Category Archives: Story Ideas

Foreign visitor information readily available

The trick to putting things into context is getting the right information.

With all the recent talk of illegal immigration to the United States, it is sometimes useful to look at legal immigration before going off on a bender on immigration law.

Fortunately the Department of Homeland Security puts out a regular report on the numbers of people coming — legally — across the US borders and where they come from. (I’m sorry, from whence they came.)

The bottom line is that the top 5 countries that sent visitors to the USA last year were:

  • Mexico – 17,980,784
  • United Kingdom – 4,566,669
  • Canada – 4,445,88
  • Japan – 4,298,081
  • Germany – 2,359,681

Brazil was in a close sixth place with 2,143,154 entering the US. (By the way — and this is an old story — a Florida business group did a survey about six years ago that showed a direct link between US visas issued in Brazil and jobs created in Florida. It is worth reviewing this piece.)

California and Florida — 11,182,804 and 8,089,139 respectively — were the top two desitnation sites. Kinda looks like a lot of tourism to me. And toursim means jobs and a more favorable foreign exchange situation.

There is a lot of information in this report that can easily be fodder for some great local-global stories.

One of the data points I liked was the growing number of foreign journalists coming to the United States with their families. That means they are coming to stay for a while. That means more coverage of the US overseas and more income for the communities where the journalists are going to live. (Granted, some could be for just a short time to cover a story and then go home, but even so, the numbers are impressive.)

Representatives of foreign media and their spouses and children:

  • 2013 – 45,827
  • 2012 – 44,472
  • 2011 – 51,459

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Filed under Connections, Immigration, Jobs, Story Ideas, Trade

Did John Oliver hit the mark on US coverage of the Indian election?

The online New York Times has a series of blog and news postings about news from around the world. Nida Najar from India posted a blistering (and well-deserved) attack on the US media’s lack of coverage of India’s election. And the attack was based on a bit done by former The Daily Show correspondent John Oliver: John Oliver on the American Media’s India Blind Spot

And sure enough, a quick Google Search of “Indian Election 2014″ does not yield one U.S. media outlet reporting on the election.

In a way this is not surprising. Oliver points to the McLaughlin Group as the only news show that discussed the election, only to have it being dismissed by the host as irrelevant because “it’s not even in our hemisphere.” (For once I found myself agreeing with Pat Buchanan: “It’s 800 million voters! More than 1 billion people!”)

For the political and economic well being of the United States, India matters. (I can be snarky: The importance if India is well beyond tech support. Where do you think you are calling when your computer crashes?)

India is the 11th most important trading partner with the United States, accounting for 1.7 percent of all US trade. That puts it in the same neighborhood as France, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan.

Most of what the US sell to India are not raw materials or agricultural products but finished goods that require good jobs:

  • Misc. manufactured commodities
  • Transportation equipment
  • Chemicals
  • Computer and electronic products

So, yes, the US needs to be informed and aware of what is going on in India, if for no other reason, because our economic well being depends on it.

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Filed under India, International News Coverage, Story Ideas, Trade

“Local” station run spots that include sniper locations – Al Jazeera

Local media is supposed to provide local news. For most people in the world that means information on city councils, mayors, schools and civic groups.

But in Syria, an experiment in local news means identifying where the minefields are and where the snipers are located.

Aleppo TV provides lifeline in wartime

Granted, the “local” news is broadcast from neighboring Turkey, but the news is what is needed at the local level.

The 24-hour, opposition-aligned news channel started a few months after the uprising began in Syria in March 2011, in order to cover protests and broadcast news about the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, back when it was hard to find any independent, non-government-controlled news out of Syria’s largest city.

”It’s an experiment of having a local TV [station] inside Syria, because previously we had only the government’s national TV,” said Aleppo Today’s manager, Khaleel Agha. 

The station lets viewers know where fighting has broken out, where snipers are located, which roads are safe and what the constantly fluctuating currency exchange rates are. It also keeps viewers up to date on which border crossings with Turkey are open, and whether they are open to foot traffic only, or also to cars.

One public service announcement recently warned residents to keep their important documents at home, in a convenient place, so they can grab them and flee at a moment’s notice.

Rest of story.

Kudos to Al Jazeera America  for running this “slice of life” story from Syria. Expect to see a similar story on NPR in a couple of weeks and then in the rest of the US media in a month or so.

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Filed under Middle East, Story Ideas

Somebody’s feeling are going to be hurt: Maps of stereotype

Tea Leaf Nation has a great map of the stereotypes of China by Chinese based on social media auto-complete searches.

A Map of China, By Stereotype

This is similar to the one done about the United States: ‘Why Is Louisiana So Racist?’ Google Autocomplete Map Shows State Stereotypes

Personally I like the query from China: Why are many from the southern metropolis of Shanghai “unfit to lead”?

But honestly, I can’t wait for the Party leadership in Beijing to complain about how auto-complete (in China) has hurt the feelings of all Chinese by using these stereotypes.

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Filed under Asia, China, Connections, Story Ideas

Trade & education: Foreign and domestic connections

Gallup released a study that showed a majority of Americans see view foreign trade as a positive, with 54% seeing opportunities for economic growth through exports, while only 34% see a threat from imports.

While there are some partisan differences in how trade is seen, the real divide is in education levels. The survey showed  college graduates and those with postgraduate education are more likely to see foreign trade as an opportunity for growth than those with no college or even some college education.

Trade as opportunity by education

What does this mean?

  1. It means that at least more people are seeing that international connections — via trade — are important.
  2. It shows that a large group of the American people are either not receiving or are not processing information about international trade.

To be sure, the current international trade situation does indeed hurt those without higher education.

The United States primarily exports agriculture products (and farmers need a lot of education to keep doing their job) and high-end finished products. Most of the low-skill related jobs that can be exported have long left the U.S. market. So it is to be expected that those with less education would feel more threatened than those who have higher education and advanced work skills.

Part of the debate over trade is not as simple as “They are shipping our jobs overseas” and “Exports=jobs.” Both are true but there is a lot of grey between these points.

Companies will always go to where they can get the best economic value for their product. If that means it is cheaper to make something in China or Vietnam and ship it to the States than to make it in the States, they will do that. (Interestingly, there is a big move by companies to move back to the US so they can be closer to their market. Again, unfortunately for the less educated, less trained workers, these returning companies are using robotic and other high-tech methods to be competitive. That means higher-skills are needed for the new American jobs.)

And if higher skills are needed, then higher education — even if it is a two-year community college program — is needed for the workforce.

So what is needed in the trade debate is some discussion of this basic point: For America to compete in the global market, education is a key element.

Unfortunately this is missed by the loud proponents of free trade and loud no trade advocates. And it is missed by too many reporters covering the issue.

Too often trade stories focus on the backroom dealings at Doha or just the numbers. These are simple stories that do not connect to the people on Main Street. Likewise, no effort seems to be made to connect issues that appear domestic  — such as the need for more access to training and higher education — with the international story.

Trade is an international issue as well as a domestic issue. And because American exports depend on an educated and well-trained workforce, that makes education an international issue as well as a domestic one.


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Filed under Connections, Story Ideas, Trade

UPDATE: How about the Central American elections?

So far the US media seem to be covering the elections going on in Thailand — largely because of the violence taking place in that Asian country.

But closer to home there are two elections that can have a more dramatic and immediate impact.

El Salvador and Costa Rica are holding elections Sunday, Feb. 2. The results could mean a lot to U.S. security and economics.

Costa Rica

Reuters: Scandals, inequality loom large as Costa Rica votes for new leader

Costa Rica has been one of the most stable and successful countries in Central America. The democratic process is deeply ingrained in the Ticos.

Unfortunately, the country has not been able to avoid the problems other countries in the area are facing: corruption, drug trafficking and a weakened economy. And so the voters are faced with some serious issues and choices.

But what does that mean for the United States? (After all to the American media nothing is important unless it affects the USA.)

Exports from the United States in 2012 amounted to $7.2 billion dollars, most of that trade was in petroleum and electronics.

Imports were about $12 billion, mostly electronics and agriculture goods.

And, yep, that means there is about a $5 billion trade deficit with Costa Rica. Still, the best way to close that gap is to help make sure Costa Rica advances economically. If the Costa Ricans have more money, they can buy more goods and services from the USA as well as other countries and everyone benefits.

El Salvador

Reuters: Ex-rebel faces gang-fighting conservative in El Salvador vote

Unfortunately for El Salvador it got caught up the violence and civil wars of the 1980s. For some in the United States there was a red under every bed in Central America. And for others the U.S. policy was nothing but offering support for every two-bit dictator that would search out and destroy the reds.

A lot has changed since then. Democracy has taken hold. But, unfortunately, too many people on the left and right still live in the 1980s and are looking at the elections as just another phase of the Cold War, albeit 25 years later.

The violence that wracks El Salvador no is no longer communist-back rebels or right-wing death squads but rather plain old fashioned gangs and thugs. But, due to corruption and weak government institutions, the gang violence has gotten out of hand. Innocent bystanders are caught in the crossfire as gangs fight each other for domination of neighborhoods.

Journalists and human rights advocates are threatened by the gangs.

And the people are fed up with the violence.

At the same time the global economic downturn has hit the Salvadorans hard.

One candidate promises to end the violence. Another — the incumbent — promises to keep the social welfare programs he instituted in place. Both issues have a lot of appeal.

Going into the election, no one candidate has a majority in the polls. Chances are there will be a run off next month.

What does that mean to the United States?

To start with the most deadly gangs in the country are the MS 13 and Barrio 18, made up of Salvadorans deported from the United States. The gangs are multi-national enterprises — they operate in Honduras and Guatemala as well as the United States and Mexico. Besides running their own human trafficking, protection and extortion rackets, they cooperate with the Colombian drug operators and the Mexican cartels.

These gangs are a destabilizing the region through their violence and corruption. And — just to stress the point again — operate in the United States and help smuggle drugs and people into the USA.

U.S. exports to El Salvador come to about $3 billion. In that amount about $300 million each is earned in textiles, petroleum and chemicals.

Imports from El Salvador are $2.5 billion, mostly in apparel and electronics.

That means the U.S. carries a positive trade balance with El Salvador.

It does not take a lot of math or hard thinking to realize that if El Salvador can beat the problems of violence and develop economically, the people will buy more goods and services from the United States.

The question facing the people in El Salvador is what direction will they go: More spending on security or on social programs. From the rhetoric coming out of the country, there appears to be little room for both.

For American journalists, the results of these two elections should be of concern. If the power of the governments change hands, new policies that could affect U.S. security, drug policy and economic well-being might be put in place.

If the governments remain in the hands of the current ruling parties, then the issues of corruption, violence and economic issues will have to be dealt with by parties that have not been successful in addressing those issues. That is not to say that a renewal of power to a ruling party does not mean changes cannot happen. We are seeing dramatic actions being taken in Honduras to address corruption and violence even though the Nationalist Party was returned to the power of the presidency.

In just a few months, there will have been major elections in three of the five Central American countries. The changes — or lack there of — have an impact on the United States in trade and social stability.

It would be nice if just a little more attention was being paid to the region before the xenophobes go crazy over the influx of immigrants and before those who have not left the 1980s start their rants and raves to the press and U.S. Congress about either the rising red tide of Chavismo/Castro-ism or right-wing death squads.

And just covering the elections is not enough. It would be nice to show the American people why it is important to pay attention to Central America (or Asia or Africa or Europe). In journalism, that is called providing context.

And context is something that has been sorely missing from most international reports in most news organizations.

UPDATE Feb. 3, 9:14am Central America Time

The New York Times decided to cover the elections as the voting took place. (El Salvador and Costa Rica Hold Presidential Elections.)

It was done by one their correspondents – instead of lifting and AP or Reuters’ feed. And it even provided context on the issues the voters in El Salvador and Costa Rica were facing.

It was a very well-done piece. Anyone who cares about the issues of Latin America — especially democracy and security — would enjoy the piece and feel he/she was being properly informed.

All that was missing was why the rest of America should care.


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Filed under Central America, International News Coverage, Story Ideas, Trade

Knowing the rest of the world is not the same as giving up on your own country

Helen Gao has a great little piece in the New York Times about how her American experiences changed how she talks with her family and friends about China.

Back in China, Watching My Words

Interestingly, Ms. Gao faced something many of also face.

“Often, I find conversations about China with Chinese relatives and friends trickier to navigate than those with American acquaintances. In America, my firsthand perspective of China gave me credibility and strengthened my stories and arguments. But here in China, my time spent in America seems only to have alienated me from others. If I say something critical, it is often taken not as social commentary but as a sign of shifted loyalty, of contempt for my homeland, of uncritical worship of all things American.

I have lived in six countries on three continents — traveled extensively in a fourth continent and seven additional countries. And nothing has made me more appreciative of the liberties we have in the United States than all those years abroad. Yet, to so many in the US the reaction to what is good about the rest of the world comes out similar to what Ms. Gao faces in China.

Because there are some good things in other countries, does not mean one’s home country is bad. It just means there are differences and maybe some ideas that can improve you homeland.

Unfortunately, too many Americans — including too many elected officials who set policies — have little or no understanding about the rest of the world. They are woefully and deliberately ignorant of the rest of the world.

Some argue for an isolationist political policy (“We are not the world’s policeman.”) or a trade policy that would destroy the American economy (“Slap massive tariffs on all imports until US factories re-open.”). Or they have a simplistic view of foreign relations (“Send in the Marines” or “Cut off aid to country X until they always do what we tell them to do.”)  They just don’t see the connections with the rest of the world is a fact of life that cannot be changed.

The issue, as so many have argued, is not that the United States is weakening, it is that other countries are gaining in economic and political strength. There are more players in the global market and the US has to adapt to that reality.

Besides the isolationist view of too many opinion leaders, I also blame the lack of reporting that puts how Main Street and the rest of world fit together for America’s lack of understanding of how the world and America fit together.

The stories can be fun and informative:

These are not difficult stories to do and they show LOCAL people how they are connected to the world.

Maybe with a bit more reporting along these lines we will have fewer ignorant comments about political and economic isolationism.

Oh, and getting back to Ms. Gao’s issue, maybe if China had a free press instead of a top-down party directed media, the Chinese people would be less ignorant about how things are not only in China but also in the rest of the world.


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Filed under Censorship, China, Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas