International News Coverage

November 6, 2009

By: Laura Franzini

For the next three weeks, I will be analyzing Here & Now’s news coverage for the month of October 2009. Each week will focus on a different aspect of the show’s news coverage:

  • Week of November 1: analysis of international news coverage
  • Week of November 8: analysis of national news coverage
  • Week of November 15: analysis of local news coverage

The purpose of this analysis will hopefully give readers a clearer understanding of the program’s beat and style of reporting.

During October, each day’s program almost always began with the featured international news story, indicating Here & Now’s belief in the importance of international news. Most of the show’s international coverage concerned events in the Middle East, particularly events occurring in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As is the style of the program, in order to discuss these events, host Robin Young interviewed an expert who was either close to the action or knew a lot about the issues that led to the event.

For example, the program’s coverage of the Battle of Wanat in Afghanistan, in which 9 United States soldiers were killed, was done on a personal level—Robin interviewed retired Colonel David Brostrom, the father of one of the young soldiers killed in battle, First Lieutenant Jonathan Brostrom. Being a former military man himself, Brostrom had adequate experience and knowledge to discuss the topic, as well as a very deep investment in the situation.

However, though Here & Now deems international news to be important, throughout the month the program kept its international focus almost exclusively limited to events that concerned U.S. Foreign Affairs—events directly involving Americans and/or the American government. Instead of even mentioning the major earthquake in Indonesia on October 1, the death toll for which was up to 531 by mid-morning, Here & Now covered the results of a meeting between American and Swiss officials concerning Iran’s nuclear plans that had happened the previous day. The earthquake was also not mentioned the following day, though it made top headlines at; the BBC’s website; and even on WBUR, the Boston NPR station that airs Here & Now.

Though perhaps omitting coverage of the earthquake is surprising, I have a theory as to how and why Here & Now chooses to cover the news that it does….

For one, Here & Now presents information through interviews. And though it stays up-to-date on its coverage of current events, it would not have been practical for the program to discuss the earthquake the day it happened, simply because of the difficulty in finding an expert to interview within a few hours of the event’s occurrence and having to reschedule the interviews already scheduled for that day’s program..

Second, Here & Now describes itself as “bringing you the news that breaks after Morning Edition, and before All Things Considered,” two other NPR news programs aired daily before and after Here & Now, respectively. This description indicates that it would cover different topics than the preceding and following programs. And since Morning Edition focuses heavily on foreign, non-U.S. news, Here & Now would consequently focus very little on this area of news.

(An annual study done by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that, in 2008, NPR’s Morning Edition focused 20% of its coverage on foreign [non-U.S.] news topics. Assuming that this trend continued into 2009, I reasoned that, if Morning Edition has already covered the previous day’s foreign news, Here & Now would be free to cover U.S.-related foreign news, which makes up only 9% of Morning Edition’s coverage.)

That is not to say that Here & Now completely leaves out all important events if they do not directly concern the United States. Several times in October, the program covered non-U.S.-related topics:

  • the bombing of the United Nations’ food complex in Pakistan (Monday, October 5)
  • the trial in Italy to determine whether Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s immunity from prosecution was constitutional (Tuesday, October 6)
  • the bombing of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan (Thursday, October 8)
  • the president of Pakistan’s statement that his government will not cease efforts to stop the Taliban (Thursday, October 15)
  • Afghan president Hamid Karzai agreeing to a runoff election (Tuesday, October 20)

However, the majority of Here & Now’s international news coverage focused on foreign news involving the U.S., indicating that its goal in covering international news is to bring information directly pertaining to America to the American people.