Saturday, April 3, 2010

Goodbye Worldfocus...

It likely comes as no surprise that I am interested in World Affairs. I learned about the world of international news after spending 11 months in Paris for my junior year abroad in 1998. It will also not surprise you when I say that it really opened my eyes. I won't beat this dead horse of a point because those of you who get it, get it. Those of you who don't probably won't be persuaded by my insistence that it is important to understand what is happening in the world politically, economically and socially.

When I returned to the US after that year in France, the way I found out about international happenings was to go to or to US news provided no comparable coverage.

It saddened me that as an American, in a country where we brag that you can have anything, I couldn't get free access to international news.

But, if you're anything like me and you care about what is going on in the rest of the world, you learn very early, kind of like an abused spouse or child, that all of your pleadings aren't going to change the fundamental nature of the beast, and you find a way to have your needs met and keep going.

So, nearly 12 years later, when Worldfocus, a produced show, popped up in my life (frankly I don't remember exactly how) I was really shocked - and happy!

"Wow," I thought, "after all that has happened in the past decade, with 9/11 and the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan we are making progress in America! We finally have the critical mass of those interested in the world outside our borders to get a show like this on the air."

Over the past year, I didn't watch Worldfocus on TV, at first because I was too busy to be in the same place at the same time every night. Later, we moved to Munich and I couldn't get access to it from here. I consumed my Worldfocus "programming" primarily through links from their Facebook page. And it was like ambrosia. My favorite feature was the video clips, maybe 3 minutes, maybe longer, where an expert was interviewed by a World Focus staff member. I also remember stories of Poland, the 70th anniversary of WWII, the Fall of the Berlin Wall, coverage of China and its leadership's increasing assertiveness, and the economy and scores and scores and scores of other thoughtful stories.

The only well known show I can compare Worldfocus' reporting to is Amanpour on CNN. I think Amanpour aims to be a little bit sexier and controversial than World Focus by bringing in a few experts at once who disagree with one another. The on air arguments get my blood pumping all the time.

What the two shows do share is rigorous questioning and the defense of logic. If an expert guest on either show tries to spew rhetoric, they wind up looking ridiculous. The hosts of both programs are too smart for that. They will jump right into the fuzzy logic or poor arguments and force the guest to give a more solid and credible answer. I guess this is boring for some people.

So, for a time, my world news consumption was sandwiched between the more widely known 30 minute daily program of CNN's Amanpour and the online video updates from WNET's Worldfocus. Toss in the occasional Google news search on whatever topic and there you would find my happy place. Too good to be true really.

A few days ago, I learned that World Focus was being cancelled. Saw it in my FB feed.

Our World Focus broadcast will go off the air after April 2

"What? This can't be." I blinked, clicked on the link that took me to their page. Yup, there it was in writing.

Because of fundraising difficulties, Worldfocus will be going off the air after the April 2 broadcast.
During our nearly 18 months in production, we’ve sought to inform viewers about life around the world — as we said in our very first broadcast, to give you a better idea how the other 6.5 billion live.
Anchor Daljit Dhaliwal explains our decision to go off the air and thanks our many partners, experts and viewers.

Apparently, the story had caught the attention of the New York Times in the March 22, 2010 article As ‘Worldfocus’ Ends, a Call to Save It.

But, I was too late for that. I had only learned of all of this on Thursday, April 1, 2010, the day before the show was scheduled to go off the air. I read through the various reader comments, the explanation by the show itself, the comments by the WNET spokesperson. I dropped some comments here and there along with thousands of other commenters, including pleas for the option to donate. But, in the end, the cancelation just looked inevitable.

Martin Savidge in the Worldfocus studio.

And today, it is so. The hosts and the producers from the show are saying goodbye. I am sure I wasn't the only one who hoped for a white knight to swoop in and save the show. I am still puzzled by why this happened. Was it really just a question of money? Conspiracy theories are tempting of course. How could a show that garnered some 300,000 loyal supporters in 18 months go off the air? Did someone, some other corporation, put the pressure on WNET to cancel? The truth is, I don't know enough about the media industry, or anything about the financial circumstances of WNET or PBS, thus, I can't say if 300,000 is enough or not.

It appears not.

I blogged about this today because if I didn't I was just going to cry in pathetic isolation. I read a post by one saddened World Focus supporter who said they weren't going to give any money to PBS until the show was back on the air. Another said that all was gloom and doom because this was evidence of "what is happening in America" and that people were sinking further and further into ignorance.

I hope what happened yesterday was only the first chapter. I hope that I was right, that we finally did have a critical mass of Americans interested enough in a show like this, to get it on the air for 18 months. Maybe this is just a hiccup and another show like this will rise to the challenge of delivering balanced international reporting very soon.

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