Panelists: Global business trends matter at the local level

From left: John Wasik, moderator, and John Schmid, business reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Cassidy Trowbridge/Arizona State University)

By Agnel Philip
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University

CHICAGO – International impact must play an increasing role in coverage of local business, reporters for the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel told journalists attending the SABEW annual conference in Chicago.

For example, tainted meat sold by a supplier to McDonald’s and other restaurant chains in China had significant implications for the bottom line of the Illinois-based global restaurant giant, said Jessica Wohl, food industry writer for the Chicago Tribune.

“If McDonald’s needs to spend money to fix problems there, where’s it taking the spending away from?” Wohl asked. “Do they need to reinforce their standards in China, and then it also raises the question of: ‘Well, wait, that company gives you stuff that you sell here. So, is our food OK?’”

John Schmid, business reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said understanding international trends can also improve the effectiveness of local businesses in the U.S.

He noted a series he wrote that looked at how Wisconsin’s declining paper industry was connected to the growth of China’s paper exports. The underlying reason for China’s expansion in that industry was the fact that it was using recycled paper, he discovered.

“In an age of connectedness, I think it’s now obvious that what happens in Canton Province in China is going to affect Canton, Ohio,” Schmid said.

He said he enjoyed reporting on the connections between the two countries because it allowed him to tell the story from a different, politically unbiased, economic perspective.

Wohl pointed out that McDonald’s international operations are an important part of her work because so much of its sales come from overseas.

She said readers have shown particular interest in the different types of menus that McDonald’s offers around the globe.

“What’s interesting about covering a company that is such an American icon but is a global company is you need to pay attention to the fact that they need to grow overseas more than they need to grow in their own backyard,” she said.

John Wasik, an author and business journalist who moderated the panel, said that the work Schmid and Wohl did were excellent examples how local journalists can and must deepen their coverage.

“This is an exciting opportunity because the global economy continues to expand,” he said. “What happens in India, Brazil, China continues to affect a lot of things that are happening here in the United States.”

Acknowledging the tight budgets of most newsrooms, Wasik said that journalists can seek funding for their overseas projects from alternative sources such as the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the McGraw Center for Business Journalism at the City University Graduate School of Journalism.

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