Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Majority Report

Is a newspaper big enough to cover obscure international conflicts?

Newsday foreign editor Roy Gutman thinks so.

The subject of a soon-to-be-released book, Gutman says journalists should be covering obscure international conflicts because they hide deeper implications that may impact future news coverage, just like the rise of Osama bin Laden's forces after Afghanistan's five-year civil war in the late '90s.

Is Gutman's idealistic view putting the cart before the horse?

While it's easy in hindsight to admit that localized coverage would have caught major events at an earlier stage, I don't feel that any far-reaching themes could arise from extended coverage before they naturally reveal themselves. Plenty of journalists, particularly those on political beats, can draw the lines between archived stories to a current issue - a series of crimes to a murder, etc. But we just don't have that kind of foresight. Journalists report, not hypothesize - otherwise we'd be making a lot of shot-in-the-dark associations we don't want to make.

Additionally, all that widespread foreign coverage is difficult to fit it all on a broadsheet with regularity
(it sure might fit online,though). The difficulty of the news is interest, and while I agree that coverage of obscure foreign conflict would be fascinating, the lack of relevance to the United States would prevent its appearing in the foreign section with all the usual suspects. Atrocities happen worldwide - a sad but true fact. While I support comprehensive coverage of the globe, and not just our European favorites, I can't imagine more than a few stories making the cut - because honestly, how relevant to America is the Democratic Republic of Congo (where atrocities occur daily) compared to Israel? Sure, a beautiful feature on the effects makes the pages on occasion, but do we really expect to see American implications of the conflict? To us (unfortunately), it's an ongoing, self-contained disaster - we can't hear it from all the way over here unless it impacts our family or our bank accounts. And news isn't news to Americans unless it affects our microcosm of a daily life.

While I think Mr. Gutman would agree with me that stronger international coverage would diversify our world views, I don't think there's enough space in the paper to do it unless we cut the bunches of stories on those same usual suspects, something that's difficult to persuade an editor to do. It's a lofty goal to change coverage on the page for the betterment of readers' global views. Furthermore, it's a difficult money issue, and dispatched foreign writers all over the globe are costly. We all know how well that goes down in a newsroom.

So though I support Mr. Gutman's optimistic goal wholeheartedly - how are Eritrea and Sudan these days? - I think it's impossible to see the future and it's a tough sell while we're stuck in the USA-centric paper-edition era.

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