Nicholas Kristof observes that “Only four American newspapers now have foreign desks.” He goes on to suggest that technology may partially mitigate this problem, but veers off the direction of something fairly exotic: “One new venture is Demotix, which offers aspiring journalists a chance to upload their articles and photos for others to see — and some possibility that news outlets will publish them.”
I think a better way to think about the web’s impact would be something like this. How many foreign desks was a typical American actually able to read back in 1978? For most people, I think, the answer was one or two. Today only four American papers maintain a foreign desk but it’s easy as pie to read any or all of them. And of course you can also read foreign coverage in British papers or read The Times of India‘s coverage of explosions on Bangalore.
I think the foreign coverage of professional journalists can only be very partially replaced by citizen journalism. But it’s really easy to see how it can be replaced by other professional journalists. As newspapers, television networks, and radio networks all increasing move in a digital direction it seems to me that we can easily imagine a world in which there are 15 or so different global brands offering substantive general-interest global news coverage in the English language and everyone with a broadband connection is able to access all fifteen of them.