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Ted2008: Alisa Miller on Media Attention

Alisa Miller, the head of Public Radio International, picks up the theme of last night’s BBC world debates. She shows a cartogram – a distored map of the world. This cartogram is distorted to show media attention – how many minutes of coverage each nation received in network television last year.

The map is striking, and gets a round of applause immediately. It’s dominated by the US – which got 79% of news minutes – and by Iraq. Attention to India, Russia and China totalled less than 1% of stories. She points out that there were amazing international stories, including Indonesian flooding, international evidence of global warming, North Korean nuclear crises… and basically nothing but Iraq got picked up.

The situation gets worse – the death of Ana Nicole Smith eclipsed attention to every country by Iraq. Why do we let this happen? Well, news networks have reduced their staff by half, and there are no full network news bureas in Africa, South America, India – continents that include 2.5 billion people. “Frankly, covering Britney is cheaper.”

These maps look at network news – local news is worse, with only 12% of coverage focused internationally – and local news is watched by almost 80% of the US population. Unfortunately, Miller sees similarities in internet news as well – the top 24 stories on network news were the same ones studies saw on Google and Yahoo News.

This is why educated American know less about the world than their counterparts did 20 years ago. It’s not lack of interest – the number of Americans who say they follow global news closely has rised from 37 to 52% over that 2 decade period. “I know we can do better. And we can’t afford not to.”

4 thoughts on “Ted2008: Alisa Miller on Media Attention”

  1. If this cartogram is only measuring US TV news outlets, then it would be much more interesting to see it undistorted by removing the US entirely. It’s not so interesting to see the overall split between domestic and international because it’s so obvious IMO; this cartogram doesn’t present that split in a visually digestible way because domestic is one blob but international is split into a bunch of separate blobs; and finally, the huge percentage occupied by the US blob makes it very hard to see the relations between the various foreign blobs.

  2. Cos, you’re right and I agree.

    But from my point of view (Barcelona, Spain) I can tell in Europe we’d be having a way way way more balanced map than the one pictured here.

    In part because we cover both your and our Ana Nicoles and Britneys ;)

    But also because many national newspapers being the international section at page 3!

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