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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

American news consumers turn to the U.K.

Okay, okay. I admit to being a bit of an Anglophile. My favorite TV program (make that programme) is BBC Two’s Top Gear; I’d prefer a Guinness over an American lager anytime; and with the exception of Jimi Hendrix – who lived in the U.K. during his glory years – I regard Brits to have given us the greatest rock gods of the '60s and '70s. Of course, lots of other Yanks have a special fondness for things British, even without the over-romanticized special relationship.

But now it turns out that we on this side of the pond have been increasing our ties to the mother country in a new way (make that news way). This report at paidContent.org says that we news-consuming Americans are increasing our reading of U.K. news Web sites to supplement what the domestic MSM (main stream media) are providing here. In fact, in the last year alone, Americans accounted for 54% of the total increase in traffic to U.K. news sites, compared with only 8% from Brits themselves.

The article notes that the Drudge Report accounts for some of the increased traffic. But other factors must surely be at work. Critics of Congressional and Obama administration health care proposals have been drawing many analogies to the U.K.’s National Health Service in recent months, increasing U.S. interest in the state of health care in the U.K. Uneasiness over fiscal and foreign (i.e. Afganistan) policies in both countries is contributing to increased American interest in what our cousins are thinking and writing about.

But my personal theory is that the quality of reporting and commentary has a lot to do with our virtual travel to U.K. news too. While there are tough-minded, good national reporters covering finance, business, government, and politics in the United States, the British press is so much more truculent when it’s needed. Our national media outlets cover the economic crisis and other consequential events with sameness and blandness. The left- and right-biased cable TV programs and talk radio are mind-numbingly unedifying. (I, a certifiable libertarian right-winger, can not stomach FOX News Channel anymore than I can liberal, statist talking heads in the MSM.) Paul Krugman’s phoned-in Keynesian blather is reprinted in every major newspaper in the country. So if you want something different, say, for example, original analysis on the international financial markets, you can read Ambrose Evans-Pritchard’s column in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph. Even when AE-P seems wrongheaded, he is imminently thought-provoking. When’s the last time one could say that about CNBC’s Jim Cramer?

Whatever the causes of our transatlantic news gathering, let’s hope it is improving our perspective. American society (and politics) is far too narcissistic. We too readily believe our own myth-making and consider our actions, even misguided ones, to be virtuous. We too easily think the globalization of the economy is all about us. We have always benefited from outsiders' views of the world and America – from Tocqueville to Alistair Cooke – even when we don’t agree with them.