Convergence and Divergence: Weighing Theory and Reality in International Media

To better understand international news coverage trends in the modern age, many scholars have focused their attention on studies monitoring similarities and contrasts of foreign news reporting between multiple countries.

Theory largely suggests that different countries’ news coverage will rather ultimately converge, or become more similar, than diverge over time. Generally speaking, journalistic values are similar throughout different countries–and in the case of international conflict, news framing is the same across different networks, so convergence seems to be a given.

Eventual convergence also seems logical considering the rapid globalization of media. Many have hypothesized that media across the world has varied less because of the role of digital communication and unprecedented access to events once closed off to foreign pundits.

But interestingly enough, practical results and analysis of coverage in some ways suggests that convergence is not the norm amongst international media .

In a 2016 study analyzing Israeli-Palestinian conflict coverage of Israeli, Palestinian, and international publications for ten years, researchers Christian Baden and Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt find that media tended to be similar between publications based on shared language, location, and cultural values.

In particular, the study divides the findings into four levels of similarity:

  1. Very high similarity within national and same language communities
  2. Medium-high similarity among the Western media
  3. Lower similarity between Israeli and Arabic-language media
  4. Low similarity between Middle Eastern and Western media

While Baden and Tenenboim-Weinblatt show that high media similarity is likely within a country’s own borders and between the same language, they also make a case for divergence theory in international coverage, or the theory that news frames are more dissimilar from one another.

Researchers who believe in divergence theory tend to cite to attribute differences between countries’ coverage to different preferences in style, national interests, and, as the previous study showed in part, cultural differences between these countries.

In Mody’s 2012 analysis of 10 news organizations in 7 countries’ coverage of the 2003-05 Western Sudan humanitarian crisis, she finds that primarily national disinterest in Sudan drove reporting comprehensiveness (especially in publications outside of Sudan), followed by intended audience of the publication.

In fact, Mody found that countries more concerned with the Sudan crisis on a national level tended to cover the crisis less comprehensively than countries that did not have a vested interest in the crisis itself. This suggests that in some cases, national investment in an issue may skew reporting, in addition to promoting deviation from a converging frame.

Mody also found that 19 of the 24 variables isolated to test consistency in foreign and domestic news coverage were significantly different between news sources, also suggesting more deviation than not.

While globalization and news norms seem to be making foreign coverage more similar, factors like nationalism, culture, and geography still seem to be making an impact in the modern day and pushing news narratives from convergence.

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