Three Recent Major Changes in Media

Terrence Smith, Media Correspondent of PBS

The end of the Cold War:   Now, I know that's almost a cliché today, but one cannot overemphasize how important the Cold War was for the reality of foreign coverage. I would say that in the 30 years that I was a network correspondent, 90 percent of the stories that I did had some Cold War element, even when they were humanitarian stories.

The second big change, of course, is the proliferation of news organization and outlets, now as many as 50 or 100 or 500 where there used to be only three or four. And perhaps even most important now, is the whole question of the ownership of the main television news networks. Now, the old guys like Bill Paley and the Sarnovs and Leonard Goldenson were not necessarily philanthropists, but they really did have a sense of community and a sense of responsibility. And they saw their news divisions, not so much as cash cows, but as loss leaders.

The new boys in town -- the Disneys, the Warners, the GEs -- the news divisions are cash cows, but in order to make money, they have to bring large numbers of people into the tent. And the fact of the matter is that humanitarian stories, foreign stories, are not of great appeal to most American viewers and readers. They don't get the ratings and therefore they don't get much attention.