Commentary

Stop And Think

How do you convince someone to care about the world around them?

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.

23 comments about "Stop And Think ".
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  1. Alyse Rome from Amazing Kids!, July 23, 2009 at 3:51 p.m.

    Thank you for such an insightful (and chillingly truthful) commentary, David.

    Let's hope the word spreads...and more Americans start waking up and doing something about it.

  2. Steve Baldwin from Didit, July 23, 2009 at 3:58 p.m.

    What's remarkable is how little it the availability of a worldwide communications system (the WWW) seems to have made on our provincialism. I mean, you can read newspapers from all over the world, and even have much of this content translated automatically! Clearly, our insularity stems from some other factor that may be part of our national character by now.

  3. Trevor Stafford from Red Canary, July 23, 2009 at 3:58 p.m.

    I suspect that no dominant empire in the history of mankind has cared about happenings that lie beyond its borders or immediate sphere of influence. The US is effectively the prettiest and most important girl in the room - and looks for mirrors, not dialogue.

    Increasing your coverage will not change this.

    Throw in the fact that the US has anti-intellectual and at times isolationist tendencies (look at how late they joined WWI and II) and you have a problem that only circumstance can change.

    It's a noble idea, sure. But bread and circuses are what the people of empires desire -- and always will.

    Also, I would argue that the press has had no impact on the Iranian conflict whatsoever. New channels have given us deeper access and insight, yes, we've shined a brighter light, perhaps, but coverage in and of itself means nothing. Self-congratulation is not warranted. The days of a romantic conflict spurring action (like the Spanish Civil War) are long past.

  4. Tony Anderson from Incline Video, July 23, 2009 at 4:02 p.m.

    Hi David,

    Thanks for having the balls to write about this.
    Been reading some old and new books on the subject of how dumbed-down most Americans are about the world outside the USA. The books are: Grunch of Giants - Bucky Fuller (1981) and Conspiracy of the Rich - Robert Kiyosaki. (2009)
    Most people don't understand how the Federal Reserve Bank works.It's actually a private corporation controlled by world bankers and is about as "Federal" as FedEx!
    The Fed has followed a consistent policy of flooding the economy with easy money, leading to a mis-allocation of resources and an artificial "boom" followed by a recession or depression when the Fed-created bubble bursts.
    Fluid social change can only materialize if two circumstances are met. One, the human value system, which consists of our understandings and beliefs, must be updated and changed through education and thoughtful introspection. Two, the environment surrounding that value system must change to support the new world view. The interaction between a person's value system and their environment is what influences human behavior. An activist organization I recently become acquainted with is The Zeitgeist Movement>>>http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com Listen to what they have to say about all this. Interesting solutions.

  5. Jonas Halpren from Federated Media, July 23, 2009 at 4:57 p.m.

    David,

    Nice article, how could anyone disagree Still, it is very pie in the sky stuff and completely disregards human nature. It is also completely off topic for this publication. If you want international news on the web, the are THOUSANDS of places to find it, to say we need more, I am not so sure. I want my local news site to tell me about local news, not Iran. I can go to CNN, BBC, HufPO, NYT, and dozens of other sites to get this. To say the US new sources should focus on x% on international is like saying Bon Appetite should have x% of wine coverage.

    Know your audience and cater to their needs, that's it.

    Once again you write something controversial, backed by incidental data only this time it has very little to do online publishing.

  6. Jerry Quinn from Micrsoft, July 23, 2009 at 5:10 p.m.

    This is a tired, worn out elitist argument. If you've travelled at all, you'll realize that the citizens of every other country are equally as ignorant of other countries and the US is not especially different in any of these aspects (just more publicized thanks to Borat, Jay Leno, etc...). Yes, people around the world *think* they know more about the US, but this 'information' is just as likely to be stereotypes from Baywatch (or Borat!) as anything else.

    What I don't see explained at all, is why should most people care if the Labor party is in power in Britain over the Tories (for example)? Do they know which party is in power in the STATE next to them? So really, is all this 'global information' *relevant* to most people? Or is this just a version of class-based trivial pursuit where we can flaunt our own jet-setting knowledge and complain about the unwashed masses?

    Is it disappointing that people spend more time following celebrity news, 'humor' shows, or sports than 'real' news? IMO, I think it is, but they use this information as a diversion, so I don't see it as necessarily competitive. The idea that we can 'force feed' mostly irrelevant (to the car repair guy, etc….) global news to people is neither practical nor ultimately effective.

    By the way, Einstein was wrong. The 'next war' was Korea (for the US anyway), which mean we should have used sticks and stones in Vietnam? Just saying.....

  7. Jonas Halpren from Federated Media, July 23, 2009 at 5:40 p.m.

    @Jerry. Thank you!

  8. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC, July 23, 2009 at 6:20 p.m.

    A couple of suggestions to keep up on some of Africa, should anyone care:

    Read Nicholas Kristoff - NY Times - he's over there much and reports on it regularly.

    Check out: www.Appfrica.net - Jon sends out a weekly newsletter from South Africa usually about very intereting topics, needs, and situations going on.

    There are many other organizations that do everything from the mosquito nets to clean drinking water to much more.

    If you want to know, you can ~

  9. Douglas Cleek from Magnitude 9.6, July 23, 2009 at 7:40 p.m.

    You have the answer right in front of you. American aren't stupid, they just don't care. Too many other things to worry about such as your job.
    The networks and media go where the money (eyeballs) is too. Whether it is famine in Africa or Michael Jackson, every day, editorial departments and management weigh the implications and the business impact($) of which stories get the coverage. Someone should also clue MSNBC in on this too They apparently didn't get the memo.

    Most of these media outlets are public companies who HAVE to deliver quarterly results over, or should I say, above less important, trivial matters like international affairs, tragedy, human suffering and loss.

    Unless a celebrity gets involved.......

  10. Hugh Simpson from WOW! Presentation, July 23, 2009 at 7:59 p.m.

    Kudos! As a former investigative reporter for Post Newsweek Tv/CBS in the late 60s CBS had bureaus every where even in Atlanta where I live now. Not any more from what I have heard. Also investigative reporters are one of the first people to leave when they do cutbacks so they can keep those airhead anchor people that don't know a good news story if it bit them. Of course we are luckier hear in Atlanta with veteran anchors.

    I will see what happens when I launch what could be the BIGGEST Peace event ever on the Net 1/1/2010 - Peace Domes. I expect it to get more coverage drom Twitter than network news!

  11. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., July 23, 2009 at 8:59 p.m.

    @Jonas

    If you don't like what I'm writing, feel free to not read it. It's an idiot who does the same thing twice expecting a different result...

    Once again, you missed the point.

    The problem is NOT that good information does not exist. The problem is that long ago, the profit incentive of media organizations replaced journalistic integrity.

    Mainstream media needs to make an effort to present a balanced and global view. They have a moral obligation to educate the public, not just entertain them.

    Long before it was all about CPM's, it was about making a difference.

  12. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., July 23, 2009 at 9:08 p.m.

    @Jerry.

    Educating Americans is elitist? Are you kidding??

    Study after study has proved that Americans are less educated on average about the world around them than other developed nations.

    More importantly, your premise that it is not important for the average citizen to know about world news is absurd.

    Ignorance has far reaching consequences that affect EVERY American. Like it or not, we live in a highly interdependent world.

    If we don't learn from the mistakes of others, we are bound to repeat them ourselves.

    Lastly, read the Einstein quote again. Einstein was referring to the next WORLD war.

  13. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, July 23, 2009 at 9:11 p.m.

    In addition, look what editors put on the front pages of the newspapers and news sites. Yes, too many Americans are stupid. They were handed an alligator for "free" and they took it without finding out in the most information accessible availability in the history of the world, what an alligator is, e.g., mortgages and credit cards. Does anyone think they get that getting out of this mess is going to take years regardless of what is being or not being done to improve it? People still wire money, rent to own (or just rent) and don't have checks go to direct deposit or even know what it is. Most everyone who reads MediaPost are so far out of the high number of people in those demographics that they do not realize that it is about 80% of the country. Want this to improve? Start with the schools.

  14. David Carlick from Carlick, July 23, 2009 at 11:10 p.m.

    Interesting thread. Murchoch (News Corp) cut his teeth with a paper called The Australian, which I believe is one of the most global of papers. Their coverage of the U.S. election, for example, was deeper and more thoughtful than that of the American press. Why? Australia is by necessity a world citizen. We are oblivious to our foreign policy even when it involves killing hundreds of thousands.

  15. Henry Harteveldt from Forrester Research, July 24, 2009 at 12:09 a.m.

    Mr. Koretz, your eloquent post is excellent. We remain subject to a never-ending cascade of drivel about a pop star's death, yet we pay no or little attention to truly important matters that will affect the future of our country and our world. Thank you for making this important point in such a sound, engaging manner.

  16. John Freeman from downthetubes, July 24, 2009 at 3:02 a.m.

    Speaking as a non-American I think you're doing your country and its media a disservice. Yes, foreign affairs coverage is limited but apart from the BBC, Britain isn't much better and on every game show, geography questions seem to stump 90 per cent of contestants. Unless an event can be shown to affect someone directly they often just won't care - it's human nature.

    There are several US-based organisations covering foreign affairs that I check ot: NewsTrust, for example and both the Washington Post and the New York Times have, I've found, good non-US coverage that gives a different take to the UK newspapers like the Guardian that cover foreign affairs in detail. And what about TIME? Or National Geographic? You couldn't get a magazine more interested in events beyond US shores than that.

  17. Philippe Borremans from Conversationblog, July 24, 2009 at 4:40 a.m.

    There is this perception but as a non American I do think that we, Europeans, suffer from the same ignorance...

    And let's face it, like politics, all communications is local and needs to "touch" people in a certain way in order to be relevant.

    Personally I know that the world is interconnected and that the drought in Eritrea can have an indirect impact on my small world here in Belgium...

    But I also understand that the same worldwide technology (the web) allows for very niche, local and personal exchanges of information.

    Social Media are fragmenting news, information and data in very small and almost atomic parts...

    There are even some who think that "the media" can only survive by locally published - crowd sourced - newspapers consisting of blog updates originating from one specific quarter of town...

    The thing is, their model is working because it is relevant to the people living there.... You can not impose "relevancy"...

  18. Jonas Halpren from Federated Media, July 24, 2009 at 2:22 p.m.

    @david

    Your calling me an idiot for not liking your post?

    For the record, I did get the point of your post, and I actually do agree with some of your points. However, you say the post was about fine line between profit incentive vs. journalistic integrity. Yet, you wrote about stupid loving celebrity fluff (newsflash, so does the rest of the world).
    Sure, the line between editorial and business is a fine one, but this is nothing new. It has been a issue for well over 100 years. I would also argue that the advent of the internet is making more American aware of world events than ever before.

    So, David, sorry if your point was to discuss profit vs. editorial integrity you missed the mark.

    Telling me not to read is coop out, if you don't want hear a differing opinion, then I suggest not writing anymore. This is obviously not a good platform for you. Finally, calling me names is just childish.

  19. Elena Alexseeva from PhotoHand, July 24, 2009 at 2:34 p.m.

    Probably the system of school exams should be changed so that kids would have to actually write down the answers instead of check-marking boxes from multiple selections.

  20. David Koretz from Adventive, Inc., July 24, 2009 at 2:42 p.m.

    @Jonas,

    I'm happy to get differing opinions. That is what makes for interesting debate.

    As for the Internet making people more aware of the world, statistics would show you that it is not happening.

    The Internet certainly has the power to connect people with information like never before (I actually made this point in my article), but as many who commented pointed out, you can't force people to care.

    ...and therein lies the key question I was asking... how do you get people to care?

    DK

  21. Jonas Halpren from Federated Media, July 24, 2009 at 5 p.m.

    David,

    So you love differing onions, but resort to name calling when they are made.

    I'd love to see your stats, you only mentioned 1 stat. 12% of US news coverage is international. OK, how does this compare to new outlets in other countries. Is this local or national news? Looking at the average local news cast 12% international is pretty good, especially since their is local, national, sports and weather to cover. I'd also love to know if this has increased or decreased over the last 100 years? Based on what I have seen on twitter in relation to the Iran election, many more people are aware and active than they were say 30 years ago, when it much harder to access up to date and unbiased opinion.

    How do you get people to care. Take care of the problems at home first. It is really hard to care what is going on in another country when you just got laid off, have a family to support and bills to pay.

  22. Judith Anderson from Zaiss & Company, July 27, 2009 at 9:32 a.m.

    Okay, this is totally off the agenda but THEY'RE is a hyphenated word meaning they are. THERE is an article. THEIR is a possessive pronoun. In the comments, I see at least two misuses of these words. AUGHHH!

  23. Michael Perham from CrossTech Ventures, LLC, September 11, 2009 at 12:58 p.m.


    I personally surveyed several people I came in contact with on Monday and Tuesday, leading up to the Presidents speech a few days ago, and I was shocked at how many weren't even going to watch what he had to say. Not because they disagreed with his proposals or his party affiliation, but because they just weren't interested. Possibly the single biggest issue to face our nation in the next 20-50 years and people aren't interested. This is but one example of how most people live there lives. Unaware, tuned out, and generally indifferent.

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