Since moving overseas, my news gathering habits have changed. Printed newspapers are a thing of the past and even subscriptions to printed news magazines are a thing of the past since they arrive at post weeks or sometimes months after the news was breaking. To get my newspaper fix I faithfully read the online version of the Washington Post each morning. Of course, when I am reading it here in Albania, the clock is just striking midnight back in DC so the news I am reading isn't necessarily the news of the day. But, in today's fast paced interconnected society, newspaper web pages post immediate updates to breaking news so their information is usually more current than what I would be watching on live television anyway.
We subscribe to local cable here in Tirana so I could watch Albanian news programs all day if I wanted to. (Albanians are somewhat fixated with news so it seems as though every channel offers news or news commentary throughout the day). I am able to test my language skills since the broadcasts are in Albanian although strangely translated English subtitles may scroll across the bottom of the screen for some programs. While I am still able to watch the major American news networks--ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and NBC the broadcasts are usually a day late. Seriously. The American Forces Network, or AFN, uses satellites to broadcast these mainstream channels around the world. Some shows are actually broadcast live; NBC's Today Show which airs at 08.00 on the East Coast starts at 14.00 here in Europe. It can be a bit disconcerting to have them discussing starting the day when we approaching quitting time, but I chalk it up to just being a part of the experience. (So is the fact that AFN does not air any commercials since doing so could be viewed as the U.S. government endorsing certain products. Rather we get inundated with public service messages reminding us about the need to obey local laws (Albania really doesn't have any), how to be a good neighbor and co-worker, and the most recent ethical campaign of "what right looks like"). Much to my delight I discovered that NPR is available via a hidden AFN channel and it is broadcast in real time so I can listen to Morning Edition as I prepare dinner.
Despite the limitations we have on our American television viewing, I have actually broadened my news horizons significantly since moving to Albania. AFN broadcasts the news from all of the major networks so I can go from watching the day old evening news on FOX network then slide right into broadcasts by PBS and NBC. It has been eye opening and fascinating to hear the same "breaking" news being reported by networks and reporters with divergent political views. My favorite parts of these broadcasts are the commentaries. In earlier times I would have immediately changed the channel had some of these commentators started talking. Now, without any other option, I find myself listening and learning. I don't always agree with what is being said but I find the viewpoints interesting none the less. When these mainstream broadcasts are followed up by day old Daily Show and Colbert Report shows, I feel like I am getting a complete picture of what is going on in the world.
When it comes to topics that are especially controversial, whether it be a presidential campaign, Senate hearings, or debates about gun control, it isn't always comfortable to hear adamant viewpoints that conflict with my own. Sometimes I find myself getting angry or even surprising myself by agreeing whole heartedly but always I find myself really thinking about what is being said. And isn't this what media is supposed to be about in the first place? A society with open and free media should report on all opinions and sides of an issue. We can't necessarily hear all of these sides in a single news network but when we look at all of the networks in their entirety, if we allow ourselves to, we can get a pretty complete picture of the world around us. It may not be pretty but it is a reflection of us.
And now I have a challenge for all you. I challenge you to sit through an entire broadcast of a news network you would normally avoid. If you are a FOX viewer, sit down and watch PBS. If you are a PBS patron spend a half hour watching FOX. Think about what is being said and realize that there are two (or more) sides to every story. You probably won't agree with what you are hearing but think about it and maybe your prospective on life will broaden.