There are times that the glare and the noise of mainstream American news media overpower the content presented. CNN’s ridiculous devotion to entertainment news, for example, and Fox’s overt distortion of facts have a way of alienating anyone in search of the truth of a serious story. Media conglomerates pull the strings in America. Of course, in other parts of the world, dictatorial governments usually control regional news. While neither system approaches an ideal, “objective” news-reporting climate, both have the result of distributing propaganda to a mass audience.
I consider the New York Times to be a journalistic paragon in America today. Its roots run deep into U.S. history and culture, and few news sources carry such heavy ethical burdens in crafting their products. In fact, this divide grows wider as American journalism drifts further into the sensational. The Times’ home page is somewhat more complex than the front page of the newspaper, although the option exists to view the exact content of a given day’s physical front page (by clicking ‘Today’s Paper’ in the toolbar at the top of the webpage). Personally, I find nytimes.com’s ‘kitchen sink’ approach to web reporting a little overwhelming. Fewer hyperlinks and more efficient prioritizing of news stories might help online editors reign in the glut of data this page provides.
In contrast, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s website is nicely streamlined, designed with the understanding that a news home page should serve as a portal to detailed stories. Although the BBC’s geographical scope is much broader than the New York Times, its homepage allows viewers to select desired categories of news easily, which cuts down the time it takes to find a specific story.
Al Jazeera, the middle-eastern news organization based in Qatar, boasts perhaps the most inviting website of the three. Every single headline is accompanied by a colorful photograph that reflects the crux of the related story. In fact, the photos drive the content on Al Jazeera; the eye is drawn to the image before the headline. Of course, the content here is regionalized, dealing heavily with Muslim relations with the West and the politics and cultures of the surrounding nations.
For example, one of Al Jazeera’s top stories of the moment is coverage of the Hajj, the yearly pilgrimage taken by Muslims to Mecca, which is the largest such event in the world. The front pages of both the BBC and The New York Times contain no mention of The Hajj, despite its draw of nearly 4 million Muslim pilgrims from around the world.
One headline that made its way to the top stories of all three networks was the recent trial of accused terrorist Ahmad Ghailani in an American civilian court. Obviously, this case, in which the defendant was acquitted of all but one charge against him, carries international significance and was conspicuously featured on all three sites.
Interestingly, the only other story I noticed on all three front pages was the surprise election of write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski, the Republican incumbent running for one of Alaska’s seats in the U.S. Senate. Al Jazeera and the BBC shared several other stories not included in the New York Times, including soccer coverage and President Obama’s recent trip to China. By the time this story broke on Al Jazeera, the Times had moved on to find other stories to cram into its front page.
BBC.co.uk is among my daily online news stops over a cup of the blackest coffee known to man. I appreciate the worldly perspectives it provides, and I love the fact that the BBC derives most of its operating costs from its consumers, rather from advertisers and corporate sponsors. These television license fees are paid once a year by every British citizen who owns a TV and plans on watching it. This system emphasizes the news as a service provided by an independent, and therefore potentially more objective, journalistic organization and minimizes responsibilities to outside interests that might seek to selectively tailor news reports. But consumer-sponsored news would never work in America like it does in the U.K. Happily, an impressive online presence by foreign-based news groups means we Americans may sample the views of distant cultures through their own lenses and discover worlds beyond our borders… and then go brew another pot.