Pop quiz time: what do CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times have in common? They are all American-based news sources. This is pretty easy and I don’t mean to insult your intelligence. Now, what do The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Le Monde and Süddeutsche Zeitung have in common? These are all powerful, widely-consumed foreign news operations. Which question was easier for you: the first or second?
For most Americans, the first question is a no-brainer. And that’s great. It’s a newsroom success story if a publication can be easily spotted out from the crowd and classified as informative and vital for readers. However, Americans are lagging behind in international news smarts and it’s pretty embarrassing.
According to Peter Arnett, a former foreign correspondent for CNN and the Associated Press, international coverage is like a Giant Panda surrounded by poachers. It’s at risk of extinction due to the changing face of American media demands.
“Today, a foreign story that doesn’t involve bombs, natural disasters or financial calamity has little chance of entering the American consciousness,” Arnett wrote in an American Journalism Review article.
So, what does this mean? How much does the average American know about our friends across the border or the pond, as opposed to a few years ago? According to a 2007 Pew Research poll, the difference in international news IQ has changed pretty dramatically. In 1989, Pew reported that 47 percent of Americans could name the president of Russia. In 2007, that percentage dropped 11 points, to 36 percent.
So what, you could say. You could argue that in 2007, at least 66 percent of Americans could name their state’s governor and 69 percent could name the current vice president, according to Pew. Isn’t that really more important than knowing who the president of Russia is, because the governor and the vice president have a more direct influence on your life?
Sure, but if you approach it like this, you’re doomed. Have you ever wanted to travel to another country, work in another country, work with an international organization or communicate with other non-Americans? I hope so. Because, reality check: America is not a bubble. It is an ever-growing, changing nation made up of mostly immigrants from all over the world. American businesses seem to become more and more international as jobs become less and less unstable. Now, the issue of international news IQ becomes an issue of survival and adaptation for Americans. You and I must embrace the international future of not only the US, but the entire world.
As a student who will graduate in December, I’ve spent time looking for and stressing over jobs. I’ve heard over and over again that the best way to market yourself is to highlight unique skills that will be an asset to whatever position I applying for. Making a memorable (in a good way) first impression and interview is key to landing a good job. So, how does this connect with reading the international section of the newspaper?
By becoming a more well-rounded and educated person, you can more easily ace tough interview questions with insightful answers. If you seem like you don’t care enough to even read the headlines, how will any employer believe you can take the initiative?
Reading about Posh and David Beckham, a column on Israeli politics or the German national football team, won’t make you an instant international know-it-all, but by selectively and critically comparing cultural icons, following important elections as well as world trends, you can become not only an asset to a potential employer, but to yourself, as well.