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Expert examines international journalism as it confronts ISIS

| Monday, November 3, 2014

Lawrence Sheets, the former Moscow Bureau Chief for National Public Radio and current field analyst for the International Crisis Group, discussed the positive and negative consequences of changes made to the field of international journalism in the digital age in a lecture titled “Public Humanities in the Age of ISIS” in the Hesburgh Center for International Studies auditorium.

Sheets said the lack of reliable information about ISIS and other international events is indicative of a larger problem: America’s perceived view of international news and the quality of current reporting.

“There’s really a dearth of reporting about ISIS,” Sheets said. “I have yet to read any cogent, in-depth explanation as to the origins of this group that seems to appear out of nowhere. With all the foreign correspondents in the world, this is shocking to me.

“This speaks to a retrenchment in terms of coverage of international events. There are financial motives certainly at work. But there are also, I believe, issues related to America’s view that foreign news isn’t that important.”

Sheets said reporters are being pressured into less complete coverage in order to satisfy the demands of today’s news industry.

“Just yesterday, a checkpoint that I pass through frequently was hit and two soldiers were killed and one was injured, but for some reason, it’s as if the conflict doesn’t exist anymore because the dramatic value has lessened, and it’s no longer considered worthy of front page news,” Sheets said. “Editors get bored, and they send people home.”

Sheets said news companies are much more enamored with their ratings and numbers of viewers and listeners than they are with their stories’ content and the informative weight news carries.

“In addition to the retrenchment in the number of foreign correspondents, we also see a ‘dumbing down’ of coverage,” he said. ”I worked for Reuters for eight years and it was not unusual to write a story that was 75-80 lines. In 1998, harsh rules were instituted that news stories could not be over 65 lines.”

“This is predicated on the pretense that people don’t care and that they aren’t going to read to the last line,” Sheets said. “I think this is insulting not just to the American listener, or the American reader, but to the international reader as well. I don’t think the American reader is uninterested in foreign affairs. I think it’s just a misconception caused by the 24/7 media cycle.”

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