Are Americans too dumb for real news?

Are Americans too dumb for real news?

Summary: If we can't count on Time to tell us what we need to be paying attention to, then who can we count on?

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If you've ever been to ZDNet (and you have, since you're reading this), you might have noticed that we have a big, spotlight section on the home page. You might have also noticed a little American flag in the upper left corner.

Aside: rumors that every time I load a ZDNet page, I stand to salute the flag are not entirely true. I do salute, but sometimes I remain sitting.

In any case, have you ever clicked on that flag? If you did, you'd notice that we have international editions. We have an Australian edition, a Asian edition, a Chinese edition, a French edition, a German edition, a Japanese edition, and a U.K. edition.

What's disturbing is that if you go to, say, the U.K. or the Australian editions, you'll notice important stories on the home page, like Cloud consolidation: OK for the customer? and How and when will enterprise apps be Windows 8-ready?.

But if you go to the home page of the American edition of ZDNet, you'll see stories like "Cute Roulette: is it really cute enough?" and "Ten ways to put puppies on your Windows desktop."

Why would ZDNet's editors do this? Do we think you Americans aren't smart enough or sophisticated enough or attentive enough for the real technology news? Are we just so desperate for the traffic that we'll do anything to get you to visit our site? Or did I just make all this up to illustrate a point?

If you checked "Yes" on Question #3, you win a prize. Ooh, let's all hug now.

I made it all up to illustrate a point. We don't spotlight fluff. We spotlight the tech news that's most important and newsworthy. But Time Magazine, apparently, has a different idea about Americans.

But, seriously, I am trying to illustrate a disturbing point, one that originally came to my attention through a recent article in Slate. In it, the article pointed out a disturbing trend, where Time Magazine has serious cover stories for their European, Asian, and South Pacific editions, but only fluffy cover stories for the American edition.

Images courtesy Time Magazine and Slate.

For example, in this week's issue of Time Magazine (if you're not American), you're treated to an in-depth discussion about Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and how he's dealing with Europe's financial crisis. On the other hand, if you're an American, you're treated to a story about "Animal Friendships: BFFs are not just for humans anymore". And yes, I know, I want to read that story, too.

Slate's L.V. Anderson goes on to show that this isn't the only time Time has considered Americans too dumb or too disinterested in hard news to sell enough magazines. Back in December, the foreign editions ran a cover story on the unrest in Arab nations, while the American edition ran "Why Anxiety Is Good For You" as its cover story (Does anyone know where I can get a copy of this article? I'm worried I haven't read it.)

Look, I've been a publisher for years, and I know that we need to spotlight what sells. I know, for example, that an article entitled Three ugly, middle-aged men argue about Windows 8 will get far more readers than one entitled "Windows 8 competitive perspective" or some other uninteresting drivel.

But there's a point where you have to draw the line, and I'm not happy with the line Time has drawn. Time's editors and circulation wizards have obviously done the math on this, and so they know that they're not getting as many American readers with the hard stories. They've probably focus-grouped this stuff to death and know we care less about PM Monti than we do about puppies.

The problem is we live in interesting times, and one of the resources we Americans rely on to give us the truth, the hard truth, and nothing but the truth is Time Magazine. If we can't count on Time to tell us what we need to be paying attention to, then who can we count on?

While I'm very disappointed in Time, this also showcases another reason for the rise of Web-based journalism and the precipitous drop in print circulation. If I don't like Time's apparently lack of respect for American minds, I can easily read many other online resources, like Slate, like ZDNet, and like so many other wonderful, deep, well-considered Web sites that bring real, hard news to people who really care.

And I'll read some of that stuff. But first, I need to get my Cute Roulette fix. Ooh, look at those cheetah cubs!

See also: 20 cats as fonts

Topics: Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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Talkback

56 comments
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  • Who reads Time these days?

    Time has been drivel for a decade or more, it's irrelevant as a news vehicle and has been. In point of fact the outlets for news have been dwindling over the years, these days if you aren't sourcing from at *least* three different perspectives (conservative, liberal, and perhaps British news) and then trying to winnow out biases you're going to be clueless.

    And who has *time* to do that these days?

    Naturally, this is being written by an American. :)
    wolf_z
    • RE: Are Americans too dumb for real news?

      @wolf_z <br><br>The US concepts of "liberal" and "conservative" don't really extend beyond the US, so I find the BBC's coverage works pretty well. The Economist is great too. It calls itself a liberal magazine but it's liberalism is not the same as the american "liberal" at all.<br><br>The irony of all this news-warping, political pandering, and cross-party fighting is that, by the standards of most democracies, our political parties are virtual clones of each other.
      SlithyTove
      • I know ...

        When it comes to describe UK media coverage or pan-Europe for that matter "far left" / "communistic" is more accurate.
        LBiege
      • RE: Are Americans too dumb for real news?

        @LBiege<br><br> "When it comes to describe UK media coverage or pan-Europe for that matter "far left" / "communistic" is more accurate." <br><br>The fact that you put them in quotes illustrates the point pretty well. They aren't actually left, or communist, but their own things with their own characteristics that don't fit very well into the black and white (right and left) of US politics.<br><br>More importantly, since it is to them international news there is a lot less need to pander to local political demographics and simply report.
        SlithyTove
    • RE: Are Americans too dumb for real news?

      @wolf_z

      I subscribed to Time throughout the 80s and into the 90s. Somewhere in the 90s it slowly morphed from hard news into rehashed drivel and establishmentarian propaganda. I gave up on it when it credited the move of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to sea level rise from global warming -- a perfect collision of propaganda and drivel.
      RudHud
  • Are you serious?

    This is the country that has the Fox News Channel, aka Faux News.
    Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
    • Sorry that you are wrong....

      @Snooki_smoosh_smoosh

      Fox is THE ONLY balance news media around, all the others are much too liberal to be real.....So sorry....spin all you want, facts are facts.
      linux for me
      • RE: Are Americans too dumb for real news?

        @linux for me

        Yep. Granted, they have some conservative opinion shows, but their hard news shows always have two sides represented, and if only one side, it's because the other side declined. Can't say the same about MSNBC or CNN.
        drokkon
      • RE: Are Americans too dumb for real news?

        @linux for me... Fox, balanced? Really? That made my sides hurt from laughing. I suppose then, that makes Glen Beck and Hannity Centrists.
        Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
  • RE: Are Americans too dumb for real news?

    Everyone knows kittens are cuter than puppies. I can't really disagree with Time here, I'd rather hear about whats going on in the U.S. and try to fix our problems first rather than read a story about someone in another country. Its not that we are too dumb, we just have homeland problems to deal with and probably feel better reading something on our own turf.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • But never mind the implications of the Euro Crisis

      @Loverock Davidson- may have on our own economy.
      Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
      • Or that

        @Snooki_smoosh_smoosh

        Animal BFFs is hardly a problem we need to focus on in America.

        Although I wonder if David caught the Daily Show last night as John Stewart brought up this very same thing. It was pretty f'in funny in a sad, sad way.
        LiquidLearner
      • @Liquid

        I'll bet you don't even realize the irony in using John Stewart to illustrate American's not caring about real news.
        baggins_z
      • RE: Are Americans too dumb for real news?

        @baggins_z

        Of course I do. Considering the Daily Show is a comedy show I don't expect it to deliver real news. Which is why it's incredibly funny when they point out that a news source fails at their job.
        LiquidLearner
      • Funny thing about Stewart ,

        @LiquidLearner

        After Stewarts bit about the covers and contents of TIME Stewarts guest was Ali Soufan, the former FBI Agent who was a Gitmo Interrogator / Cole Investigator and other things. Soufan was explaining the political aspects of 'that part of the world', and TIMES cover made sense.

        We don't know. We don't want to know. And we don't know we don't want to know. The American people want to go back to being the center of the universe and if 'they knew' it would burst their little bubble.

        Soufan on a comedy , fake news chow on a comedy network, putting Faux 'News' to shame ... but then how serious can you take a 'news' network such as Fox when they provided the conduit for the likes of the Wasilla Hillbilly, Glen Beck, Hannity .... Sad and pathetic.
        rmhesche
  • Nobody Gives You the Whole Story

    I remember when I had to read Time magazine for school back in the 1980s. I remember thinking as I read the stories, 'This is far from unbiased.' I never felt any inclination to read Time after I left school because I could get a more balanced report from a lot of different places. Even if you do that, you have to read several different perspectives to get any kind of picture because none of them are completely unbiased. Also, I distrust news reporting in general because the things that I have firsthand knowledge about seem to hardly ever be accurately reported by any source.
    CFWhitman
  • RE: Are Americans too dumb for real news?

    @Lost Target So, really, "Are puppies more liberal than kittens?" I'll cover that next week!
    David Gewirtz
  • RE: Are Americans too dumb for real news?

    @Lost Target Most?<br><br>CNBC slants the right, MSNBC to the Left, CNN is probably about the most balanced domestic agency, and the AP and Reuters are pretty level and unbiased. Fox News is radically to the right, published for misfits, rednecks, and bigots.<br><br>Watching Fox News actually makes people dumber, it is so bad, that it could actually make someone want to watch Kardashian re-runs. This is the same agency that aired a pundit that said that women in the Military should just "Expect" to be raped.<br><br>Oh wait, now I know why you think they all slant left, because you are an avid Fox News watcher. So yes in that case it would seem that the stories slant left.
    Snooki_smoosh_smoosh
    • CNN slants left

      @Snooki_smoosh_smoosh

      I'm not sure where you got the idea that they're balanced. Although they aren't as far left as Fox is to the right. I'm not Fox News fan but the truth seems to lie somewhere between CNN and Fox. You almost have to watch both and try to find the middle ground on the stories they report. In fact you have to be an investigator in order to find the actual unbiased truth these days.

      To be fair it was probably always like that. It's just more pronounced now with multiple 24 hour news networks.
      LiquidLearner
    • Fast Fournier transform

      [ul][i]the AP and Reuters are pretty level and unbiased. Fox News is radically to the right, published for misfits, rednecks, and bigots.[/i][/ul]Doing the math, that collection of positions puts you somewhere between Diane Feinstein and Karl Marx. Maybe a bit to the right of Nancy Pelosi.

      Trust me: ha;f the country would laugh out loud at the statement that AP and Reuters are "pretty level and unbiased." What's even funnier is that AP's Washington Bureau Chief would agree with them, not you. He's said many times that it's the job of the reporter to bias the news.
      Robert Hahn