Wednesday, August 26, 2009

British news

So you are familiar with the tabloid nature of the British press, yes? I lived in London for a semester during the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. I remember the tabloids daily proclaiming headlines like "CIGAR SEX".

So imagine my surprise when I moved here for real at developing a passionate love for British journalism. Now, I should qualify this by pointing out I'm a Guardian reader. To my British friends, that's the American equivalent of saying I shop at the Whole Foods. I don't read the Telegraph as I don't really like getting pictures of naked women alongside my world news.

But British journalism as a whole, even including the Guardian, is very different from American journalism. An example? This headline story broke on the Guardian's website last night at about 8 pm (3 pm EST): Obama on brink of Middle East peace breakthrough. What??? You can imagine my little democratic heart racing. So I did what I always do; I checked my regular American newspaper source, the Chicago Tribune. Nothing. As of 10:30 am this morning (yes, only 5:30 am EST, but they did have all yesterday afternoon) the Chicago Tribune has not reported this amazing breakthrough. Now, as much as I'd like to cry foul and complain about the conservative Tribune, a quick check shows me that the New York Times hasn't reported it yet either. The Huffington Post IS running it, though (with a link to the Guardian article).

So... is British journalism (with the exception of the Huffington Post, of course =) ) just that much more on the ball? Well... no. The reason is that British journalists have different standards than American journalists. To put it bluntly, in the UK a very likely rumor equals a headline story. And 90% of the time the papers seem to be right. If you read the Obama article, the details of the agreement between the UK, US, France and Israel (among other countries) are expected to be hashed out today. So yes, the Guardian could be wrong, and this story won't work out the way their article predicts. But it probably will. Which is one of the reasons the Guardian is my homepage.

Of course, as someone brought up on American journalism, running a story without verifiable evidence makes me nervous. But as a consumer and avid follower of politcal news, I like being on top of the news, even if it does just turn out to be a rumor. So I am conflicted about this. But I imagine, even when I move back to the US, I will continue to rely on British journalism.

Also, I have to add, while I'm praising British journalism: funnier and more honest. They're allowed to swear, to print naked pictures, to ask the questions no American journalist would risk her job asking. I'm still giggling over the article on the nearly-naked David Beckham billboards which a reporter commented were clearly showing his "meat and two veg."

It will be interesting, though, to see how this story progresses, and while Obama's approval ratings are currently heading a bit downhill, how the American media choses to frame this story.

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