Differences Across the Atlantic

Journalism and its variants at first glance look wildly different in the US opposed to in the UK. With organizations like the BBC, FOX, CNN, The TelegraphThe Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker, you would think these groups come from completely different planets. But what you’ll find more interesting is they share quite a bit of similarity in interesting ways, and even more important when understanding them you can better understand how to be a better viewer and reader of major news in the world as a whole.


Fox Photo by Johnny Silvercloud, Daily Telegraph from National Library of Australia, BBC Logo from Wikimedia Commons


In varying parts of the world Journalism in its many forms developed quite differently. Along the way they intersected and split off, some influencing the outcome of others. This is quite the case for the journalism in the US and how it came to be in part of the UK. After the formation of the US as an independent country the first amendment to our constitution was “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” A key phrase is the freedom of the press, this is the root that has grown the US journalistic media to take the more polarized and subjective form that it has today. In the UK old tradition still remains in some aspects, which is how you will see an organization such as the BBC, a state-based news outlet dedicated to reporting objectively. However, though the two are quite different in history they have some interesting intersections.

In the US, most of our news is now consumed online through social media and primarily through predominantly broadcast news outlets that have long had a stranglehold on US news. These outlets are free to report and do as they see fit; producing often a more biased report based on their political affiliation (for example, CNN is considered more left and FOX more right). In the UK, the largest broadcast news outlet is the BBC. This organization is a state-funded operation and paid for through a regressive tax. Since anyone who has a television set pays this tax this news outlet is responsible to report to everyone, not just a select group of viewers that hold a particular stance, this is why their reporting is delivered without an opinion and simply gives the facts as they are. In the US this is in part of the early years of the country and because of the more competition and business based nature of the country. In the UK it is due to the longstanding history behind them and the current political climate they live in. Neither option is the right way or the wrong way, both formed from different histories and both existing in different cultural climates are fitting for their ways.

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When you look to traditional print you’ll see a reversal from broadcast. Whereas UK broadcast is objective and more formulated, their print media tends to take a more emotional view; it is often shorter, to the point, and it does not have the neutral stance that is required of broadcast. Back to the States, you’ll find that traditional print media tends to contain longer stories, with more background research and detailed analysis. This is an interesting flip between broadcast and print media in the two countries. For fast turn-around quick reporting (that may not have the greatest research behind it), in the US you look to broadcast and in the UK you look to print. But for news and stories that have more facts, research, and are more formal you look for the reverse. It is also important to note that in the US, print media retains the same right to freedom of press as broadcast and newspapers will often have a political lean, though they are often less intense than in broadcast.

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Margaret_Thatcher_(1983)
Photo from Nationaal Archief

There is one major factor both US and UK media share in common. General public skepticism of them, just in the US it tends to be a more intense deep-rooted distrust. This issue in the US has never been more apparent than as it is now in our current political climate. With the new slogan of “Fake News”, all news outlets can be quickly branded as untrustworthy, and both sides of the aisle are guilty of such. Much of this distrust is not unwarranted though since in the US the major news networks are privately owned they have their own political agenda and often spin their stories to support their side; this provides very subjective material in an attempt to sway the reader/viewer into thinking more in line with their opinion. In the UK, the skepticism is more general. In their print, they look to understand that articles are written by people who have opinions and their writing will in some form inevitably reflect that. In their broadcast, it’s a little more of a false flag, since the BBC is a government organization people tend to think that their reporting leans in favor of the controlling party. The BBC is neutral in its stance (this is proven by the way they handled Margaret Thatcher’s attempt at censorship of the BBC in the late 80’s) but as best said by one of our Lecturers, Tony O’Shaughnessy, whatever party controls parliament, tends to determine the flavour of BBC broadcasting, but they are still impartial.

What’s important to remember is that neither UK or US forms of journalism are right or wrong. Though having an impartial body may be beneficial the future may hold a world without such an organization since there has started a debate over how the BBC is funded. And having a private completely free press may have the benefit of no direct government involvement, but it comes with the burden of being tied to a party line. The greatest takeaway from understanding the differences and similarities in journalistic infrastructure around the world is learning how to intake and process the information they provide to the public yourself.

Differences Across the Atlantic – By: Jacob McDowell

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