Homogenous agendas, disparate frames: CNN and CNN International coverage online.

Author:Groshek, Jacob
Position:Cable News Network - Report

"International agenda-setting remains one of the least studied and least understood processes of international politics" (Livingston, 1992, p. 313). Certainly, this is partly a function of the difficulty in ascertaining the international media agenda given the large number of countries, interests, and media outlets represented. Nonetheless, major media organizations broadcast and publish specialized international editions for audiences abroad. Examples include the BBC, CNN, Time, and Newsweek, among many others. Some news organizations break down their editions on the basis of global regions, such as Europe and Asia. Likewise, many news agencies, including Al-Jazeera, produce local language editions and Web sites specifically for foreign consumption.

There clearly are a host of reasons for specializing content in order to best appeal to foreign news audiences. The notion of targeting specific regional audiences to sell copy has long been practiced by news organizations (Shoemaker & Reese, 1991). Therefore, there is nothing new in recognizing that the news intended for an American or an international audience varies. However, systematically studying the differences between the American and international media agendas is largely deficient in current research, even though this is clearly an important undertaking, specifically because American policies and actions continue to have a marked global impact. In the current geopolitical climate, "Understanding the nature of international news coverage by the news media is of great importance when considering its potential implications" (Wanta, Golan, & Lee, 2004, p. 366).

The rationale for separating American news coverage from international coverage in this study is driven by the fact that several major news organizations divide their editions on these terms. Moreover, this is an inquiry initiated to either verify or falsify claims that American-based media organizations provide less graphic, violent coverage for domestic than international consumption (Flint, Goldsmith, & Kahn, 2003). Critics have charged that in doing so, American media organizations with multinational audiences, specifically CNN, are actively and intentionally attempting to stifle dissent and debate in America (Goodman, 2003). Along these lines, recent research has found that American media are uncritical of American government policies, especially when compared with their European and Asian counterparts (Media Tenor, 2003a, 2003b, 2004; Rendall & Broughel, 2003).

Unlike previous research on international agenda setting (Livingston, 1992), the study conducted here was less concerned with how the agenda is set by whom, but more concerned with how the news agenda differs for American and international consumers. This inquiry also differed from previous research regarding the framing of international news events (Entman, 1991 ; Entman & Page, 1994; Lee & Craig, 1992; Wanta & Hu, 1993) and built upon other cross-national agenda-setting investigations (Allen & Izcaray, 1988; Malinkina & McLeod, 2000; Peter & de Vreese, 2003; Wanta, King, & McCombs, 1995) to examine a pressing question: How is news intended for America different from the news intended for the rest of the world?

Measuring the American and International Media Agendas

The vastness of the American and international media agendas renders adequate and perfectly generalizable samples improbable and beyond the scope of this particular exploratory study. For these purposes, coverage on the home pages of CNN and CNN International acted as proxies for their American and international media agendas, respectively. As an interview with a former writer and producer with several years' experience at CNN and CNNI revealed, Web content on CNN networks might not be entirely reflective of what is broadcast, but editors do try to repurpose their television content to the Web as much as possible (Grieves, K., personal communication, March 27, 2007). Also, recent research that has shown the synergy between online and print formats is steadily increasing, even across competitors (Boczkowski & de Santos, 2007). Thus, it is likely that even if CNN coverage online does not exactly mirror what is broadcast, it nonetheless carries the same range of topics in a similar fashion as their television networks. This seems especially true in the cases of CNN and CNN International since "Producers for each of CNN's news networks pick the reports they want for their shows from a 'menu' of stories" (Flournoy & Stewart, 1997, p. 4) to deliberately and proactively design content to appeal to their international and American audiences, respectively. Also, because CNN and its international counterpart were explicitly singled out by critics, this sample serves the purpose of this study well, which was to examine how the geographical and editorial splits between CNN and CNNI affect the news agendas directed for their ostensibly American and non-American audiences to better understand how the American and international media agendas may differ.

Given the recent focus on journalistic cultures and news coverage becoming increasingly homogenous despite more and more media outlets being available to news consumers (Boczkowski & de Santos, 2007; Gans, 2003; Plasser, 2005) this study seems especially potent in examining news that is explicitly produced to be regionally heterogeneous. Thus, CNN and CNN International make excellent case studies for both practical and theoretical reasons. First, CNN has the largest cumulative American audience for broadcast cable news, at nearly 72 million unique viewers per month (Annual Report on American Journalism, 2007a). Online, an average of approximately 24 million original U.S. news users visited CNN online monthly in 2006 (Annual Report on American Journalism, 2007b) and in North America there were over 1.5 billion average monthly combined page views (Turner Webstats, 2006). Interestingly, CNNI is only available in broadcast form to one million television households in North America where its popularity sags in comparison to the domestic American version (CNN International Press Release, 2005).

Comparatively, CNN International is distributed to over 198 million households around the world (CNN International Press Release, 2006) and is the leading international news network in terms of viewership by almost 25% (Global Capital Markets Survey, 2006). CNNI has also had the largest broadcast news audience in Asia for the last 10 years and its Web site was visited by nearly 70% more Asian respondents in a month than its nearest competitor (Pan Asian Cross Media Survey, 2006) where there were over 58 million combined page views per month (Turner Webstats, 2006). Additionally, CNN's networks maintain a strong Web presence in Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East and Africa with over 90 million, 16 million, and 19 million combined page visits per month, respectively. More generally, CNNI is known to attract a loyal audience of elites and "influentials" around the world (Flournoy & Stewart, 1997, p. 196; Reese, in press).

Second, the structure of CNN is also an important consideration. CNN considers itself a global news organization that happens to be based in Atlanta (Flournoy & Stewart, 1997; Grieves, K., personal communication, March 27, 2007). Although this may be the image CNN would like to project, it is often seen as an American news corporation abroad (Natarajan & Xiaoming, 2003), even though CNNI has a substantial number of non-American staff members (Grieves, K., personal communication, March 27, 2007; Volkmer, 1999). There also exists an intra-corporate division between CNN and CNNI although coverage is shared, to some extent, between the two and any other CNN networks (Flournoy & Stewart, 1997). CNN International reports creating an average of 90% original or non-CNN/U.S. generated coverage, and each region receives unique, region-specific coverage at certain intervals to maximize viewership (CNN International Press Release, 2006). Similarly, all CNN networks frequently use wire services and regional reporting in their coverage.

Third, although content and coverage decisions are being made within the umbrella of one single (American-owned) news organization, editors and producers at both CNN and CNNI need to be effective in providing coverage desired by their regional audiences. Precisely because these news networks are part of the same corporation (Time Warner), but they conceive disparate news agendas within divisions of the corporation, charges of systemic organizational bias are minimized. That is, any differences in coverage between CNN and CNNI are most likely not due to differences in ownership and organizational influences. Any such variations in coverage therefore may be seen as purposive editorial decisions based on regional appeal.

Finally, Natarajan and Xiaoming (2003) found that coverage from CNNI was generally equivalent to that of Channel News Asia, which is staffed and produced by Asians, located in Singapore, and whose news content is specifically aimed at an Asian audience. Additionally, Volkmer (1999, p. 4) argued that the "global political communication" of CNNI results in the formation of a "global public sphere" in which CNNI has been shown to have a profound impact on local newsgathering and production (Foote, 1995; Reese, in press). Considering the dramatic influence of traditional American news values and the socialization process that begets them (Gans, 2003; Plasser, 2005; Tuchman, 1978), the emergence of global television was largely concurrent with the increased reach of CNN networks. The resultant changes in policy relations and formation including "facilitating instant communication between states and leaders, and forcing leaders to adopt policies that they would not make otherwise" has been dubbed the CNN effect (Gilboa, 2005, p. 327). For purposes of this study, therefore, the online editions...

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