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Beijing to Hong Kong: Understanding the world’s economic scene

A Kentucky Fried Chicken in downtown Beijing

From frenzied financial markets to trade wars to automobile recalls, the international nature of business journalism becomes more evident every day.

“In light of the Google controversy, the U.S. selling arms to Taiwan and problems over North Korea, how do you see the future of trade relations between the U.S. and China?” the China Central TV anchor asked me in a recent Beijing interview.

OK, then when do the hard questions start?

Journalists once sufficiently equipped with a basic understanding of balance sheets and P/E ratios find they must expand their knowledge to foreign currencies, differing central bank policies, emerging market trends and economic policies of foreign countries.

All those factors are capable of affecting U.S. readers and viewers, either in products they buy, investments, job security or travel plans.

My time spend in mainland China, Hong Kong and Russia in recent months has underscored the fact that their  aspiring journalism students know considerably more about U.S. financial and economic systems than we in turn know about theirs. Students at global business journalism programs carefully study all they can about our business world—in addition to their own. We still lead the way, but too often we stop at our borders.

Businesses light the street in vibrant downtown area in Hong Kong.

A two-week, three-credit study/travel program to Beijing and Shanghai in May sponsored by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University called “International Business Journalism: Chinese Perspective” is an example of a step in bridging the gap for Cronkite students. The first week will be spent in the government capital of Beijing and the second in the business capital Shanghai, both of which play a major role in China’s economy and relations with the U.S. Dr. Xu Wu, a native of Beijing, and I will teach the course.

In virtually all aspects China differs from the U.S., yet the economies and futures of the two nations are inextricably linked. It is an awkward dance in which both of the participants want to lead, but the music plays on.

“I’m so excited I get to see China with a native, and that we’ll be meeting international students who share the same passion about business journalism,” said Carolina Madrid, a Cronkite student who after the China course will make use of her bilingual abilities in Spanish summer as a Thomson Reuters summer intern.

The course will include meetings with Chinese media and business leaders, as well as western news outlet that cover China, with the backdrop of significant historic attractions such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The business journalism students from the U.S. will also meet and socialize with their counterparts from China. The basics of business and the economy being studied is the same in both countries, but the students are coming from completely different backgrounds.

In the case of China, the nation’s political, economic and cultural aspects are so tightly intertwined that criticism of any one of those factors is often taken as an insult. It is one of the oldest cultures, yet a newbie on the world economic scene. It is flexing its muscles to show its power but is not yet convinced of its own strength.

International news organizations such as Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters and Dow Jones continue to gain in importance not only in informing people through the universal language of business but in spreading the concepts of free enterprise. For the indigenous journalists in many countries, it also permits them to work in a somewhat less controversial, less political area.

The U.S. business journalist and student would do well to become acquainted with:

  • The economic policies of nations in the news. Understanding what economic policies are weighing down the European Union nations or causing China to complain of U.S. protectionism is important.
  • Currency trends, which are playing a greater role in business at all levels. The artificially-low Chinese yuan, for example, is a boon to Chinese products around the world. The U.S. dollar has played a significant role in our nation’s business prospects as well.
  • Where various types of products come from and where our own goods are going. An analysis of one’s own town or state could provide interesting and in some cases surprising information. What U.S. jobs are actually a result of foreign investment is also worth knowing.
  • What stereotypes we have of foreign business and companies are true and which have no basis in reality. Too often our one or two sentence images overlook many of the more complicated aspects.
  • What social issues also play a role in the business environment. Face it, we often have no idea why others don’t think like we do.

An anchor on a Russian business news TV channel asked me: “What exactly is business journalism, in your opinion?” She wasn’t kidding—the ethics of business journalism are murky in many nations and the definition of what constitutes professional work becomes important.

It is the business journalist’s role to make sure that everyone in every country — no matter what its political system — can see and hear what quality coverage of companies is all about. International news services are doing their part in that regard.

It is an equally important task for business journalists and business journalism students in the U.S. to learn all they can about the rest of the world. A world view is no longer just a pleasant philosophy, but a reality of daily life.

In Basics, Beats, Economy.

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