Complex, non-visual global stories struggle to find a following in America.
Greece, ground zero for the eurozone crisis, holds a national election Sunday, its second in as many months. In the first, anti-austerity parties on the far left and the far right made big gains over the socialist and center-right parties.
But no party had enough support to form a government. Depending on Sunday's results, Greece may renege on its bailout deal, and could pull out of the common currency.
If so, it will be a political and economic earthquake in the birthplace of democracy. But tremors will also likely be felt in Athens, Ga., and throughout America.
Given the global gravity, U.S. interest might be expected to be high. But according to a new Pew Research Center for the People and the Press poll released last week, only 17 percent of Americans are "very closely" following the European economic problems.
That's not the only foreign news story that's seemingly lost in translation.
U.S. interest in international stories is sharply down compared to last year: So far, the most gripping global story of the year was the Italian coast cruise ship accident, which was followed "very closely" by 30 percent of Americans. But that's lower than 2011's seventh-ranked foreign story: The U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.
The foreign story with the most interest last year was the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan, followed "very closely" by 55 percent of Americans. To those who were riveted by the images from Japan (and who wasn't?) that may not be surprising. It isn't to Carroll Doherty, associate director at Pew.
"Even in this digital age, 70 percent get most of their news from TV," Doherty explained. "Visual stories do resonate, and the Japanese tsunami and nuclear disaster was an important story for television."
And thus it was an important story to many Americans.
Reflecting on 25 years of data, Doherty said, "When there's not a clear American interest or angle, or not a terrible disaster ... the public's interest in foreign news tends to be fairly limited."
Minnesota native Aaron Brown, best known for his ceaseless CNN anchoring on 9/11, is now the Walter Cronkite professor of journalism at Arizona State University. Brown recognizes the power of a picture, however disturbing it may be.
"You have visual stories, life and death stories," he said. "Television is a visceral medium, and unless there is a visual component it's not going to work very well."
The significance of Greece's election and Europe's fiscal crisis is not in dispute. The challenge is portraying it. Ashen bankers and bureaucrats in Brussels just don't electrify TV news viewers (or even many readers).
And even those invested in the global news narrative -- or invested in global markets -- can find the euro-journalism opaque.
"Whatever we kind of know about its importance, we're not sure what it's about," Brown said, before listing quiet questions news consumers may ask themselves: "Why is it happening? Is it connected to us? Is it something I have any influence over? Am I feeling anything more than anxiety?"
And if viewers aren't anxious, as voters, they're told to be, Brown said. "Whatever interest there is, it's an oddly domestic interest. Politicians use it: 'If we don't do something we're going to become the next Greece.'"
There's another fundamental factor at play besides visuals. The eurozone crisis may be less compelling because it's so complex.
Even veteran observers can lose track of the serial summits (and their ephemeral "fixes"). Natural or man-made disasters, by contrast, have a singular starting point. This allows occasional news consumers to operate with the same base of knowledge as journalism junkies.
Given the limited interest, it's actually admirable that the crisis gets so much ink and airtime. No doubt, most news organizations feel a fundamental responsibility to cover the crisis, even if it won't draw a crowd.
But "it's-good-for-you" journalism only goes so far, said Brown.
"I am not in the 'eat-your-vegetables' business. Nor am I in the 'eat-your-dessert' business. I am in the balanced-meal business. Give them a well-cooked, nutritious entree, and they will take some lima beans. Not a lot -- about the same amount you would on your plate. And they're entitled to a brownie."
Whether they'll save some room for baklava remains to be seen.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.