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When does the international media cover Jordan?
Unsurprisingly, violence and intrigue dominate. Surprisingly, it isn't the violence and intrigue Jordanians care most about.
Ramadan karim and Newroz piroz to all my followers who celebrate!
So far, this blog has been a place to show off side-projects, talk about historical curiosities, translations, and do a little media criticism. Now it’s time to explain what I’m actually doing in Jordan as a full-time job. I’m a Fulbright fellow1 researching how Arab and international media interact. AmmanNet published some of my research results today.
My main research question had been how Arabic-language outlets handle foreign stories. For example, if the Associated Press puts out a newswire about something happening in India, then Jordanian editors have to decide whether to run it, how to translate it, and what context or edits might be necessary. Unsurprisingly, I found that Arab journalists pay a lot of attention to international media when the coverage is about Arab societies.
The next logical question to ask is what drives international coverage of Arab societies. On one hand, there can be a bit of a positive feedback loop, where stories covered by local media get picked up by foreign journalists, which in turn encourages more local coverage. On the other hand, foreign journalists and the citizens of a country will naturally have different priorities and framings.
I focused specifically on English-language coverage for a few reasons. Jordan is a former British protectorate and a close U.S. partner today. And there’s a readily-available database of English-language newsprint, the News on the Web Corpus, which I also used for a recent critique on coverage of the Iranian nuclear issue.
Unsurprisingly, I’ve found that violence and political intrigue get a lot of attention. If it bleeds, it leads. The biggest single burst of international attention came after ISIS executed a Jordanian pilot in a graphic snuff film. There was also a lot of attention during the early Arab Spring, when Jordan witnessed a rare wave of protests, and after the weird maybe-coup-plot that maybe-involved Jared Kushner in spring 2021.
It was surprising to see which violence and intrigue got attention.
If anything, Jordan is more intimately tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the Syrian civil war. Jordan used to control the West Bank, millions of Jordanians have Palestinian ancestry, and the royal family is considered custodian of the holy sites in Jerusalem. Just ask Jordanians — nearly ninety percent consider the Palestinian issue to be a greater problem than the Syrian civil war.
But international media apparently doesn’t see it that way: there was no statistical correlation between coverage of Jordan and coverage of Palestine.
My article also draws on interviews with local journalists. Rana Sweis, a Jordanian who’s written a lot for international media, placed Jordan in the global attention economy. In general, the war in Ukraine has taken a lot of eyeballs off of Middle Eastern conflicts. Within the Middle East, the rapid social reforms in the Gulf states seem far more interesting than the sad but unchanging stories elsewhere.
I really recommending reading the full article at AmmanNet. I’ve also started a weekly news podcast there if you want to know what Jordanian stories the Jordanian media is paying attention to. I may do a few more deep dives with this methodology — stay tuned!
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The views expressed here do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State, or any of its partner organizations.