Changing America's view of news at the click of a mouse

The US news media tends to ignore events outside its own country. That is why, says David Felton, it is the perfect time to offer a world view - online
Click to follow
The Independent Online

America is the world's biggest media market. At the last count there were more than 70,000 journalists working for newspapers alone. Add on magazines, broadcast and the burgeoning new media and you have a huge industry generating billions of dollars.

America is the world's biggest media market. At the last count there were more than 70,000 journalists working for newspapers alone. Add on magazines, broadcast and the burgeoning new media and you have a huge industry generating billions of dollars.

Yet in Britain, we tend to be dismissive of American journalism. Reporters, editors and writers work to a high degree of professionalism and ethical standards - some would argue much higher than in this country. But still we think American journalism misses a beat. This has been occupying me a lot recently because Independent Digital, the new media arm of Independent News & Media, publishers of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, launched a website at the weekend, aimed specifically at the United States.

The new site (www.independenceavenue.com) offers in-depth, authoritative news reporting, high-quality features and analysis and the kind of challenging journalism readers of The Independent titles expect. So why should we produce an entirely separate website for the US when our main site (www.independent.co.uk) is already popular in America?

We believe that with the rapid growth of Internet use, the demand in the US for our kind of journalism will grow. A journalism that embraces a world view, rather than having a narrow agenda concentrating almost exclusively on domestic issues, or only those international events that directly impact on your own country.

If the accusation against the US media is insularity, what is the evidence? Last December in Seattle, world leaders arriving in the city for the World Trade Organisation negotiations were greeted by rioting. This led to the postponement of the opening of the conference and police in riot gear battling with demonstrators and looters. There were injuries, tear gas, police reinforcements - the full nine yards. Yet the US broadcast media seemed not to know how to deal with a huge international story, relegating down their running orders - without pictures - a story making headlines around the world.

Last October, 30 people died and 245 were injured at Paddington in one of Britain's worst rail crashes. By any standards this was a major story - had the crash occurred near the centre of Washington, the British media would have given it wide coverage. But a friend travelling on business in the US at the time, watching TV news regularly, was unaware of the crash until she switched to CNN, where, for the first time, she was presented with a world news agenda.

This is not to say there is more international news in British newspapers than their US counterparts; there almost certainly isn't. But the selection process is heavily influenced by domestic politics - there is wide coverage of Israel, but little of the Arab world; there is almost no coverage of the European Union, and US papers' European correspondents tend to avoid Brussels, choosing to live instead in Paris, London or Berlin; wars such as Kosovo are reported only from the perspective of US involvement.

There are many aspects of American journalism to be admired; the attention to facts and detail, news stories running to thousands of words, and a strict code of ethics. But this lack of a world perspective runs right through to some of the much-admired Big City papers.

A second major difference between British and American journalism lies in the way news is presented. Don't expect to find the news in the intro, in either broadcast or print. The "drop" intro has been perfected to such an extent that you can often get down to paragraph eight before reaching the main point of a story. Last summer, I visited Washingtonpost.com, the Internet arm of The Washington Post, where the equivalent of a home news editor had a large team of journalists repurposing material from the paper for the web. Almost every news article had to be rewritten to get the intro into the intro and the news point into the headline. Web users do not have time to delve a couple of hundred words before reaching the point of the article.

A third difference can best be summed up by the word attitude. British journalism has it, mainstream American journalism does not. We expect journalists to explain a story, to help the reader understand issues and, when the moment is right, inject some of the writer's own personality into the article.

The best reporters, such as this paper's Robert Fisk, carry off their task supremely well. Fisk could not have written his hard-edged, critical reports of Nato's bombing errors in Kosovo in an American paper. He would have been told to stick to the facts and leave comment to the leader columns.

We think we are the first British news organisation to launch a website for American users. We are explicitly telling them that we believe our journalism is different and perhaps better. This may be presumptuous, but as the world gets smaller and technology delivering the news becomes standard, we think journalism with an international perspective will be in great demand.

David Felton is Online Editor, Independent Digital d.felton@inuk.co.uk

Comments