The Rising East


Journalism’s obligation
to report international
trends is greater than ever

A gathering of prominent American and foreign journalists has examined the American press and television coverage of international news before and after the terrorist assaults of Sept. 11, 2001, and found it wanting.

Many saw the reporting about the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington as being the finest hour of leading newspapers and television newscasts despite the stunning enormity of those events. But the coverage before and after was a different story.

The editor of the Friday Times in Pakistan, Najam Sethi, faulted the American press and television for not seeing the emergence of militant Islam before 9/11. "Much the same sort of thing could be said about the American think tanks and the American intelligence community that did not anticipate the rise in the challenge of Islamic fundamentalism as a global rather than a local force," he said.

For the future, the editor of the San Antonio Express-News, Robert Rivard, said: "9/11 created the responsibility of a lifetime for American newspaper editors. It injected new life and energy into the importance of what we do in society, in a democracy, and if it didn't galvanize your newsroom and raise the morale and the sense of purpose, then something is amiss in your newsroom."

But not all of the assembled journalists agreed that the experience of 9/11 would translate into a wider interest in international news. Kevin Klose, president of National Public Radio, asserted: "There's absolutely no evidence that the public appetite for international news has extended much beyond the terrorism in the Mideast."

Rivard, in rebuttal, said to the editors that "you can either lead in your communities or you can follow." He asserted that "it might only be a 25 percent audience that cares about international news but they're incredibly important readers, they're opinion-makers in your community."

These findings came from a fresh report based on exchanges amid a day-long conference arranged by the Pew International Journalism Program in Washington in June. It was organized by John Schidlovsky, formerly the curator of the Jefferson Fellowships at the East-West Center in Honolulu and later director of the Freedom Forum's Asian Center in Hong Kong.

Schidlovsky agreed with the Pakistani editor that 9/11 was both a media and an intelligence failure.

"Journalists didn't tell U.S. citizens enough about the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, about the rise of Islamic militants," he said. "Or at least we didn't tell people in a compelling way."

"As we scramble to make up for all that we missed before 9/11, what stories are we overlooking now that might alert us to the next threat?" he asked.

Richard Sambrook, news director of the British Broadcasting Corp., the world's largest newsgathering organization for radio and television, addressed that question, contending that getting out ahead of such events "demands a commitment to reporting long-running and complex issues over a period of time."

Sambrook had a word for publishers who seek to cut costs at the expense of professional coverage:

"Invest in reporting the truth and you will earn the trust and loyalty of audiences. Not just for one overnight rating but for the long game. Fail them when they need you and you may lose their trust and support -- for good."

The British journalist had little patience with those who pander to viewers and readers. "Far from leading our audiences, we fear them -- fear that anything complex, anything unfamiliar will be a turn-off." In contrast, he asserted, "we need to work harder not only to hear what the audience says they want, but to try to understand what might inspire them to want what they don't know."

The editor of the Boston Globe, Martin Baron, found that interest in international news had gone up since 9/11 and, contrary to the experience of some others, said it had stayed up. To feed that new interest, he said, the Globe had taken space and reporters from "our soft features to fund national and international and national security coverage."

Alex Jones, director of journalism and public-policy center at Harvard, noted the blurring of lines between international and local news. Local news, no matter where it comes from, "means to most people news that matters to their lives, news that has some direct impact on them."

Richard Halloran is a former correspondent
for The New York Times in Asia and a former editorial
director of the Star-Bulletin. His column appears Sundays.
He can be reached by e-mail at

E-mail to Editorial Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --