The UK and US media

A discussion began at The Sharpener about why US blogging has a proportionately bigger readership, and more influence, than UK blogging; and it has been picked up by Martin Stabe and the Curious Hamster.

One explanation that has been offered is that the US mainstream media is worse than the UK media – so bloggers there fill a void.  Brian Barder (aka my Dad) doesn’t agree:

For generally balanced and well informed comments on current issues, comprehensiveness of news coverage, and the essential separation of news from comment, I would argue that the New York Times and the Washington Post are superior to any British newspaper with the partial exception of the Financial Times, which is anyway these days almost as much an American as a British paper, and which doesn’t lay claim to the status of a journal of record.

I agree, and not just out of filial loyalty, that the US print media is at least as good as, and in many ways superior to, the UK newspapers.

But I am not swept along with his idea that broadcast coverage of news and current affairs is any match for the UK media.  We have 80 channels of cable TV here at home and we don’t switch on the set from one week to another.  I get all my broadcast news from BBC Radio 4 and the World Service. I suspect my father’s perspective suffers from:

  • selection bias – he is comparing the best US programs which are rebroadcast internationally (or which he sets aside time to watch) with everyday TV he watches in Britain;
  • seeing the international version of CNN rather than the domestic version (which is almost unwatchable)
  • focusing on TV rather than radio – there are no radio stations in the US that come close to matching the quality of BBC radio.

Finally, if the Foreign Office has a budget to promote Britain’s reputation abroad, it could use it to pay the BBC not to show BBC America which consists of nothing but reruns of dismal sitcoms like "Keeping Up Appearances". 

2 comments on “The UK and US media”

  1. I agree that my praise of the discussion and analysis of current affairs in the best of American print and television media as compared with the best of the British equivalents probably doesn’t apply to radio, and I should perhaps have made that clear. It’s simply that it’s many years since I have listened regularly and over a reasonable period of time to American radio and I’m in no position to make the comparison. However, I don’t accept the other objection — that I’m comparing the best of American television with the ordinary run of British television in the current affairs field, and not therefore comparing like with like. On the contrary: I am comparing the best current affairs programmes on television in each country with the best in the other, and I find the American best better than the British best. Moreover, I see no reason to exclude CNN International from the comparison: it’s unarguably American television, much of the best of its current affairs programming is also transmitted on the CNN domestic channel, and even if that had for some arcane reason to be left out of account, the rest of the American best would still in my opinion be better than the whole of the British best. (I agree that the worst American is worse than the worst British, though.)

    Brian
    http://www.barder.com/ephems/

  2. seeing the international version of CNN rather than the domestic version (which is almost unwatchable)

    The question immediately arises, which domestic version of CNN? American cable carries two: CNN and Headline News. HN is a newswheel, CNN is more of a ‘magazine’ orientation. And as I believe Brian mentioned, CNN is by no means the only player on the American TV scene. Even the broadcast networks turn out some decent general reportage both national and local and an array of signficant analysis and magazine format reportage

    there are no radio stations in the US that come close to matching the quality of BBC radio.

    Only if you ignore the American public/community radio stations that populate bands below 92 mHz across the country. The 90 minute morning and evening broadcasts of National Public Radio are carried on those, along with local coverage.

    Our large cities carry a wide range of commerical and non-commercial broadcast. Los Angeles alone has a score of stations on the FM band and maybe 10-15 on the AM. Satellite radio is struggling to fill the spaces between the cities with a similar range of broadcasts.

    The clue to American radio broadcasting is the multiplicity of choice in metropolitian areas, limited by the sheer size of the country. I fully recognize that Sturgeons Law applies with a vengance to American media, 95% of which is crap. However, our 5% remainder is a big 5%.

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Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and