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Adding a Global Element to Your Business Coverage

Sheridan Prasso

No matter where in the world you live and report, there are multinational corporations, government policies and international treaties that affect you, your community and your readers. The key is finding the information that brings a broader worldview to local business writing, and puts it in a global perspective. It is a mistake to assume that readers in a small city or rural province are not interested in, say, global trade or international agreements. They just need to understand why they care and what exactly affects them in their daily lives. It is the job of the business writer to tell them, to figure out how to bring these policies, news and information home to the local level and make it understandable to all levels of readers. There are a number of resources and Web sites at your fingertips to help you find a global angle, and this backgrounder is designed to help you find them. While some examples are of Web sites that are available through U.S.-based Internet Service Providers, many of them are available through international search engines as well. Government-related sites may well have counterparts in other countries.

I. Covering Companies Near You

Companies in your area may be owned by an international conglomerate, may own manufacturing plants around the world, or may have their largest customers or suppliers offshore. We now live in a globalized world, and most companies in the developed and developing world either make products for export, or make their products with at least some components or raw materials they have imported. A full 97 percent of companies exporting products from the United States are small- and medium-sized, meaning that they employ 500 or fewer employees. Every state in the U.S. has at least one exporter; the state of Georgia, for example, has 8,430; the state of Alabama has 2,718. That means more than 11,000 potential stories in these two states alone. To find out where these companies are on a state-by-state basis, broken down by company size, the U.S. Census Bureau keeps track. In other countries, the Ministry of Commerce or equivalent department may keep such information.

How to get the story

  • The Business Angle: Multinational corporations own hundreds of thousands of manufacturing plants around the world. Not only that, but they source their components from hundreds of thousands more companies. Most likely, there is a company or business owned by an international corporation, or that provides goods or services to an international company, near you.
  1. Example 1: A supplier of fan belts manufacturers in your area. You find out through sources that it sells most of its output to Toyota Motor. Use the web to find out about the parent company, and what its future operational plans are. Simply plugging the name of the company into a basic search engine such as Google or Yahoo will yield not only the company website, but news and other information that may have been written about the company as well. Toyota Operations provides a sitemap for its manufacturing plants in North America, and reveals any expansion plans. How might a new plant affect your local supplier? Will it need to increase production to meet additional demand?
  2. Example 2: A large corporation headquartered in your area has a number of operations overseas. What’s going on there? Are there any complaints, problems? Use the Web to find out if there is any coverage in the local newspaper. Many countries in the world have at least one English-language newspaper, often with a business focus. Try to research any news stories that have been written. If it is in a foreign language, use a translation Website such as FreeTranslation.com or BabelFish, to decipher it. If that doesn’t work, try calling the editor of that local newspaper to see if there is anything he or she knows (be aware of time differences). There are also several good regional publications that may have coverage you may not otherwise see. The Wall Street Journal has European and Asian editions that are not available in each others’ markets, or in the U.S. Its parent company, Dow Jones, also owns The Far Eastern Economic Review, which provides coverage of Asian business issues in English. Likewise, there are trade magazines in English that cover Latin America. North Africa has several reputable publications in French that cover business topics. Start researching online and you never know what you will find.
  • The Consumer Angle: People in the community where you live most likely buy some imported products. Where do these products come from? Where are they sold? Who manufacturers them, or harvests them? Is there a story behind them that would be of interest to readers? More broadly, how do the spending habits of consumers affect the balance of trade between your country and the country the products come from?
  1. Example 1: Increasing numbers of consumers in Brazil are buying more and more products from China. How does that affect the balance of trade between the two countries, and how does it ultimately affect demand for similar types of Brazilian products? What happens to the Brazilian companies that make those products? Is their demand falling? What does that mean for local employment? What kinds of tariff barriers stand in the way of free trade, or can the companies in those countries buy and sell goods from each other freely? What is the status of any trade agreements between the two countries, either bilateral or as part of a regional trade pact, or membership in the World Trade Organization? These questions apply to every imported product in every country on earth.
  2. Example 2: On a visit to a local supermarket, you see a fruit you have never seen before, with a sign calling it “Starfruit from Thailand.” Ask the manager who supplies them, then track down the wholesaler, then the importer, and ask as specifically as possible where the fruit originates. Do online research on the place of origin. Where they are grown, the conditions under which they are harvested, and their path from orchard to transport to supermarket are all interesting to readers.
  3. Example 3: A local goat breeding farm exports goat semen to a breeder in a foreign country. The subject matter is engaging enough to readers to keep their patience as you trace the export process, from collection, to the unusual conditions under which it is shipped, to the customs forms and international permissions that must be secured, to what happens to it at the destination.
  4. Example 4: Pick a local company, such as window maker. Trace the origin of all the components that go into that single product, and write a story about the global nature of business. Almost every reader has windows - or as at least seen them. Where does the sand come from that makes the glass? Where does the rubber window liner come from? What about the metal? And the tools used to install them?
  • The Drama Angle: Every good business story is a tale. It has intrigue, protagonists, antagonists, a dramatic climax, and an outcome. Find out who the people are who make the story happen. Who is the CEO? What are the obstacles he or she faces? What are the concerns of the local community regarding environmental sustainability, working conditions, wages, etc? Tell the tale.
  1. Example 1: In “The Best Business Crime Writing of the Year” for 2002, the book’s editor James Surowiecki of The New Yorker said that in the course of researching how American media covered the corporate scandals at the time he found that not one newspaper in Mississippi, the world headquarters of WorldCom, ever profiled its CEO, Bernie Ebbers. This is despite the fact that Ebbers was one of the most larger-than-life characters in Corporate America and the man who tried to engineer the biggest corporate takeovers in history: the acquisitions of MCI and Sprint. It took the Edmonton, Canada newspaper, where Ebbers was from, to do it right. The global financial and economic crisis of 2008 and beyond is likely to throw up many more such examples.
  • The Economic Angle: You can argue that readers don’t care about esoteric ideas like free trade, globalization, and international treaties. But there is one thing they absolutely do care about - jobs. If the local economy is doing well, almost certainly there are companies behind that, creating jobs, increasing harvests or output, and growing wealth in their communities.
  1. Example 1: A large international corporation announces it is going to set up a manufacturing plant. Is there competitive bidding in your region/state/city/town? What advantages does your locale offer in terms of an educated or skilled workforce, tax incentives, infrastructural advantages, proximity to transport or developed markets? What does your community stand to gain if it gets the investment, in terms of job creation, increased facilities and infrastructure such as schools and roads, and growing property values? What does it stand to lose, in terms of traffic congestion, potential damage to the environment? If your community loses the bidding, what are the reasons why? What can it do to be more competitive next time around? If it wins, how long will the process take? What legal approvals are involved? Who will be involved? How will that impact the community? A good place to start is the Chamber of Commerce.
  2. Example 2: A European conglomerate has just purchased an ailing battery manufacturer in your area. Will it lay off workers? Will it pump in additional investment and create new jobs? Use the web to research the parent company, to find out what happened when it has acquired other companies in the past. What was the outcome? What similarities are there to your locale that may indicate what will happen this time? Is there a trade association in your capital city that can tell you more information about the company and its operations?

II. Giving the Global Perspective

Frequently, news stories are more interesting to the reader if they contain a broader perspective. It is also important to read international business publications.

  1. Example 1: You are writing about how NAFTA resulted in the closing of a plant in your community that sent those jobs to Mexico. It is not enough just to write about the local impact. You also need to know the broader context. While many communities have lost jobs, overall U.S. exports to Mexico increased as a result of NAFTA, which suggests jobs are being created in the U.S. too. It is worth researching coverage of such issues in global business publications such as BusinessWeek, The Economist (subscription required), and The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), before writing. The New York Times is worth a look as well. There are a number of online resources that can help with data and statistics and background information to make stories look smart.

Publication Information

Type Backgrounder
Program Journalism Backgrounders
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