Less than 12% of all US news coverage captures anything beyond the U.S. border. Sadly, most of the measly 12% is just recycled AP news stories.
The little coverage that does make its way into the media gets scant attention. It is way too easy to change the channel or flip past page 12 of the newspaper; to skip past the important issues impacting the world in search of mindless entertainment. Unfortunately, Americans seems to prefer cheap humor over substance, and we seem content to deliver it to them.
While we waste our valuable time poring over the mundane and meaningless details of pop stars' lives, the world is growing increasingly unstable.
Albert Einstein once famously said, "I do not know what weapons they will use in the next world war, but the one after will be fought with sticks and stones."
The press has long had an important role in educating the masses, swaying public opinion, and driving change. As the recent Iranian election conflict shows, the media can play a huge role. Yet as the international coverage delivered to Americans dwindles, our ability to mobilize our population on issues beyond our borders goes with it.
We have accepted ignorance with dangerous consequences.
The Ugly American
Until his retirement from "The Tonight Show," Jay Leno made a habit of interviewing ignorant Americans who could not point to Arkansas on a map, let alone Afghanistan. We may have laughed at how dumb Americans can be, but the joke is on us.
Do you really want to live in a nation unaware of and unconcerned about the world around us? Imagine if every country had the same attitude.
How are we going to educate the population so they are empowered to make the right decisions? At this year's TED conference, a researcher showed a chart of press coverage by topic. Unbelievably, the coverage of Anna Nicole Smith's death exceeded all the coverage of Africa combined!
As online publishers, we control the most powerful communication medium in the world. The readers of MediaPost collectively own publications that reach hundreds of millions of users each month. Our technology platforms are 24/7, instant, and viral.
We could singlehandedly solve this problem.
Get People Thinking
We need to start by committing to increase the percentage of international news coverage we deliver to our audience. With the exception of one-person ABC mini-bureaus in three cities (Mumbai, Delhi, and Nairobi), there are no network news bureaus in all of Africa, India, or South America. This means the plight of more than two billion people goes without coverage.
We also need to change how we present the data. Like it or not, we are a channel-surfing culture; we suffer from short attention spans and even shorter patience levels. We need to make the plight of malaria more interesting than the plight of reality stars (luckily it is). We need to get people to buy into the story line, and become not only readers but activists.
At the very least, we need to create concerned world citizens.
How Do You Make People Care?
In the 1960's President Kennedy captured the collective imagination of our fellow citizens with the goal of landing a man on the moon. This created an intense focus that inspired countless scientists, research projects, and innovations. It even led to the creation of ribbed swimsuits.
How do we get people to care about the important world issues now? With the economic crisis creating fear and uncertainty, it would be understandable for people to say, "not now." It is exactly times like this though, when we have the opportunity to reset people's thinking, and enact rapid change.
As Einstein hauntingly said: "It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity." Nowhere is this more apropos than with online publishing today.
It is time for us to demonstrate our humanity.