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Global Connections

Exploring the 'flat world' of international media

September 29, 2010
By Pete Seel

CBS correspondent Charles D'Agata was in the midst of assembling a story for a U.S. newscast when I arrived at its London bureau with a small group of seven Colorado State students on an 18-day study tour of European media sites. Charles, a 1990 journalism alumnus in television production, graciously agreed to host our visit to the bureau - but this was before he became embroiled in the chaos of filing a breaking story during our visit.

CBS correspondent Charles D'Agata, a CSU alumnus, met with current journalism students in the London bureau.

Exciting to watch breaking news

The day before our arrival, a scandal had emerged involving Sarah Ferguson’s attempt to sell access privileges to Britain’s Prince Andrew, which meant that Charles and his team had just three hours to complete the story for airing. We looked on as he provided a quick tour of the bureau while also coordinating clips for the story, writing commentary, working with a consultant to the Royal Family, and waiting for legal clearance for some material.

It was exciting for the students to watch the creation of a breaking news story from Britain that would soon air in the United States. To me, it was even more remarkable to observe Charles acting as our hospitable tour guide while assembling the story at the same time.

Culture shapes communication

London was just the first stop that took our group to Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, and France. At each stop, we earned from professionals and academics about mass media use in the European Union, which is comprised of 27 nations with very different national and regional cultures. I wanted our students to study the distinct cultures in the five nations we visited and understand how cultural values and language shape communication in each country.

In countries such as Belgium, regional differences defined by language (Dutch-speaking regions in the north and French-speaking in the south) have led to the creation of two parallel media systems and spurred recent talk of dividing the nation along linguistic boundaries.

Increasingly going online for news

In Amsterdam, we met Anne-Ro Klevant Groen, former fashion model and account executive for a company that specializes in public relations services for European fashion industries, and Klaus Schoenbach of the University of Amsterdam, who discussed why European newspapers are doing better financially than their U.S. counterparts. In some European nations, there is a tradition of loyal readers supporting regional and local papers. However, his research shows that a majority of newspaper readers in Holland are over age 30 and that the key 18-24 demographic age group is increasingly going online for their news, as is the case in North America.

In Germany, we experienced the contrast between a small local media company and a large multinational firm. In Koblenz on the Rhine River, we met with Martina Kollig and her partner, Andrè Rauen, owners of Orange Networks, a small publishing and Web design firm. The entrepreneurs are building a client base in the region by providing communication services focused on new media – and they’re growing their business along with a six-month-old son.

Internet is changing media use around the globe

The educational and fun trip concluded with four days in Paris, including a stop at the Eiffel Tower.

Two days later, we were in the German financial capital of Frankfurt for a visit to Hill & Knowlton, an American public relations firm. Udo Becker, a key executive, sat with us in the gleaming glass tower of the Frankfurt office and gave a detailed briefing on German media. He echoed Dr. Schoenbach’s comments about a comparable decline in newspaper readership among the 18-24 age group in Europe and their increasing use of Internet-based news and entertainment media. The Internet is changing media use among young people on a global basis.

Saving the best for last, the program concluded with four days in Paris. We attended a briefing at the Paris office of Integer Communications led by account executive Ian Whitney. Denver-based Integer develops marketing programs to enhance clients’ sales in supermarkets and stores throughout Europe. Integer staff have to understand distinct national cultures and buying habits in marketing products in all 27 E.U. nations.

Advice to "think big"

The tour wasn’t all business. Along the way, we visited the great art museums of Europe, ate in a wide variety of interesting restaurants (e.g. ,mussels in Brussels), and enjoyed boat rides and hikes. The students returned with new insights about culture and media, and I hope they heard Anne-Ro’s advice to “think big” in envisioning themselves living overseas and gaining international perspectives that are essential for young people working in the “flat world” of today’s global economy.

Pete Seel is associate professor in the Department of journalism and Tehcnical Communication. The department and Study Abroad staff in the Office of International programs privided support for this course.

Originally published in Colorado State Magazine, Fall 2010.