Americans have always been criticized for their ignorance when it comes to international news. I’ll be open and say that, as a nation, our youth is not as informed as the other generations growing up in developed countries overseas. We don’t read as much traditional media and we tend to focus on national stories. The key is proximity. I’ll try and explain the American side of the problem that Chev has described so well in his post this week.
Over the years, much of what America’s youth doesn’t know is astounding. In 2006, a National Geographic study found that about two-thirds of Americans aged 18-24 could not find Iraq on a world map. Consider that, at the time, America had seen 3 years of combat with the nation and lost 2,400 American soldiers in the process.
This doesn’t mean that Americans are stupid overall. Ask most college students if they read the paper, read books or watch the news and they will probably say no (even at the Cronkite School). But, ask them about what happened in the Gulf yesterday and the majority of people will be able to tell you. We get our news from non-traditional platforms. We also care mainly about national stories. The youth is mobilized, and more young people turned out to vote for Barack Obama then anyone ever expected. It’s just that we don’t seem to care about the rest of the world.
However, I think America is becoming more and more informed about the international world as time goes on. The Pew Research Center reported this year that foreign news has become the single largest topic of coverage in newspapers. This is up from previous years in which foreign news filled a negligible part of our news hole.
Part of that change may also have to do with the fact that Americans are traveling overseas more. The Office of Travel and Tourism Agencies reported that as of May 2010 travel overseas has gone up by about 2 percent. This is up from 2 years of consecutive decline as travel dropped by 1.4 percent in 2008 and 1.6 in 2009.
So overall, we are becoming more culturally literate. But, as Chev rightly noted, young Americans are still oblivious to most of the world.