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What constitutes “news”? Musings on the American-centric nature of journalism

By Matthew Hill

If you are to open a newspaper, switch on a television or radio news bulletin, or visit an online news website you may ask yourself: why is one story deemed more “important” than another? Who decides? And, what is their reasoning?

Recently, media coverage of certain world events has certainly prompted me to ask such questions. The familiar example of an American-based event that grabbed headlines in April of this year – the Boston Bombings – is point-in-case.

Let me explain. Those with a critical, inquisitive mind, may have wondered why an attack on America, in which five people died, was of such importance – especially while a bloody civil war still rages in Syria.

Of course, I do not wish to belittle the seriousness the scenes that we saw in Boston; I am also wary of “ranking” events solely based on the number of deaths that result. It does seem odd, however, that a relatively small-scale attack on the US ranked alongside a bitter conflict in which upwards of 80,000 fatalities have been recorded. What is it about America that attracts so much attention? And, does the rest of the world suffer as a consequence?

Perhaps it’s the international prestige that the US has attained. Gone are the days in which American heads of state had to wrangle with the Soviet Union for “superpower” status: America is now the one and only superpower; China and India – the other contenders – cannot match the US in terms of diplomatic power. A result of this, as you may have gathered already, is that it is guaranteed to feature highly in world news.

This is surely an incorrect way of judging the importance of news. It should be taken from wherever it occurs on the globe; otherwise your news provider is not giving you a fair view of world events.

The answer is, of course, that the public – the journalist’s audience – desires news from America. For instance, the coverage of American elections in the British media far outweighs the air-time that British elections receive in the US; an explosion at a fertiliser factory in Texas will be focused on more than a suicide bombing in Baghdad. This is possibly due to the powerful effect American culture has had on the rest of the world – take McDonalds and Coca-Cola as two notable examples.

But this does not sufficiently excuse the media. While the events in Syria – and others that have occurred in Africa and Asia – have, admittedly, had a share in the popular press, it’s clear that an imbalance exists.

The onus is on very much on the better news providers to avoid elevating American stories to unwarranted significance. I, for one, would prefer the selection of news stories to be even-handed.


3 Comments

  1. Abbie says:

    I believe that news SHOULD be ordered on the amount of deaths. Forget geographical proximity it is obvious that where the deaths are that’s where the camera crews should be.

  2. Mo says:

    It’s disgusting the Boston bombings should receive more coverage than Syria simply because it happened it America. America is such a self centred place it does not care for the rest of the world

  3. Imran says:

    If we, the audience, all stopped showing such an interest in America then maybe we would be shown more important news.

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