AJR  Features
From AJR,   December/January 2011

Shrinking Foreign Coverage   

Over the past quarter-century, foreign news in dailies examined by AJR fell by 53 percent.

By Priya Kumar
Priya Kumar (2priyak@gmail.com) is a Washington, D.C.-based writer.     

To get a sense of the amount of foreign news in U.S. newspapers, AJR selected two papers from each of the four Census-designated regions of the country: the Northeast, Midwest, South and West. We then randomly selected seven dates between January and June, making sure to include each day of the week. Using microfilm and hard copies, we looked through the entire edition of each newspaper and counted the number of foreign stories. Foreign stories included hard news, features, editorials, columns and, generally, travel stories. We included stories with domestic bylines if they focused on foreign events or issues.

The papers we chose were the Philadelphia Inquirer, Providence Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Tampa Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Fresno Bee and Portland's Oregonian.

The findings? A drastic decline in the amount of foreign news. Over the past quarter-century, foreign news in the dailies examined by AJR fell by 53 percent, with the largest drop coming in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That paper printed three-fourths fewer foreign stories in 2010 than in 1985. The Dallas Morning News had the smallest drop in foreign stories among the eight, printing one-fifth fewer.

The percentage of staff-produced foreign stories in the eight papers also fell sharply, from 15 percent in 1985 to 4 percent in 2010.

When newspapers printed foreign news in 1985, they were more likely to go longer, with stories more than 400 words outnumbering shorter pieces by nearly two to one. And although this year's foreign stories were still more likely to be longer, the ratio narrowed.

Foreign news never played a starring role on the front page of these dailies. In 1985, 9 percent of foreign stories appeared on page 1, compared with only 6 percent in 2010.