What Future for International Coverage After 9/11

by John Schidlovsky
Director, International Reporting Project

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 demonstrated to many Americans that we ignore foreign news at our peril. On that day, our world changed dramatically. It became clearer than ever that as a nation, as informed citizens, as journalists who help educate the public, we cannot afford not to cover news all over the globe.

In the decade of the 1990s, as international coverage began to virtually disappear on US networks and in many newspapers, many Americans began to think it didn’t matter what happened outside our borders. September 11th was a wake-up call. Just as there was an intelligence failure in government before 9/11, so was there a media failure. Journalists didn’t tell U.S. citizens enough about the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, about the rise of Islamic militants. Or at least we didn’t tell people in a compelling way. As we scramble to make up for all that we missed before 9/11, what stories are we overlooking now that might alert us to the next threat?

At the International Reporting Project, we’ve been focusing on these questions since we created our program in 1998. We recognized the decline in international coverage in much of the American media during the 1990s and decided to try to do something about it, with the financial support of the Pew Charitable Trusts. In the wake of 9/11, it was clear that we needed to address the issue of the future of international news coverage.

On June 11, 2002, we held a conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to discuss the impact of the attacks on news coverage. Nearly 300 journalists and others interested in coverage of the world attended the event. Excerpts from that one-day conference are contained in this publication.

Earlier in 2002, we commissioned a new survey of more than 200 U.S. editors responsible for international news. Dwight Morris, who conducted that survey, describes the results in the excerpts from our conference’s first panel.

Another Pew program, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, also conducted a poll that examined the American public’s news consumption after 9/11. Andrew Kohut discuss that polls findings in our first panel section. The complete survey is available on their website at http://www.people-press.org.

The conference brought together leading U.S. and international news editors. Keynoter Richard Sambrook, director of BBC News, offered insights into that organization’s coverage of the world. At the end of the day, our panelists and questioners had discussed a wide range of issues relating to international news. Our hope is that this conference helped to stimulate valuable ideas for providing better global news coverage and for educating both the public and journalists about how to stay better informed of important international news.