The headlines are full of reports that news organizations are cutting back, closing overseas bureaus and devoting less time to international news. What does that mean to consumers? Less information to help make informed decisions relative to our small, interrelated world.
PBS decided to buck that trend with a new nightly show, Worldfocus, which debuts nationally Oct. 6. (Orlando affiliate WMFE-TV is delaying the debut until the late-night hours on Wednesday, Oct. 8, though Daytona Beach's WCEU-TV will begin airing the program Monday.) The half-hour news program features what anchorman Martin Savidge calls "compelling stories gleaned and gathered from all around the world, brought back to Americans in a way that really matters."
The staff of Worldfocus has teamed up with TV and print organizations worldwide — from The New York Times to NHK in Japan to Palestinian TV — as well as working with a half-dozen of its own correspondents to cover stories that American TV networks most likely wouldn't or couldn't touch.
"We will make foreign news seem less foreign to Americans," Savidge, a former NBC and CNN reporter, said by phone from his New York office. "We will answer the question: What do these stories mean to our American audience? We can say why the rebel attacks that intensified this week on the oil infrastructure in Nigeria are something you need to be aware of, because Nigeria is the fourth-largest oil supplier to the United States. We get 10 percent of our oil every day from that country. And if somebody over there is messing with that supply, it's going to have a direct impact on what you pay for a gallon of gas."
Here's more of the conversation:
Orlando Weekly: You're getting to do important reporting for a network that doesn't worry much about ratings. Do you now wake up in the morning and say, "Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth"?
Savidge: Yes, I do. I'm proud of the product we're turning out every day in rehearsals. We have an outstanding product that will stand up against any international newscast you can find. It's exciting to be part of a new program. It's exciting to be part of this staff. It is a refreshing change from the world of commercial television. There is a certain sanity here, a stateliness. And I don't find the egos quite as large. In fact, I haven't bumped into any at all. The focus is on the product, not on the politics.
What's a typical story and how will it be reported?
Today, we're doing the continuing saga of the world markets and the reaction to the moves the U.S. government is making to reassure investors. What will make it different is, traditionally news organizations here in America would go to their correspondent — an American in London or an American in Beijing. We go to people who live there, who have been working there for decades, covering that region of the world. And we talk to people who are from that part of the world. Nobody knows the story better than the locals.
What are the two or three most underreported world news stories right now?
This isn't a story, it's a region, but Africa is hugely overlooked. We're working on a story on the impact of the economic downturn on Africa. A lot of the people who are suffering — whether it be institutions or private investors — are so focused on their own losses that they are less likely to contribute to organizations and funds that benefit Africa. And Africa knows this, and they're already bracing for how they're going to deal with the tremendous human needs they have if money is cut back.
South and Central America are almost invisible to Americans. We have a story from Nicaragua, a tremendously poor nation that still suffers severely from hurricanes. They can't throw money into solutions, so they came up with this network of women shortwave radio operators. They go out and measure the river depths in their neighborhood. They report on the weather and they communicate with one another. So the information is disseminated that way. Very low-cost, very low-tech, but apparently very effective. It's a wonderful story that was done by `Germany's` Deutsche Welle, and you wouldn't see that anywhere else.
Do you have a sense that Americans don't care about the rest of the world?
That was always the argument when I worked at NBC, and it was even somewhat an argument when I worked at CNN, at least on the domestic side. Sept. 11 changed that somewhat because we realized that how the rest of the world thinks about us is not only important but can impact our safety and our security.
With the passage of time and the wearing down of the war, Americans might have fallen somewhat from that. But I think Americans are interested. It just needs to be told well. I don't think American networks tell the stories in compelling ways. It's all in the telling. It's in the bringing it back so people can understand.[email protected]