On Paris, the media haters were right. So were its defenders.


When Paris burned November 13, it sparked emotions across the world expressed in red, white and blue-filtered images and in the sudden ubiquity of an artists’ peace sign graphic.

Shortly thereafter came the backlash. Where was the wall-to-wall coverage on attacks in Beirut, or Kenya? Where was the global grief? Isn’t media bias to blame?

That begot a backlash of its own, mostly (in my Facebook feed) from other journalists. News outlets covered these attacks and you just didn’t pay attention, they argued. In fact, it’s the public’s lack of international interest that deprives these events of coverage in the first place.

There is merit in both claims.

News follows interest, and there’s a reason the violence in France provokes such a visceral response from so many. It‘s in part because Paris is one of the world’s capitals, iconic in the same way as New York City, London or Tokyo. Its reach is far beyond its borders. Many more of us have visited Paris than Beirut. Of the 130 victims killed, 19 came from other countries.

They were French, American, Mexican, Italian. They were Moroccan, Algerian, Chilean, Spanish. They were daughters and fathers, teachers and students. And they were, by and large, young: many under the age of 30. (LA Times, Nov. 28)

But it is also inarguable that the media covered these attacks with far greater care than similar occurrences elsewhere in the world. The bombing in Beirut is only one example, but it is especially telling because its timing cuts so close to the carnage in Paris.

Front pages and time taken in a TV report may be dictated by the audience’s interest, but depth and quality of coverage is not. I cannot do this discrepancy justice, and will defer instead to this analysis by Lebanese journalist Habib Battah. Please, read it all.

In Paris there are detailed descriptions of the music venue and sports stadium where the violence took place. In Beirut there is little or no mention of the marketplace, mosque or school that bore the brunt of the explosions.

This phenomenon —catering to the widest audience and its interests—is not some sudden product of digital journalism. Before click counts came along, it was how many copies paper boys could sell on the corner or the ebb and flow of print subscriptions.

But, as Battah writes in that same piece:

Technology is increasingly giving voice to those on the margins, and news organisations are under added pressure to respond to complaints, which are becoming harder to ignore when amplified on social media and alternative platforms. (Al Jazeera, Nov. 15)

Our best hope is that media outlets hear this outrage and hear it every time these attacks occur, anywhere. Better yet is to patronize publications who tell the kinds of stories you want to see — if not in subscriptions, at least in web traffic.

In the harsh light of billions of screens, these glaring mismatches become indisputable and inexcusable, and will ultimately only hurt news outlets in an increasingly globalized world that demands better.

This is part of a weekly series, which include my thoughts on the media, foods I am eating and longform journalism I am reading. You can find this week’s post in full here, and an overview of this blog here.

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