Saturday, December 1, 2012

Media and Diplomacy

Last Friday, I went to a discussion on media and diplomacy led by the (soon to be resigning) Executive Editor of the Washington Post (WP), Marcus Brauchli. He talked about his past experience as a foreign correspondent and how journalism has changed in recent years. It’s no surprise that journalists and large news companies are producing content tailored to digital platforms. He discussed topics I’ve already covered in my previous posts, such as the interplay between user-generated content (USG)and journalism.
Still, he did consider a few of the themes we’ve explored lately in our class.

The “CNN effect” thesis questions whether or not the media is driving foreign policy. The literature we’ve read didn’t find conclusive evidence to support that media greatly affects foreign policy. Brauchli offered the perspective of a journalist concerning this idea. When discussing the transformation of journalism, he stated that newspapers today have to keep up with the pace of news 24hrs, just as other media sources do. It’s important to remain current with new information that people provide (such USG) in order to remain competitive within the journalism industry. So, in regards to the “CNN effect”, he says that WP journalists aren’t conscious of changing policy, not intentionally at least. Their main concern is what readers want and ought to know. Yet, they are conscious of policy when they think something has been misunderstood/misinterpreted by politicians, and they make sure to hold politicians accountable. A journalist’s main goal is to take the public’s interests into account, though they are certainly proud if their stories affect policy in some way.

In terms of the “paradox of plenty” (this states that there is an abundance of information but we have limited attention, so what do we focus on?), their job as journalists is to help people sift thought the vast amount of information floating around, and help them identify the good, valid information engulfed in the bad, unreliable information. People turn to WP, and news organizations in general, because they help people prioritize information and determine what to focus their attention on.

Do people seek to re-affirm what they know? In the Shawn Powers and Mohammed el-Naraway article, “Al-Jazeera English and global news networks: clash of civilizations or cross-cultural dialogue?”, they “found compelling evidence that viewers choose global news media based on their pre-existing ideological and political orientations, and that their viewing of particular news media is likely to reinforce their opinions on highly divisive issues…”
Brauchli supports this claim as well.  He states that, in the past, people consumed news horizontally, as in they would read about different categories stories covering a broad range of ideas in the paper. However, today people consume news vertically; they seek out niche or boutique news, which is news tailored to a specific topic or viewpoint.

Brauchli commented that social media in journalism creates a vibrant exchange of information that fosters discussion. The overarching goal of WP is to create an umbrella, or platform, where people can discuss the news with one another while journalists mediate the information. The direction journalism is moving to is much more participatory. Brauchli acknowledged that WP gets “attacked” more than before, but this implies that people are responding critically to the information presented to them. They have an outlet to respond, fostering the two-way communication that is necessary for greater understanding. 


  1. Thanks for writing about this event, Kristie! You explained many of the points I took away from Mr. Brauchli's talk as well.

    To expand on your point about the news' switch to a digital platform, I found his stories worth sharing here. Brauchli stated how back in the day, reporters abroad would go abroad, all expenses paid, to grab a story. If they were late or unable to find a reputable source, they would speak with taxi drivers in the region and craft a story out of their responses - taxi-cab journalism. Now, however, the quality of information has increased, providing more details. Now the WP has to stay open 24hrs, a social media team monnitoring every outlet to know news stories first & constantly adapting their presence to new platforms and tablets.

    In class, we've discussed how there used to be more foreign correspondents abroad than there is now. However, Brauchli stated that this is a myth; he said that although the number of offices have decreased from around 12 to 5, the number of foreign correspondents have increased from 75 to around 2,000 for publications such as Dow Jones and Bloomberg.

    Finally, he was also asked about the future of journalism. In his opinion, he thinks journalism will never die, but one can worry about institutions. Since boutique news interest has increased substantially and readers have become more participatory, the exchange of info. fostering discussion that you stated above will be the future of journalism.

    Despite the fact that he was speaking in a room full of foreign policy practitioners, I was a bit reassured after his talk that the WP works with the main goal of satisfying the public interest, not promoting a certain political agenda item. Also, his comment on how the WP seeks to tell the truth, knowing how hard it is for people to find it through all the "sludge" online, was inspiring as well.

  2. Kristie, thanks for reporting back on what sounds like it was a very interesting talk! I'm glad to hear Brauchli discuss ways that the Washington Post has made an effort to embrace social media and newer technologies to facilitate a dialogue, but a recent post from Ezra Klein has me concerned about their ability to stay afloat in this economic environment while contending with the changing face of journalism. Yesterday's 'Graphs of the Day'[1] show that Google is surpassing U.S. newspapers in ad revenue. I wonder if the Washington Post's new, participatory approach to news will be enough to make it competitive from a financial standpoint.