Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Patrick Kennedy Rants re Afghanistan News Coverage

Did you see all the hubabaloo last week regarding Patrick Kennedy and his "rant" regarding the fact that the news media appeared obsessed with Former Representative Eric Massa and not with the House debate on the Afghanistan War?

I have thought a bit about this. And it is true, it is unlikely the resolution under debate would have had a chance of passing, so perhaps that was reason enough for the limited press presence.

As Kennedy yelled:
 ".... two press people in this gallery. We're talking about Eric Massa 24/7 on the TV. We're talking about war and peace — $3 billion, 1,000 lives, and no press! No press! ... It's despicable, the national press corps right now."
But if you step back, the important point is that our commercial media does seem, way too often, obsessed with the shiny objects like Tiger Woods, or Representative Massa's antics, and not important topics.

In fact, last week, according to the Pew Research Center's News Coverage Index, for the week of March 8-14th, the Massa story was the 5th most covered story of ALL news topics. And in terms of newsmakers (individuals in the news), Massa was only second to President Barack Obama.

PEJ News Coverage Index March 8-14, 2010

Did you also notice that it seemed that much of the cable media's commentary on Kennedy's comments seem to center on his RANT than actually address the SUBSTANCE of the criticism? As a friend of mine recently said, "Why wasn't a journalist from CNN interviewing the head of news of CNN on why they covered so much Massa.... on CNN?!"

DeWayne Wickham wrote a well-put Op Ed last week in USA Today on this topic, take a read here...

USA TODAY column "Kennedy has a point in his tirade over afghanistan coverage"

And of course, Steve Colbert also took a crack at the Massa-Afghanistan rant and he really nails it in the entertaining piece:


But don't take my word for it, or DeWayne Wickham's or even Steven Colbert's.... take the Pew Research Center Project for the Excellence in Journalism's word for it.

Each year Pew puts out a report on the state of journalism that scans thousands of sources and analyzes the content covered in American journalism. So I decided to go take a quick look and see what they found as it related to Afghanistan coverage over the last few years. So starting in 2007, followed by 2008 and 2009, how much press did Afghanistan actually get?

In the 2008 report (which looks at the 2007 news year), the State of Journalism had a section entitled, "A Limited Diet of Global News", and among facts it points out that the percentage of Afghanistan coverage was (0.9%).  And at the time, 2007 was "the deadliest for American forces in Afghanistan since that war began in 2001." For more see the Content Analysis in the report.

The 2009 report (which looks at the news year in 2008), the State of Journalism had a section entitled, "Other International News Drops Even More."

And it said:
Iraq was not the only important global story to be crowded out of the American news in 2008. Coverage of international affairs generally, whether it involved the U.S. or not, fell by more than 40%, to 17% of the newshole studied in 2008, compared with 29% in 2007. Combined coverage of Pakistan and Iran—two countries that present major strategic challenges to the U.S.—fell by almost two-thirds (dropping to 2% of the newshole studied in 2008)
Coverage of the other war in which U.S. troops were fighting—Afghanistan—remained at the same low level (1%) in 2008 as 2007, but it had already almost disappeared. That despite a 2008 American death toll that was the highest in the six-year history of that conflict and continuing signs that the fighting may escalate. (bold added)
For more see The 2009 Report.

And finally, what about the 2010 report (which looked at 2009 news year). It was a year when there was debate in Washington and around the country about what strategy we should take regarding the future of the War. What happened?  Well, coverage did increase, but given its importance.... does this seem like the right percentage to you?

Afghanistan received 4.6% of ALL coverage. Was all 95.4% of the coverage on other topics really more important than a war that has been going on since 2001? Whatever your view on the War itself, I think we can all agree that this topic is more important than the level of news coverage it is receiving in commercial media.

On this one, Patrick Kennedy had it right.

Friday, March 19, 2010

How many news organizations originally cover the news anymore... not many.

I wanted to call your attention to a very interesting piece of research regarding coverage of China that I recently came across. It is about the Google Hacking case and appears on the Neiman Journalism Lab website.

Jonathan Stray points out in "The Google/China hacking case: How many news outlets do the original reporting on a big story?" how little ORIGINAL reporting on this topic occured and it is a GREAT example of how the web can be an echo chamber. In other words, many may write or opine about a topic as part of the news/media ecosystem, but it oftentimes, it is a limited number of source "springs" that generates the core story and provides all the base of the activity. The analogy I like to make:

Its like holding junior high school dance, a Beyonce song is blarring, lights are strobing, and there are 100 boys all having to take turns dancing with the same girl. It might be fun, but perhaps a bit more variety and a bit more attendance could help the whole event work. 
All these iterations should not be confused with MORE journalism. It is MORE commenting and derivatives of the same story.

What is the impact of this lack of diverse voices and editorial POV? Potentially a lack of understanding or at its worst, fostering misunderstanding. If there is only a couple of organizations that are taking the time, or have the commitment to get to the story, it leads the public with limited options to figure out their own "truths", or they believe that they are getting multiple takes, and in fact they aren't. This only underscores the need for a continued focus on journalism innovation to fund and support original sources, that will give everyone else something to talk about and learn from. It also underscores the need for real time transparency to understand what is actually derivative of what in a holistic, and aggregated way.

As Stray says, "Out of the 121 distinct versions of last week’s story about tracing Google’s recent attackers to two schools in China, 13 (11 percent) included at least some original reporting. And just seven organizations (six percent) really got the full story independently."


For more please see the complete article.....