If you’ve ever found yourself flipping the channel away from a news station because you don’t like the angry pundits or depressing events , or simply because you don’t know the background on the story being covered, you’re not alone—in fact, you’re like most American news consumers.
After a few minutes of news that makes the world seem like an international house of horrors, it’s easy to find yourself fed up with a never-ending replay of the day’s events and problems.
But this doesn’t mean you should tune out. It’s actually even more important to pay attention to what’s really going on in the world—whether or not that’s through TV news. A 2007 Pew Research Center study concluded that more Americans are watching the news than ever, but that we also know much less about the world. And that's not good.
When it comes to world affairs, don’t get frustrated—get media literate. Here’s how to be a savvy consumer of global news.
Change the Channel and Set Your Homepage
Your local 5 PM news may let you know what’s happening in your area, but not much beyond that. And while your morning “coffee-talk” anchors are great to wake up to, their programming may not prep you to sit at the table in a global business meeting (or even with 7th graders at your local Model UN).
Turn on a world news station, like the BBC World Service , and let it play on your laptop, phone, or TV while you get dressed in the morning, drive to work, or work out at the gym. And set your computer’s homepage to the global news site you find most informative—not Yahoo or your favorite blog. Choose a reputable news agency, such as the BBC , CNN International Edition , or Al Jazeera English , all of which present excellent and comprehensive international news.
Know the Difference Between Global News and Infotainment
Stories like Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel aren’t “soft news.” They’re mush. Celebrity news doesn't count as global news , nor do cute animal stories (even if they take place in Asia). Even crime stories are often told as “infotainment,” but disguised as hard news. While they might be compelling, sensationalist crime stories are highly localized and rarely build global awareness or help you understand complex societal issues any better.
So what items are worth your time? News stories about politics, war, economics, and sociological interests, as well as those that offer a lens into a culture, are great ways to get to know the issues and begin to gain insight into global affairs.
Stay Informed and Positive
Sometimes global news can be depressing to watch. But you should know that’s often because negative news sells, and that for every terrible moment you see on the news, resilience and hope elsewhere goes unreported .
If dark stories begin to overwhelm you, seek out positive articles and fresh perspectives on alternative media like Global Voices . Also, make sure you get beyond the onslaught of sensationalized soundbites, which can make negative events seem all the worse. To go deeper on a story, try AlterNet or The Atlantic for hip sociocultural analysis. If you want to learn more about politics and security issues, check out Foreign Policy and The Economist .
Listen, Then Read Between the Lines
Don’t trust one source alone when it comes to understanding a global story—remember that each country and news station has its own national and political interests at stake. Instead, check out different news stations’ coverage of the same story to get a clearer picture of what’s going on. If you’re skeptical about a story, look for local language or English news analysis sites to get diverse perspectives. One such site, Tea Leaf Nation , offers news stories about China through the eyes of experts and volunteers who have lived there.
For other perspectives, talk to friends, especially if they’re from the country of the story you’re following. The best way to grasp world issues is to talk with someone who has more than a three-minute soundbite to share. Most importantly, think critically and listen as others share.
Get on the International Track
It can be overwhelming to try to follow everything that’s going on in the world, so narrow it down. Is there a region you love learning about? A language you study or a place you plan to visit soon ? Make that your area of expertise. If you choose to follow news along a specific geographic track—say South Asia, Eastern Europe, or Sub-Saharan Africa—you’ll gain context and insight about the many countries within that region and their international relationships extending beyond those borders. You’ll also develop a unique knowledge base that can help you in debates, scholarly work, and professional opportunities.
You don’t have to be a diplomat or journalist to understand global news—you just need to make the effort. So get out there, and get engaged in the global media dialogue ! It’s a sure way for you to develop articulate opinions that will further your success in our rapidly changing, globalized world.
Photo courtesy of Javier Micora .
Natalie Jesionka has researched and reported on human rights issues around the world. She lectures on human trafficking, gender and conflict, and human rights at Rutgers University. When she is not teaching, she is traveling and offering tips on how students and professionals can get the most out of their experiences abroad. She also encourages global exploration through her work as Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an ethical travel magazine. Natalie is a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and served as a 2010 Fulbright Scholar in Thailand.More from this Author