Mar 19 2012

Small Fish, Big News

International news are normally associated with the domain of the big global news organisations – BBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera – flashy brand “idents” and anchors in suits speaking directly to correspondents on the ground. When it comes to local media and regional television and radio broadcasters, the assumption is that they should stick to affairs nearer to home. International news is expensive to produce, and local broadcasters can not afford to produce them on their own.


But in the world we live in, the local and the global are no longer so far apart. People travel, and news travel with them, and back. The neighbour’s son could be involved in an international fraud which brings down a band halfway across the world, get kidnapped by pirates or get seriously injured in a bar brawl while honeymooning. On a happier note he could also get nominated president of the World Bank, or win the 100 meter run in the Olympics. People have friends, associates and relatives everywhere in the world. Sometimes, deliberately or inadvertently, they become top news.


Big world affairs can have a significant impact on local communities. A natural disaster in East Asia can devastate a small business in Kansas, or prompt an ex-pat community in northern England to an emergency charity fund raising effort, or recruit volunteers for rescue operations and blood donors for health relief. The bankruptcy of an investment company in Australia can change the economy of a town in Guatemala.


Local broadcasters often feel they have an interest and an obligation to cover certain aspects of international news, but they naturally do not have reporters on the ground where the news takes place. They can not always use standardised packages sold by the news agencies, because those rarely focus on what makes a certain piece of news relevant to their community of news consumers.


At GRN we often get approached by local radio and TV stations when such a story breaks. We do try to help by finding a correspondent on the ground and offer them special rates, but they still find it financially hard to use us for more frequent coverage. We would like that to change, without compromising the quality of our reporting, or the fees of our correspondents.


We believe that local broadcasters should be encouraged to bring the world into their communities in the way they choose to, and from the angles they deem appropriate, engaging, and relevant. This week we have applied for funding from the Knights Journalism Foundation by attempting to win their Networks Challenge. We offer to develop ways to help smaller networks think globally while acting, namely, broadcasting, locally.


I use the term “local” here a bit loosely. It could apply not only to a media that covers a defined geographical area, but also to a special interest media serving a defined community – ethnic minority, speakers of a certain language, members of a certain religion, or people with a specialised interest.


We are interested in forging closer relationships with local broadcasters not only because we have the resources and the ability to help them. We are well aware of how local journalists in an anonymous town can become invaluable for the big international news broadcasters, when unexpected international news story hits a relatively small spot, which is normally out of the way for the main international news vehicle.


This morning, sadly, we recruited a correspondent in Toulouse, to cover the massacre in the Jewish school there. Like in many localities which are not regularly covered by international media, there are always a few vacant hours before the news corps march in, which are a moment in which local journalists provide an invaluable service not only for the communities they operate in, but for millions of news consumers in other countries.


We are hoping to receive the asked funding so that we can subsidise our services to local media while encouraging our correspondents to research the interests of particular communities. We will endeavour to create a network of local media and learn about its particular needs in international reporting.


And as ever, we are keen to get your input. We are looking forward to your comments.

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