December 03, 2005

Watching America a model?

After listening to today's BBC's "The World" program, I was struck by the similarities between Watching America web site/portal and WorldAndUs.

For those who aren't familiar with it, the site is described as a reflection "of global opinion about the United States, helping Americans and non-Americans alike understand what the world thinks of current issues that involve the U.S. This is done by providing news and views about the United States published in other countries."

The interview with the site's founder, Robin Koerner, hits upon a number of shared problems including:
* Objectivity and the dilemma of finding content in international news media that portrays the United States in a "positive" manner.
* Whether the particular politics of a given news source should be identified in a posting
* How is it being received by its audience.

In terms of objectivity, Koerner says that though the Watching America crew trys to pick up on as many "5-10%" of the supportive stories available on the web, this has grown increasingly difficult as the current White House is seen with less and less approbation as time goes on (Iraq, perceived disregard of international institutions, etc.) Needless to say that a country and its government are oftentimes conflated. In any case, he says that the site reflects a wide diversity of opinion when it can.

This is something that WorldAndUs has struggled with since its inception. Some of our members are not as concerned that posts have a dialogic element to them, but it is clear that being thorough in our search for sources is at a premium. In other words, every time there's a post on CIA black sites it's not necessary to find a source that defends torture or "Torture Lite", but there are some stories, however limited, which aren't altogether condemnatory.

The issue of labeling news sources by either their political persuasions or their press status is something "we're working on," says Koerner. He says that given the immense trawling that WA does each day for international stories, it would be difficult to pigeonhole everything. Yet, he says that his team is keeping a database of all such data and that perhaps the site would incorporate it in the future.

I have always thought the model of the World Press Review was a workable one, in which a news source from any given country is noted as centrist, independent, state-controlled, etc. There is inherent subjectivity here, however, and one of our own expressed his disdain for the way most Americans view discrete political categories. Nevertheless, I don't think we are served by linking to a story from China's The People's Daily and then granting it the same credibility as the The New York Times. This point might be the most contentious.

Finally, Koerner spoke about the media provided on his site. WA has audio, photographs, and text available to the reader, all of which is possible given its forum, not to mention the time and resources available to its administrators. I and others occasionally make use of political cartoons, but otherwise our content is strictly textual. Is this a problem? Is that, in fact, the niche of this blog?

Watching America continues to get great coverage, so it is the standard bearer in posting stories about global perceptions of the United States. And without being written off as redundant, I think this interview illuminated some issues that our blog shouldn't skirt.

Posted 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2005

A New York Times views of French sentiments

In today’s New York Times Television Review of the fall season, Alessandra Stanley writes:

"ABC is stretching credibility to the outer limits with its new White House drama. The vice president of the United States is on an official visit to France, and Parisian school children actually sing "America the Beautiful"?
We think not."

In her opinion, it results far more farfetched than a feminist independent woman on a Republican ticket!

RiceInParis.jpgAlessandra should have more confidence in the good work of her diplomats in Paris to have school kids behaving properly (or ask them what they did when Condy Rice visited France at the beginning of the year).

The interesting question here is how mutual perceptions feed each other.

Can we seriously study how people in the rest of the world see the U.S. if we don’t pay attention to how Americans see, paint or describe others?

I think not.

And you?

[Photo found on the Paris US Embassy website]

Posted 12:55 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2005

Perceptions of the U.S.: Three useful sites

We are not the only ones paying attention to how the US are perceived in the world. Among notable efforts in this direction we want to point to a few notable sites.

  • Watching America has been launched with private money from British entrepreneur Robin Koerner and the experience of Will Kern, an American former copy editor for the International Herald Tribune. It has some advertising and no paid staff according to The Christian Science Monitor. It uses stories published by a wide selection of foreign media with a machine translation when needed and the original story for those who want to compare.

  • Although not exclusively focused on “perceptions of the U.S.” the Atlantic Review pays a lot of attention to this issue in Germany. It is a collective blog that presents itself as “A press digest on transatlantic affairs edited by three German Fulbright Alumni.” It is sponsored by the German Fulbright Alumni Association.

  • Global Voices Online is a non-profit global citizens’ media project, sponsored by and launched from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School. It brings very useful information on stories run in other countries, including some that relate to the U.S.
    There are more. Don’t hesitate to indicate which one you think are the most relevant independently of their ideological or political slant.

    Posted 10:55 PM | Comments (1)