I have been a news hound as long as I can remember. Even in my pre-teen years, my younger brother, Philip, used to complain that my news watching kept him from viewing cartoons. While the real news content in the media began to dwindle more than a decade ago, it was the disappearance of the BBC news from two of three local channels in the New York area that brought home the loss. “World-focus,” which replaced the nightly BBC broadcast a year ago, is more a newsmagazine in tone and content.
There is one exception, however: the “Worldfocus” feeds from Al Jazeera English. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this Qatar-based service, made famous by airing videos from Osama bin Laden. But whereas U.S. broadcasters have all but given up foreign news coverage, Al Jazeera reporters are everywhere, reporting the breaking news of the day. Even with my Middle East expertise, I wasn’t ready to conclude that Al Jazeera English is “a reliable source,” but then I read Robert D. Kaplan’s “Why I Love Al Jazeera” in the October issue of The Atlantic.
Kaplan is a hard-boiled war reporter and sometimes a strategic hawk. Books like Balkan Ghosts, The Coming Anarchy and Imperial Grunts, have made him an authority on postmodern conflict and a consultant to several military schools and security agencies. Kaplan admires Al Jazeera’s success. He observes that the service has a “developing world perspective,” but its bias is “forgivable” because it is “honestly representative of a middle-of-the-road developing-world viewpoint.” He compares it very favorably to Fox News. “Could Fox cover the world as Al Jazeera does,” he asks, “but from a different American-nationalist perspective? No,” he answers, “because what makes Fox so provincial is its utter lack of interest in the outside world....”
Ted Turner must be spinning in his skipper’s seat as he considers how his news channel network has evolved. The channel Headline News, now HLN, is a pure tabloid mix of entertainment news and unrelenting crime stories. With a couple of exceptions, CNN’s prime-time broadcasts are a blend of talking heads, personalities and more crime stories. What passes for news is an endless loop of the up-and-down, who’s-in-who’s-out of politics, indistinguishable, except for its relative balance and moderation, from MSNBC and Fox News. CNN’s specials still have a lot to offer, as do its new weekend comment-and-analysis shows, “Fareed Zakaria GPS” and “Amanpour.” But as for serious daily news, it’s a loss.
One bright spot for international reporting is the Internet site GlobalPost (www.globalpost.com), founded by a Boston entrepreneur, Philip Balboni, and a veteran foreign correspondent, Charles Sennott. With some 70 reporters around the world, most of them working on a shoestring and for the love of their craft, GlobalPost has become a premier U.S. source for international reporting.
A radio source, to which I listen too little for my liking, is “The World,” an hourlong broadcast produced by Public Radio International, the BBC and WGBH (Boston). It bills itself as “a global perspective for an American audience.” Despite its magazine format, “a mix of news, features, interviews and music,” I find it to be without fail both informative and entertaining.
Last in this list but certainly still the U.S. leader in daily international reporting is The New York Times. Its coverage these days is thinner but so much richer than most other sources that it deserves loyal readership. Its Web offerings, together with those of PBS’s “Newshour With Jim Lehrer,” “Worldfocus” and the GlobalPost Web site, offer enough to revitalize the most benumbed viewer of talking heads.