When early settlers from Europe first visited America, their world was fast-paced. For example, news about a conflict in Russia might take weeks or even months to arrive in Paris and another few days to reach London.
News from London might take a month or two before reaching Massachusetts Bay Colony and another month to reach Charleston, S.C. Add another couple of weeks and the news arrives in New Orleans. Grand total of time elapsed in the hurry-up world of the 1600s, five to six months if the news is rushed, five to six months with regular delivery.
Now: Open up your latest handheld device and find out what’s going on in Java seconds later. The morale of this story? Over time, time flies faster and faster.
The question remains, are we getting the right information fast and correct?
Quick question? Do you know what is going on in Java? Do you even know what country Java is a part of?
See, the world’s information highway is hugely unfair. It’s a rigged system, not rigged from any planned deviousness on the media’s part, just rigged because of the way the world developed. If you break the world into two halves, North and South, you’ll discover one interesting fact that goes directly to the type of information we receive on a daily basis, the northern hemisphere is where the vast majority of industrialized countries are. Industrialized countries are almost always First-World countries and First-World countries usually have first-class information systems. The better the information system, the more information rich countries provide for themselves, but just as importantly, the more they provide to other countries.
Which leads us to the larger news services around the world, better known to some as the “windows to the world.” It’s news services like the Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI) that feed information to newspapers, TV stations and various Internet sites. Without news services, media outlets couldn’t afford to hire reporters to, literally, cover the world.
What news services provide is information from every corner of the globe, at least that’s the image that emerges. But the truth is, that just isn’t the truth. Reuters (England-based), Agence-France (France-based), TASS (Russian-based), as well as the AP and UPI, are the five biggies but they have more offices in the northern hemisphere than the southern. In other words, they have more reporters reporting events from industrialized countries than from, let us say, less fortunate countries.
This is not to say that they are the only news agencies, but if you are in the news business, would you subscribe to the largest service, the Associated Press, or Andina (the Peruvian news service)?
The truth of the matter is there are more, and much larger, news services in the northern hemisphere than the southern. The result is most of the news that goes to First-World countries like the United States and Western Europe is from those very same countries. Throw in the U.S.’s friends (England, Israel) and enemies (Russia, Iraq, Iran), and the industrialized Asian countries like China, Japan, and now Korea, and you begin to see a clear pattern. U.S. citizens get much of their news from the same places day after day, week after week, month after month, ad nauseum.
Each day news travels East to West (in the morning), then West to East (in the afternoon). It also travels North to South and South to North, just not nearly as much. The result is that more information about industrialized countries is sent around the world every day.
Occasionally, a tsunami or earthquake or terrorist attack changes that information flow to a degree, but on an everyday basis, the news is about the rich countries.
If you are a poor country, the news is rarely for you or about you. You become less visible in the world, less important. Essentially these countries are step-children of the news world. They simply don’t get in the news as much as the First-World countries because First-World countries write about themselves. First-World countries like the United States tend to wear rose-colored glasses regarding their own importance. This means the international information highway is not completely open to all traffic.
Now some would argue that the important news emanates from the industrialized nations, from the powerful countries. But that’s a false argument because news is everywhere in every country. It just comes down to how one defines the news.
Is the opening of a tunnel under the English Channel bigger and longer- lasting news than the Muslim-Christian clashes in Nigeria where the northern part of the country is Muslim and oil-rich while the southern part is Christian and relatively poor? Are thousands of deaths in Indonesia less important than thousands in Germany?
Which stories do you think your newspaper would cover if it has to chose one because of a lack of space or your television station because of a lack of time?
If you had the choice, it’s understandable if the U.S. reader asks why he should read about Nigeria when he knows so little about it. Of course, the reason he knows so little about it is, in large part, because it isn’t given the same amount of day to day, week to week coverage as a country like England (I give you the excessive coverage of the royal marriage, which had about as much news value in southeast Louisiana as a boy scout meeting in Des Moines.)
Of course, the newspaper or television station will choose the news it is most familiar with, the one that it knows its readers/viewers are more familiar with. If the information highway isn’t fair, and it isn’t, the result is we know more about Switzerland than Sierra Leone, more about Norway than Paraguay. In an increasing information-based world, we simply cannot afford haves and have-nots. Otherwise, what we end up with is cultural imperialism regarding our world information system. Which raises a final question: If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it fall?
Oh yeah, Java is an island in Indonesia.