In an increasingly connected world, how can we address the democratic need to adequately inform the public on cross-border issues, such as climate change, financial meltdowns, or big data society? Traditional foreign correspondence overemphasizes domestic interests. Instead, what we need today is global journalism, an approach to reporting concerned with the interconnectedness of things, where local or domestic affairs are contextualized in relation to global sources.
The digital revolution generates enormous masses of information that circulate among ever more people worldwide. And yet, life in the global village does not necessarily generate media information about this village. This is a serious democratic problem. Today’s globalized world requires a new kind of journalism that investigates how the practices, problems and life conditions of people in various parts of the world are interrelated. Only journalism equipped with a global outlook, i.e. a global journalism, can develop adequate coverage of climate change, financial meltdowns, drug and human trafficking, Internet surveillance, life science, big data society, and other cross-border issues.
This new form of reporting, which is still in its initial stages, has three main characteristics. Interconnected processes and events that occur simultaneously in separate places across the world are explicitly brought together. Global power plays – whether conflicts, trade patterns or negotiations – are analysed as a complex mixture of domestic, foreign and global drives. Groups and political identities are presented in a manner that shows continuities across borders.
Global journalism is a democratic must because life at the local level is increasingly influenced by decisions, actions and processes taking place somewhere else. And yet, the processes of globalization often seem abstract and invisible, and therefore, active efforts to understand it appear as not so urgent. This is treacherous.
Journalism is part of the problem. It promotes a “national container” perspective, to use the words of Ulrich Beck, whereby society is continually reduced to the home nation-state. However, in today’s news ecology, something quite different is needed, otherwise media will gradually lose contact with an increasingly complex society. Journalism could be part of the solution if the perspective shifted, so that global and local realities would be presented as intertwined, not distinguished.
Global journalism should not be confused with traditional foreign correspondence. This form of journalism specializes in covering events abroad for domestic audiences, often overemphasizing domestic interests – how will the results of foreign elections affect our nation, or were “our” citizens involved in a disaster that occurred on foreign soil? In contrast global journalism is occupied with the interconnectedness of things: the practice is not centered around a distant event but instead a relation between “here” and “there”, which also becomes the point of departure for journalistic explanations.
International news services, such as Reuters and AP, but also CNN International and BBC World, with their cross-border scope, might be viewed as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (pre-)version of global journalism, but they still fall short of covering relations between cross-border events and peoples, and thus actively bringing the world’s continents closer to each other. Perhaps, tomorrow’s global journalism will primarily be developed in the context of domestic reporting. This is because global journalism might also be viewed as a necessary updating of domestic media information in which local or domestic affairs are increasingly contextualized in relation to global sources. Implanting this global outlook in domestic media could also make it commercially sustainable, as most studies of media consumption conclude that people prefer information about geographically and culturally proximate events.
Like ostriches, too many media organizations bury their heads in the hyperlocal sand, repressing the external world for the sake of “business as usual”.
Is a paradigm shift in the history of media production realistic? Media experts of the tech-romantic kind suggest that more and freer digital networks are the answer to the problem, but they tend to forget that the global outlook also requires a new form of storytelling and thus a new journalistic mindset. Thus, it is not the case that specific platforms (for example, social media rather than TV) automatically generate global outlooks. Others argue that global challenges such as the energy issue and oncoming water supply crisis increasingly force media to become cross-border. This might well be the case, but the process goes too slowly. Like ostriches, too many media organizations bury their heads in the hyperlocal sand, repressing the external world for the sake of “business as usual”. So far, there are no obvious signs that transnational regions, such as the EU, are generating more and better cross-border journalism than other parts of the world.
Actors on the media market leading the development of global outlooks are likely to become winners in the longer term. In the competitive race, those nation-states with populations that quickly adopt a global outlook on society will have an advantage, and become highly equipped for cross-border collaboration. A shift probably requires initiatives from both the market and the State/public service system but also from independent projects. In the latter case, a promising example is the media platform The Global Academy (in development), which covers and explains global issues by bringing in academic scholars from all parts of the world in the journalistic production.
Today’s embryonic examples of global journalism cover global crises such as climate change, or the dark side of the global economy, such as ICIJs Panama Papers story. But future global journalism could and should include many more stories in which unknown cross-border relations are brought to public daylight in a systematic manner. In turn, this will create appetite among the readership for news coverage that goes beyond the artificial boundaries of nations, and properly renders the complex chains of causality that prevail in the age of globalization. In a world characterized by emergent need for problem solving across national boundaries, is not this the only way for media to remain democratically relevant?
Peter Berglez is Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Jönköping University, Sweden. His research primarily focuses on the relation between media and globalization and environmental/sustainable communication. He is a member of the advisory board of the media platform project The Global Academy, and is the author of Global Journalism: Theory and Practice, published in 2013.