Media outlets scale back their foreign news coverage at the risk of contributing to a less-informed public, McClatchy Newspapers Middle East Bureau Chief Hannah Allam said at the 30th annual Ralph McGill Lecture Oct. 15.
“It’s the public that loses when we don’t have accurate information before we decide to sacrifice American blood overseas,” she said.
Calling foreign reporting “equal parts watchdog and interpreter,” Allam spoke about her tenure in the Middle East from the media-saturated early days of the Iraq War to the drawn-down levels of the present.
Part of the blame for diminished resources may lay with news editors who don’t have the funds to invest in foreign bureaus or who believe that their audience is uninterested in world news, Allam said.
“It’s condescending for news editors to decide what readers want to hear, especially the Web-savvy under 30 set,” she said.
Allam pointed out that high-profile celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, whose audience is younger than that of traditional newspapers, regularly updates his site with political news and overseas affairs.
“I was reading Perez one day and saw a story I didn’t know about and I thought, ‘Great, now I’m being scooped by a guy in L.A. with blue hair,’ ” she said.
Allam intended her lecture for students from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She told them to network well, write every day and be prepared to use every media device available if they want to land a job.
She comes from a unique vantage point: youth. The daughter of an Egyptian father and American mother, she was born in Oklahoma but spent much of her early life in the Middle East. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1999, firmly in the Millennial generation.
She was just 25 when Knight Ridder (later acquired by McClatchy) asked her to become its Baghdad bureau chief shortly after the Iraq War began in 2003. She is currently on leave this academic year to study at Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow.
The lecture, sponsored by the Grady College, honors the late Ralph McGill, a Southern journalist who fought for civil rights during the ’50s and ’60s.