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Shouts heard around the world: communicating in the global village.

The future is a place where signals bounced off satellites give us a front seat to war; where a run on the Tokyo stock market can ruin a business in Toronto; where every newspaper is the hometown rag.

The era of global news has dawned. Broadcasting and newspaper empires are emerging which ignore boundaries. The world is being carved up into spheres of influence, not by the superpowers, but by the superbroadcasters. Under one such television Potsdam Treaty signed recently, a leading Japanese network will cover Asia, while US TV's ABC News handles reporting chores in the Americas. A European partner will complete the triumvirate.

The landscape is changing every day. Canal Plus of France announces a new television network in Africa one week, London's The Financial Times unveils a global business broadcast the next.

Through its name alone, The European exhibits its continental pretensions, while a leading Parisian paper is buying up its counterparts in Spain and elsewhere to create local language editions.

For the business communicator, the implications are profound: Deals in New York or Tokyo can fly or die on the basis of a few words tapped into a keyboard 10,000 miles away.

No longer can a company with international pretensions present one face in Minneapolis and another in Manila.

Just as a story in an obscure Lebanese magazine caused the collapse of the Reagan administration's arms-for-hostages policy, reporting in one country can devastate a company's best-laid plans in another.

An Information Age nightmare:

* An African newspaper claims a plant owned by an Iowa widget manufacturer is polluting the water supply of a nearby village. The company's owner ignores the report. After all, his local partner is the brother of the country's president. Who cares what the African press says?

What the manufacturer doesn't know is that the reporter is also a stringer for the British news agency Reuters. The next morning's Des Moines Register carries the headline: "Local Firm Polluting Eden."

But for the media-savvy, nightmares can be transformed into dreams come true:

* An Illinois textile factory negotiating a German buyout convinces "Nation's Business Today" to do a profile.

The program airs on a European satellite channel and is seen by French investors who decide to bid, significantly upping the price.

Of course, not every shot fired by--or at--a reporter will be heard 'round the world.

Nations still have their own identities. The rules of the game still change at every border. A poorly targeted story can be useless, or worse. Some examples:

* Unlike Americans, the Japanese get their news primarily from newspapers and comic books, hence Asahi Shimbun, with its 8 million circulation, is far more influential than NHK-TV;

* Britain's Sky Channel can be seen across Europe, but since there are few private satellite dishes on the continent, it has only a handful of viewers outside Britain.

With the revolution in the global information flow has come the slow, lingering death of US network TV news.

In the next few years, at least one of the nightly network news broadcasts will be cancelled. US newscaster Dan Rather is likely to be the first casualty. By the year 2000, it is doubtful that any of those programs will exist. Instead, the network news divisions will become video wire services, providing footage from around the world for local TV newscasts and magazine shows for the programming department.

The nature of local newscasts themselves will change as computers allow viewers to cut and paste a broadcast to suit their personal tastes.

As the US' CNN has wired the globe, so too will other specialized cable channels. The Discovery Channel is currently seen in Europe, MTV airs in Latin America, and satellite-fed TV-Japan offers American viewers 10 hours of Japanese programming a day.

New York City residents will soon have access to 150 cable channels. Three hundred channel systems will follow in other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, the dismantling of network news has already begun. Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Paris and Bonn are just some of the network bureaus that have been closed in the past year. Staffs have been slashed. The latest cutbacks at the US' CBS News leave the Rome correspondents of the once-preeminent network without an office. They now work from home.

Over at NBC News, staffers are no longer allowed to accept collect calls from news sources.

At the Big Three US news divisions, the future belongs to Max Headroom. In the short-lived US television series, the computer-generated Headroom's alter-ego was a futuristic TV reporter who carried his own camera. Union contracts are already being rewritten to bring Headroom to life.

"You watch, the networks are going to close virtually all their overseas bureaus," Michael Rosenblum, publisher of the Video-journalist newsletter, was recently quoted as saying in Variety, "Having one guy with a camera, you cut half your costs, minimum. This is the answer to all their problems."

Already, network correspondents confined to bureaus such as London and Los Angeles are forced to voice-over footage shot in places they have never been, rewriting wire copy on events they never witnessed.

The implications are profound. Third World coverage has long been sparse. Now, it will be even less "cost-effective." One indication of that: The latest round of cutbacks at CBS means the network no longer has a single correspondent in Africa.

As the landscape is revamped, the role of communication professionals will increase.

* Corporations will need advice negotiating the labyrinth of media change.

* Third World governments will need help more than ever to break into the media spotlight.

* The media themselves will need help finding the right leads in the global story pool.

Opportunities will abound as the TV audience pie is sliced into even smaller pieces:

* Niche programming means stories once met with disdain by the networks will find a willing ear.

* Tight budgets will bring greater use of handout video by TV organizations without the resources to put crews on the scene.

The complexities of the challenge can seem daunting. Take it step by step:

* Start slowly. Cultivate reporters close at hand, then use those same techniques as you venture farther afield.

* Get to know foreign reporters in your country; it's a cost-effective way to have an impact overseas.

* Don't assume a PR firm that plays the Toronto Star like a fiddle even knows the phone number of Paris Match.

* Don't rely on your operating personnel overseas to track media developments. Retain local experts to be your antennae on the ground.

* Coordinate your local and foreign public relations efforts. Cross-fertilization can help your image bloom.

As at home, most positive stories abroad are no accident. While working as a CBS News correspondent overseas, bad news was my bread and butter. When a truck bomb rolled into a Raytheon housing compound in Kuwait, I was there to cover it. When IBM's South Africa operation was under political siege, I had it on the "Evening News."

But when the newly privatized British Airways turned red ink into black, my glowing profile on the syndicated program "Today's Business" was the direct result of a phone call from a London-based media relations executive who understood the needs of a US reporter and took the trouble to track me down at my home in Italy's Tuscan hills.

As he knew, whether you read about your client's disasters or triumphs could depend on how well you master the new rules of the global media game.

Larry Pintak spent a decade reporting from abroad. He is now a partner in Pintak/Brown International, a Washington, D.C.-based media relations and video production firm.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Pintak, Larry
Publication:Communication World
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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