By Kate Grumke
If you’re going to travel abroad, the best way to do so is with a purpose. For many people, trips to Europe are based on sight-seeing or pleasure-seeking, but for our Journalism School Tour, we were on a mission.
Although we did have a great time and saw almost everything on our bucket lists (Musée d’Orsay – I’m coming for you next time), we had an amazing experience because we were in Europe on assignment. We weren’t just tourists, we were there to observe European Media and represent the journalism school at outlets the school has long-standing relationships with. With this objective in mind, our group set off to Prague, Paris, Brussels and Belgium.
For most of the beginning of the trip I was in a jet-lagged daze of exhaustion. It didn’t help that our first stop was a strategic communications outlet I’m majoring in Convergence Journalism. The only things that really stood out to me at the advertising agency were the huge dogs in the office.
An early lecture on Czech media at Charles University did leave a lasting impression, though, and it brought my focus in on one particular aspect of European media. Our lecturer mentioned that when the Czech republic was under communist rule, it had state-funded media, but starting in 1992 the state didn’t have subsidized media anymore. There are, however, still many public media outlets in the country. For instance, of the 12 national radio channels broadcasting, eight are public channels.
I thought this was particularly interesting because my emphasis within the convergence department is on Radio and I want to work for National Public Radio, which is a publicly funded radio station.
After this short mention of funding during our lecture in the Czech Republic, this was a topic that kept catching my attention in each country we visited, and I kept thinking about how funding affects content. Our next stop was Paris, and one of my favorite media experiences of the trip was France Télévisions. Here, we saw their newly developed website, which was a bit of a shock, and we also got to see what a large, publicly funded television station looks like. From my experience touring other TV stations, it looked pretty much the same.
At a lecture at Sciences Po in Paris we heard about censorship of European media and how privacy is valued over freedom of speech, which is definitely not the case in the United States. In France and around Europe, according to our lecturer, media outlets are often reluctant to be overly critical of leaders and only publish things they see as having a direct relation to the way that person performs their job. Ownership is also muddled in Europe. Often, the owner of a paper will be a politician or an outspokenly opinionated person. In America this is often the case, but doesn’t have as significant of an effect on content as it does in Europe.
This led me to think about how the funding of these news outlets interacts with the content and censorship of the media. In America, although we have PBS and NPR, these outlets are arguably largely independent of the government. Although they receive a portion of their funding from our taxes, this does not keep them from being critical of the government or avoiding biting the hand that feeds them. I often think NPR does one of the best jobs of any American news outlet in remaining unbiased in its news programming, especially because it does not have the pressure of catering to its advertisers or trying to be sensational to make a profit.
I was expecting government-funded media in Europe to be independent and unbiased, much like NPR and PBS are in America. Instead what I found was that in Europe, state media is more along the lines of what it sounds like – media that is run and influenced by the state. I thought Europe was going to be my Mecca for public broadcasting, a place to come worship the people who have the most of my favorite thing. It turns out that the values of journalism in Europe are very different from those in America, and as a result the public media in each region are two very different beasts.
This realization also strongly highlighted some of the differences in values for reporters and editors in the media. In America, from J1100 on we are taught about the ethics of journalism, to the point where I censor all of my tweets for potential bias and do not “like” a single politician on Facebook. We learned at Sciences Po that European journalists have a rather different feeling on the subject of bias and objectivity in journalism. Instead of trying to avoid bias, these journalists are upfront about it. Our lecturer told us that there is much more partisan press in the European media than there is in America. These publications and outlets are upfront about the direction in which they are leaning and they cater to it. In America, most of our outlets traditionally lean one way or the other, but it is much less obvious than it is in Europe. I am not sure if this difference in bias is better or worse, but I do know that I prefer the American way.
This was an overarching theme for me throughout my trip. Everything was beautiful, interesting, and I could see how it was the preference for Europeans, but I came back loving the United States of America. A lot of my renewed sense of patriotism was rooted in my positive feelings about the way we do journalism here. I think our commitment to educating the public and best serving our audience is a very positive thing. I also think the way we value Freedom of Speech more than most other rights is what makes America great. Although American media has its problems, I think they are small problems compared to the massive amounts of censorship and lack of Freedom of Speech in most other places around the world. The press’s role as a watchdog of government, injustice and big business is a fantastic institution in American culture.