The international press services -- AP, UPI, Reuters and others -- do a commendable job covering world events. If a bus goes over the side of a mountain in Yugoslavia, if a fire destroys a hotel in Calgary, if an earthquake in Turkey registers 6.1 on the Richter scale, people throughout the world knows about it within a matter of hours.
In addition to this "hard news" disseminated by the media, a new kind of news was added in the 1930s when public opinion surveys based upon scientific sampling procedures same into use. The media could then report what people think as well as what people do.
This still leaves an important field of news that is not fully reported -- the field of ideas. The press has yet to make a systematic effort to cover ideas -- particularly those that concern new policies and new procedures for dealing with mankind's major social and economic problems. And most will agree. I believe, that the progress of mankind depends in large measure upon new ideas, and the rate of this progress, in turn, depends largely upon the speed with which the ideas are disseminated.
At the present time, 152 nations are members of the United Nations. A careful examination of their problems, whether they be deveoping nations or advanced industrial societies, will reveal that all have at least 60 major problems in common with other nation. These problems range from inflation, food production and distribution, energy conservation, crime, health, education, housing, unemployment, industrial growth, and care of the poor and elderly to the many problems associated with urban living and distribution of wealth.
Since each nation is trying to deal with these many problems in its own unique manner, it may be helpful to think of these efforts as an experiment in finding a practical and successful solution to a given problem. In total, then, some 9,000 experiments are being conducted at all times.
Obviously, many of the policies and procedures being tried in the developing nations are not directly applicable to the advanced industrial countries. On the other hand, they do have a special relevance to nations in the same stage of development.
The main assignment of a foreign correspondent is to cover events -- the hard news -- that are reported by our print and broadcast media. Often, because of his special knowledge and interest, a correspondent reports on new and novel policies that a nation is employing to deal with a particular problem. But rarely is this done in a systematic manner.
As a result, the world knows little about the successes and failures of the thousands of experiments that are going on. For example, surprisingly few individuals in the western world are aware of the fact that Switzerland has not had a major strike since 1935, yet Swiss workers are as highly paid as any in the world.
Few persons, even those in educational circles, have heard of the work of Edward de Bono in Cambridge, England. De Bono has mounted the most ambitious attempt in the history of education to teach students to think. He believes that this can be done as easily as teaching students to ski or to ride or to skateboard.
I suspect that many people in South America and Central America have yet to learn about the new treatment for "river blindness," an ailment that afflicts millions of persons under the age of 40.
How many people in the world are familiar with the research done in the United States that shows that drinking and smoking by pregnant women may cause mental retardation of the newborn?
These examples conform to the accepted journalistic definition of news. They are both interesting and important.
In addition to meeting this journalistic requirement, the systematic reporting of new ideas -- and the degree of succss or failure in solving the problems with which they are concerned -- should enable researchers and scholars to discover the factors that the more successful and the least successful efforts have in common. With this insight into the reasons for success or failure, nations can then take advantage of the experience of other nations. They need not expend time and effort to invent the wheel.
The procedure that could be employed in collecting data about ideas could be relatively simple and inexpensive. A detailed report from each nation would be sought each month about a given problem. Suppose that during the month of January 1980 a report were obtained from all 152 nations on the problem of inflation -- what each nation is doing and with what degree of success. It then becomes a simple matter to find the factors common to the more successful -- and those common to the least successful -- at each development level. The data to be gathered would obviously be specified by authorities in the field in question -- in this case economists and government experts who have given much thought to inflation.
Each month, then, a different but common problem would be examined and reported. During the month of February, for example, an effort might be made to find out what the nations of the world are doing about energy conservation and with what degree of success. The month of March might be devoted to an examination of efforts to curb crime, April to medical advances, etc.
Coverage of this new field of journalism -- the field of ideas -- should provide readers and viewers with interesting and important news. It should also provide legislators and other policy-makers in every nation with help in dealing with the same problems.
Moreover, reports of the progress mankind is making in solving the world's most important problems should provide the media with "good" news. Many complain that they are daily overwhelmed with "bad" news.
Mankind is making progress on many fronts and we need to be made aware of these advances. In the course of doing so, billions of dollars, millions of lives and decades of time can be saved.