How do people in one country learn about another land? Travel helps, but it provides limited exposure to the real life of a nation. Living in a particular foreign country is a possibility, but few of us have that opportunity. We learn a little about the rest of the world through education, although not much in the typical American secondary school; outward looking teachers like those who are reading this journal may be the exception rather than the rule. Only those who focus on a particular region or country in college are likely to get much depth of knowledge and understanding about it in a classroom.
Most of us, in fact, learn whatever we know about the rest of the world the same way we learn about our own society: through the news media. The attitudes people have about other nations, and about their political and social characteristics, depend almost entirely on the information they read and hear from newspapers, television, radio and magazines.
If the media are a dominant source of information, then, could news and feature stories be a resource for teachers who want to give their students broader knowledge about the world outside our borders? It might seem so, but there are two serious problems facing the educator who would turn to newspapers, magazines and television for study materials: the coverage of the rest of the world in most American news media isn’t necessarily accurate or broad enough to serve as reliable classroom information; and, in recent times, there isn’t very much coverage of international matters anyway.
In what follows, I explore these assertions using, as an example, a country that has played a dominant role in the world’s economy during the past twenty years or more—Japan. Because I’m deeply interested in that country, I have for many years gone to extra efforts to find articles about it in major U.S. news media. Every day I read my newspaper, The Atlanta Journal, as well as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Then I read all the wire services that feed into the computer on my desk—The Associated Press, the Washington Post-Los Angeles Times wire, Knight-Ridder, Scripps-Howard, and a few more. That gives me a solid feel for how much news on Japan is out there, and what its nature is.