Has the globalization of the media increased or decreased the ability of individuals to understand the world?
Originally written for The Fletcher School’s International Communication course, October 2019.
The internationalization of media has given way to a new group of powerful stakeholders: moneyed media owners fostering an ecosystem of “uneven” globalization. This has fundamentally transformed what news gets written, how it’s distributed, and understood by the masses. While I’d argue that media globalization and its inherent biases has decreased the ability of individuals to be presented with an accurate depiction of the world, emerging communication technologies have also given them curatorial agency to understand the world on their own terms. We could posit that empowering citizens to be their own reporters and editors is positive, but it poses a crucial existential threat to the integrity of news media today.
In the past, the limelight of media — the reigns of which belonged to the elite, industrialized West — could determine where international aid was sent, where intervention was needed, and where public attention was held. As such, the international agenda was digested and shaped for governments and organizations to act upon, and citizens watching TV or reading the newspaper to simply intake. For smaller publications, especially abroad, following the lead of the New York Times was often safer than reporting on local corruption, furthering an accomplice role in disseminating select stories and encouraging an increasingly singular perspective.
While global news media was once seen as necessary to liberal democracies to hold governments accountable and conduct an information flow between them and constituents, it primarily serves the needs of business, investors, advertisers and rich consumers. News as commodity, with a new injection of big capital, means monopolists can push private political biases through public content. Media today reflects a fragmented, superficial view — where local news narrows in on the latest drug bust or criminal allegation, and national channels don’t go beyond country lines unless it’s a catastrophe. As Kapuscinski put it, “the more blood, the better it sells.” Separately, social media has enabled news to increasingly be generated by untrained and unsupervised citizen journalists, resulting in more frequent disinformation.
While the internet has arguably expanded the court of public opinion (a role the press alone held in the past) and equipped us all with myriad information sources, it has also transformed a news landscape we used to trust. The aftermath of the 2016 election illuminated why. Local outlets faced broken revenue models and a shortage of journalists to cover the breadth of U.S. public opinion, Big Data replaced human journalists in reporting trends and began informing false polls, and Facebook became a primary distributor of news, boosting sensational and “fake news” stories that outperformed real ones. These realities have turned our world, and critical thinking about the world, upside down. The only way forth is a return to community-based reporting and engagement, alongside a global reminder to look to the voices least uplifted, that often speak the truest words.