Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I didn’t see that in the news…

After moving to Qatar I view news in a much different way than I did while I lived in the US. I used to think that there was “conservative” and “liberal” news. I prided myself on making sure I went back and forth between CNN and FOX News so that I would have a well-rounded view of topics. As I write this I am laughing at the Annie of a year ago. I had such good intentions, but was so far from the mark I was hoping to hit. A year later I realize it does not matter if you watch CNN or FOX News, they both leave out so much and their views are much closer than either would like to admit (the spectrum of political positioning expands when you leave the US… in fact it is no longer a spectrum, maybe it is more of a cube). Now living in Qatar I am exposed to much more “meat” in news reporting that has helped me see how much I was missing before. That brings up a bigger question. How much more am I missing? Also, will I look back and myself a few years from now and laugh at myself for writing this post?

Doha is home to Al Jazeera one of the largest news sources in the world. Al Jazeera is depicted as a radical news sources that is in allegiance with terrorists. The truth is that Al Jazeera makes an effort to explore all sides of an issue. To do that, journalist have to be able to explore topics from different angels, they can’t be afraid to look critically at the claims of groups or individuals who are integral to an issue but who may be labeled as the “bad guys”. To many in the US this means they are supporting terrorists. I do watch Al Jazeera occasionally, but I realize I have been conditioned to expect news to come in 60-second packages. Al Jazeera goes in-depth into issues and news updates or stories may last for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour. When I find myself loosing focus, I switch to CNN International, where I am comforted to find 60 second to 5 minutes of news on a topic and then they move on. If you watch for over an hour, you hear the same stories several times. It is exactly this type of news reporting – the news reporting I find myself being pulled towards because of my impatience – that prevents the in-depth exploration of issues. Yes, American news stations (CNN and FOX) as well as CNN International have special shows that go more in-depth, but on the whole successful news reporting is done by grazing the surface, highlighting two controversial or polarizing views and quickly moving on. When watching international news sources (Al Jazeera and BBC News) I have noticed that all sides of an issue are addressed, but no effort is made to represent sides equally. If one side needs more time to be explained and fully understood, than the time is taken to give the background information. (I do need to note here, that while CNN International reports news in short clips, it still goes much more in-depth than most US news stories, and it spends less time on fluff stories and more time on “real” news).

Today while speaking with my sister I experienced first hand how the reporting of major world events is treated differently. As we all know over the weekend there was an Israeli military attach on a Humanitarian Aid ship headed toward the Gaza Blockade. I have watched news stories of this on both Al Jazeera and CNN international. I have seen videos of the actual event and heard interviews with individuals from government, the general public, from all over the world. My sister mentioned that is was a “lead” story given a few minutes and followed quickly by Al and Tipper Gore splitting up. Well – I have missed out on the breaking news of Al and Tipper Gore’s relationships status, but I am more fully informed of the many issues facing Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, and the surrounding countries. This is one example of many that have shown me how blessed I am to be exposed to more in-depth international news.

As I start the process of transitioning back to a life in the US one of things I have to consider is remaining well informed of international topics. To remain (or become in some instances) well informed I know I will need to become more active and engaged in the news process. I cannot sit on a couch and watch CNN and FOX News for an hour or so, and think that I am informed of major news stories. I know I will have to search the Internet for alternative new sources. I may need to spring for the expensive cable package that includes international news sources (and possible petition my cable provider to provide access to Al Jazeera). I hope I have the energy and sustained passion to do this, because it would be really easy to slip back into my old news habits.

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