., Vliegenthar, R., & Van Aelst, P. (2011). Foreign Nation Visibility in U.S. News Coverage: A Longitudinal Analysis (1950-2006). Retrieved from Krotoski, A. (2011, February 19). What effect has the Internet had on Journalism. Retrieved April 25, 2014, from what-effect-internet-on-journalism Russo, D. S. (2010, January 30). Is the Foreign News Bureau Part of the Past? Retrieved from