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About the Author

Robert Stefanicki
Journalist (Warsaw, Poland)

Old salt international affairs writer. At present freelance (looking for a job!), most of his professional life worked for the largest daily in Poland. Focused on Asia and Middle East, where witnessed some dirty wars, now more and more interested in development and other global issues. In collusion with Institute of Global Responsibility, our new and fast growing NGO. Self made photographer (see my website), scuba diver, sailor, cyclist and movie addict.

Post

Localizing media: blessing or a curse?

Published 28th April 2010 - 19 comments - 4827 views -

There were times when each self-respecting newspaper aspired to have as many foreign correspondents as it could afford. If not full-timers, then stringers, if not stringers, then visiting reporters. Crisis – in a broad sense of the word – changed it all. Cost cuts led to the closure of many foreign bureaus and canceling assignments. This looks like permanent trend, no hope in sight.

There is logic behind this move. After all, everything is in the web, in English, for free. Broadband access to English web sites from all over the world allows us to find any requested information within minutes. But lets face it: we get lazy. We take short cuts. We allow to be led astray.

***

As old saying goes, “if they lay off today, they will hire tomorrow”. The situation is a chance for local journalists to fill the void, if only they write in English, of course.

IPS article titled English-Language Media a Double-Edged Sword says that English language, as a medium for reporting in the region of Asia-Pacific, is both a boon and a bane. According to “The Jakarta Globe” chief editor Lin Neumann, due to big-players' shrinking budgets to cover stories in the region, aggressive English-language local press plays growing role regionally and internationally “in keeping the information flow open and expanding the regional voice".

Is it good or bad? Would you rather read an article written by your countryman correspondent or by a local journalist? Two sides of a coin. One: outsider’s view tends to be clear, sharp and independent, so he/she is in a good position to extract the essence and transmit the message in a way edible for his/her readers. Two: he rarely has a vast knowledge of a visited region and may easily fall in a trap of stereotypes. I myself, in span of 8 years work as a staff writer, was reporting from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Cyprus, Philippines... A specialist on everything. Or nothing? Even if I tried to learn any local language – tell me which one: why Arabic, not Cantonese or Hindu? English is our Saviour. I could always find interpreter & fixer on the spot.

***

Or let's stick to local reporting? But Mrs. Neumann laments that even in the locally based English-language media, the nuances of regional issues tend to get lost on western audiences. “It used to be that you went to get language studies. It is not the case anymore. Instead, there's a reliance on whatever English-language media is available”, she says. Thus, the cycle of misinformation and biases continues.

Part of the answer may be social translation, as Guy Degen noticed in his editorial.

But another, even more serious problem I see with “localizing” English-language media is that the local voices are still not strong enough (because they are local?) to reach - or to regain - global audience. In result we have less and less coverage of regional issues. Chief editor of a leading Polish weakly magazine once told me that when they put any international issue on cover, sales drops by 25 %. And he did not mean anything like “Thaw in US-China relation”, but more “Deadly hurricane kills thousends”. I don’t think this is just Polish specific. The irony is, the more globalisation we have, the more narrow minded, focused on local issues, are our media.

There is one significant exception that shoud be noticed: agressively expanding Chinese state media. CCTV network has a three-year plan to expand its foreign bureaus from 19 to 56, and Xinhua from 100 to 186. Heavily cash-supplied English-language papers, like “Global Times” or “China Daily” promote government’s view of China and the world. To find other side of the story you need to read the blogs – but they are usually in Chinese. Or stick to reports from western correspondents – the handful who is out there, still.


Category: Media | Tags: china, journalism, local press,


Comments

  • Andrea Arzaba on 28th April 2010:

    Great question: Would you rather read an article written by your countryman correspondent or by a local journalist?

    I would say…both hehe smile Great post!


  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 28th April 2010:

    “fter all, everything is in the web, in English, for free. Broadband access to English web sites from all over the world allows us to find any requested information within minutes” I think this is the most important. As a Swedish citizen, what I do is not to read Swedish media, or local media, but a few really big English langugage sources like NYT, CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera.


  • Robert Stefanicki on 28th April 2010:

    Yeah, Daniel, me too. I wonder if we do this because we really believe that they provide the best stuff, or just out of convenience. And don’t you think that relying only on “big English-language sources” unify our views and narrow perspectives a little bit?


  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 28th April 2010:

    Hm… good question. I guess I put some sort of trust in them. Another issue is probably about globalization - it does unify and narrow down our perspectives a bit, but that also makes it much easier to discuss with people from other nationalities.

    Isn’t this the sociological role that TV played, that it narrowed down regional perspectives to a national one?


  • Lara Smallman on 28th April 2010:

    A great question Robert. I think I am still undecided.

    Natives and locals surely have a head start -being there, knowing the language, the culture, the ins and outs of the situation -so hearing more from them wouldn’t be a bad thing at all, I don’t think.


  • Hieke van der Vaart on 29th April 2010:

    Hi Robert,
    A good example of localized global journalism:

    http://www.metropolistv.nl/en

    Film makers and video bloggers (“correspondents”) from more than 50 countries report on one weekly topic. To name a few: “Sex education”, “Environmental Warriors”, “Newshunters”, “Michael Jackson” etc. Have a look, it is an inspiring project. And a chance for local journalists to get a global audience.


  • Robert Stefanicki on 29th April 2010:

    Thanks, Hieke. Interesting site, they even have nice-looking correspondent from Warsaw… But - always a “but”, eh? - I would not build my view of the world on these videos. More: I don’t think that bloggers should or could take place of full-time, PAID correspondents. They are added value, and that’s great, they have fun, that’s fantastic. But they are not professionals. Let me switch on to BBC.


  • Robert Stefanicki on 29th April 2010:

    Correction: I’ve just seen that Metropolis.nl correspondents are paid, 250 Euro for a video. Wow. That makes this enterprise even more interesting. The rest of my comment remain in force smile


  • Larisa Rankovic on 29th April 2010:

    “After all, everything is in the web, in English, for free. Broadband access to English web sites from all over the world allows us to find any requested information within minutes” That is certainly true, for those who speak English and use Internet. But the problem still remains: What about the others?
    Also, some people here in Serbia noticed, after recent traffic and natural catastrophes around the World, that our media place such news in a way that our economic, political or social problems seem less striking in comparison. Peculiar way to mix global and local perspective


  • Clare Herbert on 29th April 2010:

    Really interesting question. Hopefully, we won’t have to chose and can have both the outsider and insider perspective. Particularly given the democratizing impact of the internet, I don’t think we need to chose.


  • Robert Stefanicki on 29th April 2010:

    @Larisa: This particular problem applies to the journalists, who usually speak languages (at least they should). They are the translators, in a broad sense. I write in Polish and do not expect my readers to know English. The question is where I get my information from.

    @Clare: Seemingly we do not need to choose, but in fact we make choices every day. Although web resources seem unlimited, our time is limited.


  • Clare Herbert on 30th April 2010:

    Fair point Robert!


  • Hieke van der Vaart on 03rd May 2010:

    @Robert. True, true. Reliable correspondents are an important and indispensable source of information. On the other hand, Metropolis’ correspondents are most of the time full time journalists in their home countries and they have editors in the Netherlands who monitor and help them with their videos. Of course this is not the only solution for the retreat of “traditional” western correspondents, but I think initiatives like these (who knows similar projects?) are very promising.

    One more link:
    http://www.globalpost.com/


  • Aija Vanaga on 06th May 2010:

    It is question of perspective and experience too, but in the same time it is question of language. English seems to run at the top, but there always is dilemma what auditorium you want to reach. English will not work for local and national just for global.


  • Robert Stefanicki on 07th May 2010:

    @Aija: English probably will not work for local audience in non-English speaking countries, but for national - yes, happens. Two examples familiar to me are India and Philippines, where citizens often use English for communication. There are some African countries too, where English serves as a common platform for various ethnic/language groups. (in francophone part it’s French). But if this is good or bad, that is another matter…


  • Aija Vanaga on 12th May 2010:

    @Robert
    English for me have become some kind of everyday language and most covienient to communicate. But still in Europe I feel a lot of protectionism concerning native languages. And thats’ a question - who, where and why.
    Simple - what language to choose for personal blog?


  • Sylwia Presley on 25th July 2010:

    Really good points! Global does not always mean it is used globally - just available. Our patterns of reading news do not equal availability, what’s more - the availability can be misleading!


  • Iwona Frydryszak on 03rd August 2010:

    I’ve just heard recentlly that even when you pay (the grant from NGO) all the costs to send your journalists to Africa, it’s not worth for TV, as they can earn more money while the journalist is on the spot in Poland…


  • Robert Stefanicki on 04th August 2010:

    No, you mean the TV station does not want to send its crew for free to Africa? Oh! Was this Polish public TV? I am keen to go to Africa or anywhere if costs are covered (in case anybody asks).


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