For the scoop, more Americans turn to the Brits

Americans in search of news and opinion on world events since Sept. 11 are looking across the Atlantic to broaden their perspective. Websites for British papers like The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk) and The Daily Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk) are seeing increased traffic from the US. And more public TV stations in America are offering world news from the BBC and ITN - programs that are also drawing larger audiences.

With the shift has come new scrutiny by media critics, who are pointing out how differently the media operate in two countries that are united in the battle against terrorism.

Britain is a logical country for Americans to turn to. There is no language barrier, but the stories often have a different tone - broadcast pieces are more stern and straightforward, print stories are more lively and seem to offer more scoops than those in the United States.

Most who follow the media agree that it makes sense to turn to other sources for a different view on America and its policies, especially when the US media have their hands full reporting on anthrax and other domestic security issues. Lately, it is also frequently at odds with the government over what information should be released to the public about the war on terror (just try to find video tape of Osama bin Laden's latest speech on any US network).

"This story is playing out in Europe in a very, very different way than it is playing out in the States," says Anne Nelson, who runs the international program at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism in New York.

But media watchers say Americans shouldn't abandon the critical eye they often bring to US reporting - especially when it comes to the British press.

Ironically, says Trevor Butterworth, a research fellow at the Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, Americans tend to be less critical of the print media in Britain. "They are giving them the benefit of the doubt that they are not giving to the far more thorough, far more careful American press."

Print journalism has a different tradition in Britain, says Mr. Butterworth, who is Irish and grew up in Dublin. It is a much more serious profession in the US, whereas the British press is largely driven by the market. "The level of competition is huge - think of 10 national papers for a place the size of California," he says. The result is that sensationalism can take precedence over sourcing. "The culture awards being clever more than being right," he says.

So how do you tell the difference between an overhyped story and a real scoop? Butterworth suggests that readers watch for an abundance of unnamed sources in news stories. Unnamed sources aren't always bad, but if the article doesn't offer any other corroborating evidence for a claim that, say, Mr. bin Laden is building a destructive nuclear bomb - as one recent British paper suggested (under the headline "Dirty Bomb Could Wipe Out Thousands") - then perhaps it's a sign that the information needs more time to breathe.

Ms. Nelson notes that even in the best of British print journalism, the line between opinion and reporting is less defined than it is in the US. She and Butterworth both hold up the Financial Times newspaper (www.ft.com) as a top British source for news.

They also look favorably on the BBC, which Butterworth says is to British media what The New York Times is to the American press. (Unlike the US, he explains, british broadcasters are considered more serious than their print counterparts.) Not that the BBC has been without critics in recent years. But in terms of covering today's conflict, the BBC is in a good position, with an established network of bureaus and the advantage of not being pulled in as many directions as US networks, says Nelson.

She calls the BBC website (www.bbc.co.uk) "fantastic and vast," and says, "This is a very important time to use the incredible powers of the web."

Many other English-language websites are also strong, she notes, but says that as with anything on the web, people need to be aware of the agenda or reputation of the publications they are reading.

Her list of favorites includes: Al-Ahram, a newspaper in Cairo (www.ahram.org.eg/weekly), which she calls "one of the most prestigious publications in the Arab world"; the site for Boston public radio station, WBUR (www.wbur.org), which offers articles summarizing broadcasts from Al-Jazeera, the Arab network; and the Toronto Globe & Mail (www.globeandmail.ca).

As for those Americans who are dedicated to British newspapers, Butterworth offers this advice: "Read critically, and don't dismiss what the American press is saying."

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