09 July 2010

Quality news seldom found without effort

I have given a few talks on the state of war and peace in Afghanistan since I returned to the States last month and one of the most common concerns I hear expressed, particularly from members of the anti-war community, is that there is little quality news available in English.

I find that hard to believe because my observation from Kabul and here is that coverage, particularly by western news media, has steadily increased since Obama became president. The New York Times coverage is as good as any U.S. news organization, but there has been strong reporting from The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. Interestingly, the last two newspapers have accomplished this in spite of massive downsizing, which is rewriting the western news industry. Many of the smaller U.S. newspapers and the broadcast networks have sent out correspondents for a week or two of two of focused news, which typically included some human-interest features to balance against the more traditional political and military emphasis.

Many of the European news organizations have historically done a better job of covering “world news” than the U.S. news media. Some of the major U.K. newspapers, particularly the Guardian and the Telegraph, and BBC World News, have done credible work in Afghanistan. The U.K. news media’s coverage outside Europe also tends to be strongest in those nations that were once part of the British Empire. For example, BBC News’ coverage of the Afghan presidential election last year made it obvious from the day people went to the polls that the election was fraudulent long before any official functionary was willing to make that claim.

Al-Jazeera has grown into major news organization and its coverage is far more comprehensive than anything produced by CNN, whose quality, especially of international events, has deteriorated in recent years. There is good English-language coverage of Afghanistan, some in translation, from Pakistan, India, Australia, France, Iran and China. (Some of these sources are listed on the right side of this blog.) Much of the best coverage of Afghanistan has come from independent journalists willing to venture into some extremely risky locales in the provinces where government control is non-existent to report for alternative online publications, blogs, non-governmental organizations, and magazines. I think the coverage of the war in Afghanistan is more extensive and of a higher quality than at any point since U.S. forces arrived in late 2001.

The irony is that many of us expect comprehensive news to be delivered by ABC, NBC, Fox, MSNBC, CNN, or even PBS, even though virtually every standpoint on the spectrum of political ideology argues that network news serves a narrow set of interests and in some views amounts to disinformation. There is capable journalism on almost any subject, but it has to be sought out as a matter of personal responsibility. The obligation to be an informed member of society doesn’t get waived because pre-digested, reductionist, dumb and mean-spirited news dominates.

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