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AP bureau chief warns against dwindling American press coverage of world news

By Nancy Lavin
On March 23, 2012


Associated Press New England Bureau Chief William Kole warned students that American press coverage of international affairs is dwindling, with dangerous implications.

"America falls short of its highest values and cripples its own global leadership when we don't pay attention," he said in the 2012 Christiane Amanpour lecture, held on March 21 in Swan Hall Auditorium. "There is a terrible cost when we don't pay attention."

As the former AP bureau chief for Eastern Europe from 2001 to 2010, Kole has experienced first-hand the challenges and rewards of being a foreign correspondent, covering countries like the Balkans and Yugoslavia. However, he said that America's "blasé" approach to global news coverage is perpetuating an ignorant public.

"There are journalists telling important stories all around the world, but too's like an afterthought. It's not the way journalism is supposed to work," he said.

Kole added that the number of foreign correspondents has decreased significantly in the past 10 years. For example, since 2007, CNN has cut international news coverage in its newscasts in half, and 64 percent of newspaper editors say they have cut space for international news in their papers, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Kole explained that this lack of coverage means that journalists aren't able to act as watchdogs for the public on global issues.

"Newsflash: governments lie, police lie, corporations lie. We need journalists as the credible fourth estate to keep tabs on this and cut through the bullshit," he said.

Kole also used the Bush administration's information on weapons of mass destruction as another example of when a lack of coverage led to a misinformed public, which, in turn, led to a long-lasting, resource-devastating war.

"If you were paying attention, you would know that things weren't adding up," he said. "And when the drumbeats of war get fast and loud, we need more cowbell. Journalists are the cowbell."

One of the major problems, according to Kole, is that news organizations simply don't have the funding to pay full-time correspondents to be stationed overseas. Instead, news outlets are much more likely to send in reporters when major events occur, in a "visiting fireman" kind of situation.

The difficulty with this is that reporters aren't usually familiar with the area, and may have a harder time understanding what is going on. Additionally, with events such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, there could have been a lot more coverage of the aftermath of event, instead of merely the event itself.

"It makes me wonder what's wrong with us and what's wrong with our news organizations...why we're finding it so hard to keep people overseas to tell us what's going on," said Kole.

The solution, Kole said, is for the public to pay a little money to have access to news.

"We need to care enough to be willing to pay a few bucks a month for a subscription to the Providence Journal," he said. "Most of us don't even a tall grande mocha 'crapuccino', but we won't spent a few dollars on the news organizations we trust to bring us information. That's wrong. That's blasé."

However, Kole said this lack of international coverage is largely isolated to America, and that other countries are much better at providing coverage of foreign affairs.

"There's really an intense interest in what's going on around the world, but the intense interest is outside of this country," he said.

Of his own experiences abroad, Kole said they were challenging, but also very rewarding.

"You really are a witness to history," he said. "I'm blown away at the stories I was able to be on the scene to cover."

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