How enormous stories go unreported all the time

Anjan Sundaram’s OpEd in the New York Times this weekend was beautifully written and clarified a lot of things for me. I really urge you to go read it if you haven’t already.

For the past month I’ve been genuinely shocked and confused that a story as big and “important” as the slow starvation of hundreds of  thousands of people under the increasingly ironically-tinged label of “international protection” could warrant essentially no media coverage in the West.

But, of course, a moment’s reflection reveals that this sort of thing happens all the time, including with stories that are a lot “bigger” than the Refugee Food Crisis. The wars in Eastern Congo, for instance, are one or two order of magnitude newsier than the refugee food crisis, and yet…nothing. Or, well, virtually nothing.

Sundaram paints a picture of a Western news gathering system that’s just about thrown in the towel on Africa. Unless white people or oil are involved somehow, they’re just not going there, and how “big” the non-oil/non-white-people story might be won’t budge them from that bedrock commitment.

It really is shocking.

2 thoughts on “How enormous stories go unreported all the time”

  1. I thought this was a well written piece, particularly on how it made the intellectual case for re-investing in foreign correspondents/stringers. However, without any sort of realistic economic argument involved, it’s unlikely to persuade publishers to drop any cash. Hopefully enough people get upset about it and blog, as you have, to signal that there is a genuine audience there to be won.

  2. Yes, a good piece! He may see the past through rosy glasses, though. Even when publishes paid for foreign correspondents, they often missed the story, as for example when the NYT reporter Durant, stationed in Moscow, never wrote anything about the gulag, etc.

    But the story rings true. I was in Nicaragua as an observer for important elections, spending weeks there to investigate the whole context. The day of the election, Dan Rather flew in, drove directly to a scenic, volcano-backed location, and spoke to the camera for two minutes. Then he went directly back FTC to the airport, and left. Total time in Nicaragua: 3 hours.

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