Why Ukraine should remain on American screens and top of mind
“Opportunities for compelling reporting will abound, but news outlets will need to commit the resources necessary for comprehensive coverage,” says Philip Seib, author of “Information at War: Journalism, Disinformation and Modern Warfare.”
“In building the audience for consistent coverage of Ukraine, it’s worth remembering that people care about people…less about abstract politics.”
This truthful and vivid coverage of Vladimir Putin’s barbaric and unprovoked attack on Ukraine clearly evoked deep feelings in many American viewers while perhaps reminding some media executives in a concrete way of how much work of their journalists is important for democracy.
“I think American news consumers are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time,” said Tony Barbieri, professor emeritus of journalism at Penn State University and former Moscow correspondent and editor of the Baltimore. Sun, in reference to the Washington Post. front page Friday which had the story of Thomas sharing upper space with the war in Ukraine. It was a print version of cable TV’s split screen. (Disclosure: Barbieri was an editor at The Sun while I was media critic there, although we didn’t work together.)
“The Ginni Thomas story is important and deserves the coverage it’s getting. But I think a lot of people view it as just another dispute in a desperately partisan Washington,” Barbieri added. “The war in Ukraine is of a very different order of magnitude, given the strategic stakes and the catastrophic human suffering the war has caused.”
Highlighting the hero-villain characteristics of Putin and Zelensky, Barbieri called it “a damn good story – the former comedian president playing Churchill on nightly American television, while his adversary, the crackpot villain with a nukes, sits alone at the end. of a long table in the Kremlin.”
Barbieri thinks that mainstream American media understands on many levels the need to stick to the coverage of the war and the refugee crisis that Putin created in Europe.
“I think the American media has done a tremendous job covering this story – about the battlefield, about the appalling human toll, the diplomacy,” he said. “Of course they have a moral obligation to continue, but I don’t think anyone needs to tell them that. It’s their job.”
Seib, professor emeritus of journalism and public diplomacy at the University of Southern California, said he wondered “how long the American public, with their short attention spans, will pay attention to war.” While public interest is still strong, viewership levels are no longer at the peak they were the first week after the Russian invasion.
But like Barbieri, Seib sees elements of the war that should make this a continuing story worthy of extensive coverage for weeks and possibly months to come.
“Even in the best possible scenario, Ukraine will be a mess for a long time during physical, economic and emotional reconstruction,” he said.
Coverage by mainstream US media, from The Associated Press and The New York Times to CNN and MSNBC, has been imbued with righteous empathy for the Ukrainian people. But political issues were also dealt with in depth.
“I think the best way to retain a non-expert audience is to continue to combine human-interest and political-focused coverage,” Seib said. “As with many events, I believe American news organizations have a journalistic responsibility to follow the story indefinitely.”