News World International

Saddened this morning to learn that News World International (NWI) is going off the air. NWI is one of the more watchable news sources on DirectTV, essentially a branch of the CBC. In a time when all the broadcast news is funneled into a narrow range of interests, NWI still reported from OTHER PLACES with a sanity and depth that was refreshing. I enjoyed watching “The National”, the CBC’s news program, for less hyped, more informed news – no stupid PowerPoint graphics scrolling needlessly in the background of split screen shots, and certainly no bogus flag waving in the top left corner. It wasn’t slick, it was professional, and that is a difference that is largely being ignored nowadays.

You could see it coming, I suppose. This station has been on the air for 11 years. Why didn’t it keep going? I think it’s a case of the bad coinage driving out the good, the bad being CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. These channels do news as a packaged commodity, suitable for watching in five minute intervals, and of course reflecting the propaganda of the prevailing orthodoxies, flattering the viewing audience, in other words. NWI was not radical, not controversial, per se, but just plain solid. Apparently “just plain solid” is not good enough, and you started to see it in the advertisers that NWI attracted. When your main advertisers are pared down versions of informercials, you are in trouble. Latterly, the ads were largely for the Q-ring ionic bracelet, which is so marginal a product that no actual claims of any specificity are made for its effects whatsoever, just vague endorsements in crowded conference halls from people with name tags dangling from chains around their necks, claiming efficacy but…. but what does it actually DO? Other ads typical of the last days of NWI are the “gutbuster” type of exercise device, as well as shady diet solutions for obese people. These ads are not a good sign for a serious and hopefully viable company.

Here’s the problem with losing one more sane news source. American news is pathologically unable to view the world without putting everything into neat little boxes. The news has been predigested by the reporters, and packaged for consumers. No leaps of the imagination are required (or pathways provided) to ease the viewer into a different world view, or to go into more depth on complex issues. Let me give you two examples. While American news has largely forgotten about the tsunami disaster in South East Asia, NWI continues to go back for follow up on a story which is certainly not over. The story goes on, and the lives of the people go on. American news has ignored the ongoing story almost completely, because the catastrophe was the focus of the news; anything beyond the catastrophe is not news. That is the underlying assumption and the big boys act on that assumption, denying us a view of the true complexity of the world.

Another example. American news is so insular in its world view that it is not possible for it to even report on its own country without presenting a caricature of people from “the heartland”. Give them a mike and send them to Iowa, or, say, Northern Lower Michigan, and they will always forget that real people really live there, and their names are not necessarily Clem or Darryll. I’m exaggerating, of course, but by way of illustration, I will mention a thing I heard on NPR yesterday about a film festival in Duluth (or some other god forsaken hick place in that neck of the woods). You would think NPR would know better, but they don’t. The film festival showed films in a barn, which occasioned much speculation about how the cows might like the films, and seemed to give the reporter free license to portray the film festival in a cute, woodsy (or “countrified”) sort of way. Suddenly the festival became secondary to the location of the festival, and the organizers became bit players in the preoccupations of the news team. And here’s the scary bit. The organizers of the film festival PLAYED ALONG, because this is how news is done, this is the template for news in this country, and if you want coverage you need to go along with it.

On NWI there was a super program called “Special Assignment”, which went out into the hinterlands of Canada to do local color stories, only they weren’t treated as local color, they were treated as real stories that just happened to be far away. The provincialism of the story in no way influenced the coloring of the interviews, and the interviewees were taken seriously. Imagine that – no caricature, no “up North” bullshit, no “Iowa Corn Fed Cutie angle…. just plain old reporting as if that was the point.

I will miss NWI greatly. It was a rare link to the outside world.

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