Shrinking media coverage of world news a concern: expert

The declining coverage of world news as cash-strapped media organisations cut costs is one of the big challenges facing the fourth estate today, a media leader says.

John Walllace, program director with the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre in Melbourne, was addressing the 2009 graduation ceremony for Jschool based in Brisbane.


College founder Professor John Henningham presented him with the college’s honorary degree of doctor of journalism for his contribution over many years to journalism education and his role at the APJC in fostering professional development programs in overseas countries, especially south-east Asia.

Dr Wallace told the graduating students: “You will know from your study this year that journalism, to be successful, needs to take account of the needs and interests of readers, listeners and viewers in the communities it serves.

“This push for local relevance can be seen as a natural phenomenon; it makes sense that we are interested most in the things closest to us. However, the danger is that the local perspective will drown out important news from the outside world.”

This concern had been raised 10 years ago by a group of senior American journalists who looked at the state of the American newspaper industry and found that the space devoted to international news in US print media had declined over the years. A similar, less extreme, trend was observed here in Australia.

“Since then, the trend seems to be continuing. The big ‘high drama’ global news stories are covered – September 11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the global financial crisis, tsunamis and climate change – but, overall, foreign news coverage is being squeezed as news organisations fight to contain costs as they deal with competition from new media platforms.

“One creative response to this concern has been the development of courses for journalists promoting the idea of “building up the connection between the local and the global”.

“The Poynter Institute in Florida is one organisation that runs such programs. Part of the idea is to recognise that many international stories have a local angle, and so can be made into local stories. For example, if there’s a story about poisonous toys being manufactured overseas, a reporter can see if they are being sold here; if a new version of flu breaks out overseas, a reporter can investigate what precautions are being taken here to reduce the threat.”

Dr Wallace told the graduates that one of the biggest challenges ahead for journalism – whatever media platform it operates on – would be to work out ways to build up informed coverage of international news and current affairs.

“The need for this has become more urgent as people throughout the world need better information on international matters to enable them to cope with living in an increasingly global society.

“It’s partly a matter of citizens needing to know what is reasonable internationally in terms of advancing their national interests. And it’s also about being better able to carry out our increasing global responsibilities, such as playing our part in responding to the challenge of climate change.

“To report this more global world, journalists of the future will, I am quite sure, be required to develop a more global perspective, while not forgetting, of course, the need to understand the interests of local communities.”

Dr Wallace said that options for professional journalism study were quite limited in many parts of the world, with many young people finding their way into journalism without preparation, and with opportunities for in-house training also quite limited.

“This is one of the things the Asia Pacific Journalism Centre tries to do something about – by providing professional development programs for working journalists in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in those countries closest to Australia, such as East Timor, Indonesia, PNG and other southwest Pacific countries.”