Why Does the British Media Cover News Better than American Media?

Over the past year, I’ve found myself paying attention to British media and have just about completely tuned out the American media.  The only news show I watch is BBC World News America.  I read the Economist, look at BBC.com, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times and The Guardian.  I probably watch BBC America 2-3 times per week and check the other papers daily.

I can’t remember that last time I watched any American tv news program or read an American newspaper (for anything other than a sports story) on my own.  The only times I’ve read the American press is when someone sends me a link to a story.  Most of the time, the stories in the American press are simplistic, boring and cliche.  There is little analysis and the writer doesn’t seem to understand the story himself.  The only interesting stories are the investigative reports.

TV news is arguably worse.  Network news is ok, but generally focuses on celebrity or partisan bickering, rather than actual issues.  Cable “news” is an affront to the word news and most of the time local news isn’t all that interesting.

It seems to me that the British press is better at covering just about everything than the American media.  From American politics to climate change, from sport to finance and international affairs, all of the mainstream British media seems to do a better job the their American counterparts.  BBC World News America recently featured a 10 minute segment on the US military strategy in Afghanistan, including a 5 minute segment with a journalist going out on patrol with an American unit.  I learned more in 10 minutes than in the previous three months listening to politicians and commentators yammer on or reading American news articles.

I read an article in the Telegraph today about the economy and the potential for a further deterioration in 2010.  I actually learned something from it.  I rarely get anything out of the NY Times or Wall St. Journal when I read it.  Both publications slant one way or the other and have a specific viewpoint they want to get across.  They rarely focus on stories that do not fit the narrative.  I’ve found the British press to be less beholden to their narrative than the American press.

This problem extends all the way to NPR programming, too.  Although NPR stories are more in depth, they do not present nearly as much information as a BBC radio story.  I think the British media believes that its readers actually are intelligent, whereas the American media believes that it has to tell a narrative and present to the lowest common denominator.

This phenomenon extends past the media and manifests itself for anyone to see in TV programming.  British soccer commentators talk 50% as much as their American counterparts in any sport.  British versions of Ramasy’s Kitchen Nightmares, Life on Mars, Dragon’s Den (Shark Tank in the US) and American Idol give the viewer the ability to think for themselves.  In the American version, there are always sounds and music playing in the background, trying to hit the viewers over the head with the point the producers want to get across.  If you get a chance, check out any show on BBC America and listen to how little background noise/music there is.

Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is the best example.  The original British version shows Gordon Ramsay helping turn a struggling restaurant around.  He dines, talks with the chef, owner and waitstaff and then revamps the menu, teaches the chef some business skills and relaunches the restaurant.  It is interesting because he focuses on the business side of running a restaurant.  From buying cheap ingredients to when to be open to how to hire waitstaff, Ramsay teaches you how to run a successful restaurant.

In the American version, the kitchen is usually incredibly dirty, the restaurant owner does not want to listen to any advice and Ramsay’s team ends up completely redesigning the restaurant from scratch.  They probably spent 20k making it happen.  There is music in the background and always personality conflicts.  It’s nowhere as interesting as the British version.

It seems like producers have decided that Americans have no attention span and cannot figure anything out for themselves, whereas the British are allowed to think for themselves and can pay attention for a full 10 minutes.  I’m thankful for cable and the Internet so that I have a choice to watch foreign programming and read international news.  I’m not sure what I would do otherwise.

What do you think?  Do you pay attention to the American media?  Do you pay attention to British media or none at all?  Have you watched any British TV and noticed a similar phenomenon?

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  • Rob

    Yeh I noticed this, in the UK, we basically get all of the US versions to all the shows (whyyyy?), when I watch them I can see all the things you point out.
    One thing I dislike is that all the networks take British shows and remake them for American audience, either thinking they can take more credit for it or think that their audiences wouldn’t understand any of the jokes, the really sad thing is they rarely last one series(the Office is an exception but they completely lost the tone of the original), just show the original programme, I’m sure it would last longer, and could provide some international shows, which when I go to America on the odd holiday, never see other than on HBO.
    Also the TV news I completely agree with you when I watched Fox News and laughed you could see the bias literally pour off the screen the anti democrat drivel they spew… Fox news honestly is bollocks.
    watch this, basically reinforcing your view and quite funny and made by the BBC so you’ll like it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aEk864YrKw

    • http://nathanlustig.com Nathan

      I think it’s that the American producers think that Americans won’t get the jokes. They think that we don’t have the attention span to actually make judgements ourselves, so they hit us over the head during the remakes. Fox News is bad, but i’ll go even farther. All cable news is worthless, whether its Fox, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC. It’s soundbite after soundbite with no real content.

  • Rob

    Yeh I noticed this, in the UK, we basically get all of the US versions to all the shows (whyyyy?), when I watch them I can see all the things you point out.
    One thing I dislike is that all the networks take British shows and remake them for American audience, either thinking they can take more credit for it or think that their audiences wouldn’t understand any of the jokes, the really sad thing is they rarely last one series(the Office is an exception but they completely lost the tone of the original), just show the original programme, I’m sure it would last longer, and could provide some international shows, which when I go to America on the odd holiday, never see other than on HBO.
    Also the TV news I completely agree with you when I watched Fox News and laughed you could see the bias literally pour off the screen the anti democrat drivel they spew… Fox news honestly is bollocks.
    watch this, basically reinforcing your view and quite funny and made by the BBC so you’ll like it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aEk864YrKw

    • http://nathanlustig.com Nathan

      I think it’s that the American producers think that Americans won’t get the jokes. They think that we don’t have the attention span to actually make judgements ourselves, so they hit us over the head during the remakes. Fox News is bad, but i’ll go even farther. All cable news is worthless, whether its Fox, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC. It’s soundbite after soundbite with no real content.

  • Steven

    The issue about broadcast news in Britain and the USA, is that, by law, British broadcast media whether on radio or television, has to remain politically neutral, there are even more punitive rules during an election and political parties are only given 5 minutes each to advertise on about 2 or three channels throughout the entire election.

    • Anonymous

      Thats wrong. Have you not been reading about the hacking scandal

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  • gram parsons

    this is so true.im a brit but i absolutely adore america,so much about america amazes me,the people,the culture,so so much.

    but……your news is one thing i cannot stand,i just dont get it,its as though the execs assume everyone is brain dead and programme accordingly.

    other than that i’m pretty much an america fan all the way