Ethan Zuckerman: How Do We "Stumble Better"?

Ethan Zuckerman is cofounder of Global Voices Online and one of the most insightful thinkers around on issues concerning media (both new and old) and society. In a recent article, "The Attention Deficit: Plenty of Content, Yet an Absence of Interest," he looks at the "endangered species" known as foreign correspondents. Although local citizen journalism plays a vitally informative role, particularly during events such as the Haiti earthquake and the protests in Iran, he writes, "the scarce resource in the age of digital journalism is not high-quality content, but attention." In other words, in a media-saturated environment, how do we get Western audiences to notice or care about what's happening in, say, Madagascar or Malaysia?

He was in our office yesterday for a meeting of the Open Society Foundations U.S. Programs board, of which he is a member. I took the opportunity to speak with him about this question (see clip above).

What are your ideas on overcoming "attention deficit" when it comes to international news?

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I was under the impression that there would be a solution presented to this issue. Have you used the internet to broadcast this news to every conceivable outlet ie: reddit and other news accumulation sites?

I thought Zuckerman's comment about the quality of the narrative in the New Yorker was interesting. It suggests, and I would agree, that international news stories can indeed be made interesting to a domestic audience when those stories are character and plot driven rather than driven by facts (as most newspaper articles are). It was something the Wall Street Journal actually did quite well (to give an example of a newspaper that did), in their quirky stories at the bottom of the front page (though not always about an international issue).

So, maybe the problem does indeed come back to the shortfall of high quality content in just this area - character driven stories that illuminate what's going on in another country. It is one that such outlets/platforms as Global Voices Online, are geared less to by nature (crafting rich narratives requires expertise that citizen journalists might always fall short in providing) even if they are excellent sources of differing perspectives from which a character for a larger story might be found.

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