13 years ago today, I produced my last TV newscast. Walking out the door of the TV station and into a new career direction, I carried with me a set of what I thought were facts about what the public cared about and what it didn’t.
Much of what I learned in my time in broadcast news has helped guide me in strategy and day-to-day decision-making in my “new” career and will continue to for years to come. But, in the years since that final broadcast in 1998, I have realized that some of what my management preached at multiple stations amounts to a set of myths that have been rationalized during years of cutbacks.
One myth that I believe has been busted, if not shattered, this year is that “people don’t care about International news.” I think that is a convenient assumption made as American news organizations, driven by corporate mandates, cut costs by closing bureaus around the world. It’s true that we care much more, on a day-to-day basis about our own backyard than something halfway around the world. But, as we have seen in recent months by the crisis in Egypt, the situation in Libya and, this week, the earthquake in Japan (the story of the miners in Chile last year is another example), big news anywhere in the world can rivet Americans.
We live in a more globally connected world, thanks to technology and a changing economy. Americans really know (more often personally) that what happens in places like China and India can affect their lives directly. We are also fighting two wars on foreign soil that have affected many American families. Meanwhile, too many news organizations believe that we “don’t care” about what happens overseas. Research, depending on how questions are asked, probably supports that. But, in times like this, it’s obvious that Americans do care about “big stories” wherever they take place at a time when technology helps tell them better than ever before.
This week in Japan, business news organizations, like the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, were actually the best equipped to cover the earthquake right away. They cover the global economy with journalists “on the ground” in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. But the American TV networks relied on Japanese TV feeds and, in one case, a correspondent in London (did they figure, “hey, it’s international?”) to tell the stories as they were breaking.
So Americans do care about International news. That’s a fact. But so is this – we, as a culture, really care about celebrity news. Remember, it’s the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston breakup that knocked the South Asian Tsunami “off the front page” in 2005. So Charlie Sheen doesn’t have to worry. Even with the world’s attention in Japan, the national media are waiting for his next stunt. That’s something that hasn’t changed in 13 years.