This blog contains reflections on the current state of American society and culture from an educated observer who lived outside the USA for many years and has now returned to the USA, to find a sadly deteriorating society. My purpose is to identify problems and discuss creative solutions with others of like mind.

Location: Somewhere, NY, United States

Born and raised in the NY metro area, I am a 57 y.o, white male academic now teaching at a small college in New York State. Prior to this, I studied in Iceland and taught at colleges in Japan and Eastern Europe. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to not only visit but live in other countries. I believe the perspectives and experiences of other nations are entirely relevant to thinking about the state of America today, and we all benefit from communication, comparison and interaction with other countries. As a scholar, supporter and participant in modern-day Paganism, by which I mean forms of religion derived from native European religions, I am interested to see what can come from applying Pagan perspectives to political issues, and political perspectives to our Paganism. My own political perspective is left-of-center liberal, and this colors and informs my postings on this blog. Others with different political perspectives are encouraged to add comments, and will not be censored or dismissed unless their comments are seen as off-topic, incoherent, disruptive or excessively rude.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

International News Coverage:Going, going....gone?

I am saddened to report that my hometown newspaper, the Boston Globe, announced this week that it was closing its international news bureaus as a cost-cutting measure and re-focusing its surviving journalistic staff on local and regional news. As a professor of international studies, I had only one week ago assigned my students a weekly task of clipping and saving international news stores for class discussion from either the New York Times, the Boston Globe, or several other trustworthy news organizations and their online versions. Sadly, I now must remove the Globe from my list of suggested sources. While it is true that the newspaper will still run some international coverage and still send some journalists abroad to cover international issues and events, the depth and quality of coverage can only go downhill with the loss of foreign correspondents who stay long-term in locations abroad, developing contacts and contextual knowledge.

I see this as part of a very disturbing, as well as depressing trend, toward "dumbing down" mainstream media discourse, and a further closing of the American mind to knowledge about and interaction with the rest of the world. Strangely, this is occurring at the same time as issues such as international terrorism, the energy crisis and global warming make international cooperation and coordination more important than ever. Increasingly, the only aspects of the world outside that Americans learn about are war-zones where American troops are stationed. Not surprisingly, I find many of my students coming to class with an attitude of disrespect, fear and/or insecurity toward the other nations and peoples of the world. Thankfully, human curiosity does sometimes win out, and I find many students do become interested in knowing about other regions of the world when given some encouragement. I do fear however for the future of the United States if our people are to become increasingly ignorant and narrow-minded toward the rest of the world, because the media has encouraged and reinforced such narrowness.

Here is an excerpt from a January 12, 2007 speech made by the journalist Bill Moyers in Memphis, Tennessee which touches on these and related issues. The full text is available at

"By no stretch of the imagination can we say the dominant institutions of today's media are guardians of democracy. Despite the profusion of new information "platforms" on cable, on the Internet, on radio, blogs, podcasts, YouTube and MySpace, among others, the resources for solid original journalistic work, both investigative and interpretive, are contracting rather than expanding. I'm old fashioned in this, a hangover from my days as a cub reporter and later a publisher. I agree with Michael Schudson, one of our leading scholars of communication, who writes in the current Columbia Journalism Review that "while all media matter, some matter more than others, and for the sake of democracy, print still counts most, especially print that devotes resources to gathering news. Network TV matters, cable TV matters, but when it comes to original investigation and reporting, newspapers are overwhelmingly the most important media." But newspapers are purposely dumbing down, driven down - says Schudson - by "Wall Street, whose collective devotion to an informed citizenry is nil, and seems determined to eviscerate newspapers." Meanwhile, despite some initial promise following the shock of 9/11, television has returned to its tabloid ways, chasing celebrity and murders - preferably both at the same time - while wallowing in triviality, banality and a self-referential view."

"Worrying about the loss of real news is not a romantic cliché of journalism. It has been verified by history: from the days of royal absolutism to the present, the control of information and knowledge has been the first line of defense for failed regimes facing democratic unrest."

Sobering words, well worth pondering. Maelstrom.

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