Archive for Story Idea

(First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.)

This has nothing to do with who is smarter but rather who is more willing to learn about the other.

Great little piece in Caixin called The Closing of Chinese Minds.

What makes it even more interesting is that Caixin is a mainland China news organization.

The publication has a history of being a thorn in the side of China’s political and business leadership. Besides the stories it publishes, Caixin puts online reporters’ notes and all the documents used to back up the story. And with more Chinese turning to the Internet to get news, Caixin fills an important gap in information.

Caixin editor Hu Shuli

The editor in chief of Caixin Hu Shu Li told an audience at the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’s Club this past summer that independent and ethical journalism is vital.

“What the public demand and deserve is the right to know,” she told the FCC audience. “More than ever the public needs the media to present the hard facts with all the complexities and nuances.”

FYI: Caixin recently published a story with back-up documents that showed high-speed rail designer  Zhang Shuguang owns a US$800,000 (7.12 million RMB) home near Los Angeles on a monthly salary of 2,200 RMB.

But, let’s get back to that intellectual gap.

Just before Christmas, Caixin published the The Closing of Chinese Minds column.

Journalists Nailene Chou Wiest noted how China has pulled back from trying to understand more about how American society and politics work.

“…the more the Chinese think they know about America, the greater their incapacity to change their prejudices. Conspiracy theories, such as the notion the CIA maintains an office in every CNN bureau, abound.”

Nailene Chou Wiest

She starts her story with how “in 1979 a group of Chinese editors was about to visit the United States. Asked what they would like to see, one solemnly replied: ‘We want to know how the party secretary of New York controls The New York Times.'”

To correct the situation exemplified by the editors in 1979, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences inaugurated the Institute of American Studies in 1981. China was eager to learn from the U.S. American foundations reciprocated by providing generous funding and resources. By the mid-1990s, however, the interest narrowed to Sino-American diplomatic relations.

I saw this lack of understanding first hand in 1992 when the US Information Agency library in Shanghai provided live satellite feeds of the U.S. presidential election returns. Chinese journalists on hand could not understand how ABC could have different numbers for the presidential vote than CBS or NBC. Adding to their confusion was the fact that none of the numbers were being cleared by an agency in Washington.

The misunderstandings continue.


In my field, many journalists and journalism professors have been invited to visit the U.S. They have enhanced American scholars’ understanding of the changing Chinese media landscape, but their own comprehension of the American media remains at the textbook level. While the legend of Walter Cronkite as the iconic TV anchor lives on, few have heard of Bill O’Reilly or have an inkling that the conservative made a highly successful industry out of talk radio and the Fox News Channel. Still bashing corporate greed for killing the American news media, they seem oblivious to the assault on media profits by technological changes that have made some quality media outfits more like millstones around the necks of their owners than cash cows. Relying on a few translated volumes of media studies, or, worse, polemics in the Chinese press, they are out of touch with the American reality.

She points out that the Chinese sent to the United States under the institute’s aegis now go so that Americans can learn about China, not so the Chinese can better understand the United States.

It is ironic. After all, to hear many of the political voices in the United States today the issue is similar. These xenophobic Americans care little about learning about other societies or cultures. Too many average Americans agree.

Personal note: I still recall with horror how in the summer of 2000 (or so) when we told a shop owner in Michigan that we lived in Hong Kong, he paused and then asked, “That’s in Ohio, right?”

In a democracy, the people set the tone for what the government does. An uninformed or ill-informed public can lead to disastrous results. Maybe not a full-scale ware but economic and social upheaval are possible. (And it doesn’t help when political leaders think foreign policy can be handled with an electrified fence and over-sized military.)

News organizations can help. And — here comes that old argument again — it can be done without having to go overseas.

The immigrant communities in the United States can provide valuable insights other cultures.

Investments in the United States by companies from other countries tell tales of linkages and connections that can be seen on a local level. (Think of all the Ohioans who have a job because Honda — of Japan — opened factories in that state.)

All it takes is a little imagination by editors and reporters to see the global-local link.

Or, we could just go down the road of China (modern and historic) and not think there is anything worth learning from outsiders.

Northern Virginia (and GMU) are known for its large foreign-born population.

Koreans, Indians and Salvadorans dominate the foreign-born population in Northern Virginia.

And yet so few stories are done about these immigrant communities. These communities provide an excellent opportunity for local reporters to do local stories that have an international perspective.

Feature stories, for example, could look at the ways different communities celebrate American holidays. Another idea is to report on the holidays specific to those communities.

News stories can get reactions of the communities to international news. For example, interviewing people at an Indian shopping center about Indian events in the international news. Or Salvadorans about relief efforts following a flood in their home country.

C-SPAN had a wonderful segment the other day with the Census Bureau about the foreign born in the United States.

I had a few comments about it on my other blog site about international journalism along with a link to the program. (Foreign Born in the United States — The Numbers and The Impact)

Working with this information — and narrowing it down on the Census Bureau website — it is easy to see what communities should be approached and why.

Face it, globalization is here to stay. There are so many links between the rest of the world and local businesses.

And that goes for political rhetoric as well.

To hear some circles tell it, the United States is a lousy place to set up and run a business. Well, the World Bank disagrees. And they back up their conclusion with facts and figures.

Take a look at my take on this issue here: Global business rankings and why it matters locally

For student journalists, this report could be a good starting point for some stories that are informative and out of the ordinary. Such as:

  • Interviews with the university’s business department about the micro and macro impact of business laws and regulations.
  • A comparison of what the report says with LOCAL business regulations
  • A set of interviews with foreign companies with LOCAL offices near the university.
  • A discussion with business majors from other countries about their perspectives on the report, what they are learning in their classes and what they have learned about the American business climate.

The “take away” on this point is simple: Local issues often have an international connection and international events can easily reach right down to your street corner.

All it takes is for a reporter to think beyond the mantra of “Local! Local! Local!” to see the connection.


In an earlier posting I wrote about a Gallup survey on attitudes toward inter-racial marriage, a Pew report on same-sex marriages and a historic link between the two. (Inter-racial and same-sex marriages. Issues with a history and a lesson.)

The issue keeps coming up under the banner of “states’ rights.”

Here is the latest installment: Gay marriage ban debated in North Carolina

The comments of Bernie Cohen — the lawyer who argued (and won) before the Supreme Court that banning inter-racial marriages was unconstitutional — about his case and same-sex marriages still hold power:

Imagine the injury to our nation if the Court had flinched, or if the opposition had prevailed with arguments like “let the people vote” or attacks on “activist judges,” and had cemented discrimination into our Constitution.

The links of events from almost 50 years ago still resonate today and the links need to be made clear.

Sounds like a job for a good journalist.

Sept. 12 – The Gallup group released a survey today about American attitudes about marriage between whites and blacks.

The survey results shows positive steps forward:

Americans are approaching unanimity in their views of marriages between blacks and whites, with 86% now approving of such unions. Americans’ views on interracial marriage have undergone a major transformation in the past five decades. When Gallup first asked about black-white marriages in 1958, 4% approved. More Americans disapproved than approved until 1983, and approval did not exceed the majority level until 1997.

Of course, I still wonder about that remaining 14 percent. Surely the KKK cannot have that much support among the American electorate.

Then I looked more closely at the numbers.

The real progress and hope for America comes from the under generations under the age of 65.

The 18-29 year old group approves — or does not disapprove — of interracial marriages by a whopping 97 percent. Meanwhile, the grandparents (and in some cases parents) of those young people approve by only 66 percent.

This trend is mirrored in other social issues.

A Pew Center report on attitudes toward same-sex marriages matched anecdotal information and the Gallup survey of inter-racial marriage:

A plurality of seniors worry that gays and lesbians cannot be as good parents as other couples (by a 47% to 37% margin). By comparison, people under age 30 believe gay couples can parent just as well by a 69% to 29% margin.

So there is hope.

But let’s return to the Gallup survey and learn a bit about putting this whole thing in perspective. Or as we journalism instructors like to say: “Context.”

According to the Gallup survey, in 1968 about 20 percent approved of inter-racial marriage. That number is significant because just a year earlier the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court struck down the Virginia law that outlawed marriages between a white person and a black person. In his opinion handing down the court’s decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:

There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.

These statutes also deprive the Lovings of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival… To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.

Very clear and direct writing. (Another example for journalists to follow.)

Journalists in Virginia and the Washington, DC area should pay attention to the Gallup survey with the Loving case in mind. The lawyer who argued the case for the Lovings was Bernard S. Cohen, a lawyer and former state legislator from Alexandria.

In 2007 — the 40th anniversary of the Loving decision — Cohen put the Loving case in the context of the current debate over same -sex marriages. He questioned the argument of “let the states decide” in 2007 as he did in 1967:

When the U.S. Supreme Court got Loving right, the polls showed 70 percent still opposed to interracial marriage. Imagine the injury to our nation if the Court had flinched, or if the opposition had prevailed with arguments like “let the people vote” or attacks on “activist judges,” and had cemented discrimination into our Constitution, as in Hawaii.

There is a lot to learn from history and many ways for journalists to take those lessons and apply them to today’s issues.

But first you have to know the history.