MEDIA ROUNDUP: American news outlets step up overseas coverage

An increase in international coverage has resulted from recent tension in the world as well as outlets trying to find local angles to foreign stories for cultures with large populations in the US.

An increase in international coverage has resulted from recent tension in the world as well as outlets trying to find local angles to foreign stories for cultures with large populations in the US.

As recently as a few years ago, it could be argued that too many Americans were ignorant of events outside the 50 states, and that the US media was at least partially responsible for this problem. Whether it was due to a shift toward more practical "news readers can use" or simply an unwillingness to bear the costs of a global news infrastructure, many US outlets simply scaled back their foreign coverage under the perception that most Americans weren't interested in it. But while it may ebb and flow depending on the global political climate, US media coverage of foreign news never really went away. And since September 11, international coverage may be more robust than any time in recent memory simply because people now realize that they can't afford to disregard the world around them. "It's clear to me that both editors and Americans are now more aware of the world," says Leslie Dach, vice chairman of Edelman. "One doesn't have to look farther than the recent elections to see that foreign policy, rather than domestic issues, played a tremendous role, which is unusual." There's no doubt that much of this increased international coverage has been triggered by specific situations, most notably the pending conflict with Iraq and the global war on terrorism. But Rissig Licha, EVP and GM of Fleishman-Hillard's Miami-based Latin America practice, says international coverage was already on the upswing even before last year. "We'd seen a big jump in the interest in stories dealing with Latin America and the entire Hispanic arena because the census figures show Hispanics are the largest minority in the US," he says. One of Licha's clients is promoting business development in El Salvador. He says much of his work is with business reporters either interested in the country's general economic development or in particular vertical industries that are sprouting up there. But given that there are now close to 1 million Salvadoran immigrants living in the US, Licha says he can also target publications located in cities or regions with large Salvadoran populations. That trend is being repeated with different ethnic groups in other parts of the US. "Part of this is just the recognition that the US is becoming a lot more multicultural," says Bill Imada, founder of Los Angeles and San Francisco-based Imada Wong. "So now there are a lot more reporters being hired by the LA Times, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, or even the broadcast stations with Chinese backgrounds or Korean or Israeli or Filipino or Vietnamese. And these reporters are increasingly being called upon to handle more than just domestic duties." Ill-equipped for global coverage This is not an easy shift for the majority of US media outlets, since most have traditionally lacked both the inclination and the resources for global coverage. "The US media has historically been oriented toward local or regional coverage," explains W. Joseph Campbell, an American University communications professor who spent 20 years as a correspondent in Africa, Europe, and Asia, as well as North America. "So to expect the average US media outlet to cover international news in any kind of detail is really asking for more than they've been traditionally equipped to do." While they may not be able to afford overseas staff, US outlets are increasingly looking to bring the world closer to home by finding local angles to international stories. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, for example, now runs a weekly "Atlanta and the World" section that helps show how events overseas have an impact on that city. But even with this increased international focus, there are still countries - and indeed, entire regions - that are covered by most mainstream US media outlets only in one- or two-paragraph news bites in a wrap-up column, and then only if they've suffered a natural disaster or violent political change. Licha says it can be a struggle to get editors out of that mentality. "It's an obstacle, but one that is lessened by the fact that they now have to provide coverage to a far more heterogeneous audience than they had to in the past," he says. "There's a better realization of how their bread is buttered in terms of the community that they service. For example, in Miami, 62% of the population is Hispanic, and if outlets such as the Miami Herald did not factor that into their editorial decisions, they would have a lot of problems getting their product sold in town." The surprising thing about foreign news is that the major question facing most US outlets isn't whether they can get a story, but rather if they can find the room to run it. At the same time, they've beefed up their international news operations. Outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the LA Times have greatly increased their syndication efforts, so their content can now be seen in newspapers across the country. The same goes for TV, where producers at even the smallest outlet can download clips from virtually anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes. Editors pick and choose "In some respects, the problem may be the gatekeepers at new organizations - the people who decide if an international news story gets in the paper or on the air," says Campbell. "With AP, Reuters, and the supplemental news services, there's no shortage of news coverage, so it just becomes a matter of what they do with it and how much does or doesn't get into the paper." Pitching foreign news stories to the US media can be a complex process. One recurring puzzle is whether to pitch a story to the reporter or stringer overseas in the hope that that journalist can sell it to his editor, or to target the international news and business desk in the US. "You can do both," says Jannette Esguerra, senior account supervisor with Hill & Knowlton's media practice. "But it really depends on the media organization you're dealing with. We recently brought a foreign official in to meet with US media organizations based in New York. Some of them don't have a presence in [the official's] country, so to have face time with them in New York was a good opportunity." But foreign-news PR is not just about getting stories placed - it's also about making sure an international client understands the idiosyncrasies of the US media market. "I think most clients understand the major news organizations they want to be in, but not necessarily the process that one has to go through to get there," says Esguerra. "It's an education process as well as actually getting them into the media." Licha adds that getting clients onto foreign news pages requires a lot more than press releases. "One of the things we do first is engage key media people in understanding the angle of the story, and once we've gotten them interested, we take it to the next step of getting some materials in front of them." While international coverage is certainly on the rise, Imada says there's still a lot more work that newspapers and broadcast outlets need to do, especially in delivering news from regions that have a huge ethnic population within their market. "One of the reasons American publications don't do as well with some of the immigrant communities is that they don't do enough international coverage," he says. "When there's 600 new Asian-language media outlets established in the US over the last 12 years, that tells you that the San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, and New York Times are not covering stories that appeal to these immigrants." Campbell, for one, suggests any criticism about whether the individual US media outlets will remain committed to international coverage going forward has become a moot point because of the internet. "For the user, it's never been easier to find foreign news because of the growth of the internet," he says. ----------- Where to go Newspapers The New York Times; The Wall Street Journal; The Washington Post; Miami Herald; Chicago Tribune; Atlanta Journal- Constitution; LA Times; San Francisco Chronicle; USA Today; La Opinion; La Nueva Herald; World Journal Magazines Time; Newsweek; US News & World Report; BusinessWeek; The New Republic; Commentary; The Nation; Mother Jones; Foreign Affairs; The American Enterprise; National Review; World Policy Journal TV & Radio CNN; MSNBC; CNBC; CNNfn; Fox News; ABC; CBS; NBC; BBC; Nightline; NewsHour with Jim Lehrer; AP Radio; NPR

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