Editorial: The Need for Foreign IntelligenceInternational news is crucial, as is finding time on the schedules to air it 5/09/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Osama bin Laden is dead. We’re guessing many of us will remember
when and how we first heard that sentence, whether someone
told us, we saw it on TV, or found out via text, tweet or some other
means of communication.
But chances are once you heard it, you raced
to a television. Because for most of us of a certain
age, that is what you do. And when we did, for
the most part we were greeted by the news business
at its best.
This space for years—make that decades—has
been used as a clarion call to the importance of
the television news business. More recently, it has
banged the drum (or perhaps we should say blew
the vuvuzela) for the importance of international
news coverage, which has in many respects increasingly
fallen victim in recent years to a combination
of budget slashing and a lack of ratings
to support a steady flow of worldly happenings.
So, as a steady stream of world-shaking stories
have taken center stage in recent months, from
the Middle East to Japan to a bunkered mansion
in Pakistan, it gives us the excuse to mount our
soapbox and sound the horn yet again about
the crucial nature of strong news divisions with
strong presences around the world.
It was a striking juxtaposition last week, with
the bin Laden assassination coming just days
after the international news media had come
together en masse to cover a wedding in Great
Britain. To direct resources to cover William and
Kate was quite easy, as not only would it inevitably
deliver solid ratings but it was monetizable
as well. Keeping close eyes on hot spots around
the world often guarantees neither.
With massive international operations or affiliations,
outlets like CNN and Fox News are built
for speed in these circumstances. It is a bigger
test for the broadcast nets. But more than half the
battle is showing up. ABC gets an extra pat on
the back for staying on the air with the bin Laden
story the night of his death after some others had
thrown back to regular programming.
As the hour chimed midnight on the East
Coast and crowds were celebrating at the White
House and Times Square, CBS and NBC ended
coverage on their broadcast outlets, smack in the
middle of primetime out West. NBC sent viewers—
and Brian Williams—over to cable outlet
MSNBC,which was fine for those who have cable,
but millions don’t. One of our West Coast
staffers lamented reading on Twitter how great
the work of Jim Miklaszewski was, but being
unable to see it from a hotel room that didn’t
CBS, unfortunately, forced viewers who had enjoyed
the great work by a returning Lara Logan
and the CBS News team to take their business
elsewhere (yet another reason a CBS-CNN partnership
of some sort makes sense).
Meanwhile, ABC stuck it out and earned kudos
for what one of their execs said was an “easy call.”
We don’t mean to make too big a deal out of a
single hour, but when ABC has bin Laden coverage
while the CBS and NBC networks were airing
reality shows that could easily be postponed,
Disney deserves a salute and the others get a disappointed
shake of the head.
We know it is easy for us to sit here and say
there should be more international news coverage
without providing a business model when
the costs tend to far outweigh the revenue—and
especially the viewer interest.
But we don’t care. Actually, the point is that we
do care. It’s our job to counsel our friends at the
networks that there is value beyond the bottom
line in keeping close tabs on events abroad in a
world whose national boundaries and interests
are being blurred by the instant connection of
digital media. Or, we could say, do you really
want us learning everything from Twitter?
So we are yet again leaping at the opportunity
to subtly (in that vuvuzela sort of way) remind
the networks that international news is crucial,
as is finding time on the schedules to air it.