Journalists in Shanghai, Beijing Workshops Learn about Coverage of Business and Trade

More than 50 journalists in Shanghai and Beijing conducted mock interviews and participated in other exercises as part of workshops conducted by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research in May to help them learn how to cover international business and trade.

The Shanghai workshop spanned five days and was designed as a run-up to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference scheduled for that city in October. Twenty-four broadcast and print journalists from 16 different media organizations in the city participated.

The workshop included sessions on the basics of international business and international trade, sources of information on international business and trade, techniques for interviewing high level business and government officials, and the importance of understanding the needs of the various audiences for business news. It also included special sessions on covering large conferences, such as those held byAPEC, and on the World Trade Organization, which China is set to join soon.

The Beijing workshop lasted only a day and focused on interviewing of high level government and business leaders and on coverage of international conferences. Thirty-one broadcast and print journalists from 10 different media organizations participated.

The workshops were part of a two-week tour of China by Cox Center Director Dr. Lee B. Becker and Dr. C. Ann Hollifield, a faculty member in the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College. Drs. Becker and Hollifield visited universities in Hong Kong before the workshops.

Owen Ullmann, Washington Editor of USAToday, joined Dr. Hollifield in leading the workshops in Shanghai and Beijing.

The Shanghai workshop was hosted by the Information Office of Shanghai Municipality with the support of the Shanghai APEC Preparatory Office. The Beijing workshop was hosted by the Chinese State Council Information Office.

The International Center for Democratic Governance of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government (CVIOG) at the University of Georgia assisted the Cox Center in organizing the two workshops.CVIOG provides technical assistance to help governments improve their operation and has been conducting training programs for Chinese government officials in China and the United States for more than two years.

As part of the Shanghai workshop, journalists participated in a mock press conference and conducted several mock interviews with high ranking government and business leaders. Mr. Ullmann and Dr. Hollifield, along with Dr. Becker, critiqued the interviews.

Mr. Ullmann and Dr. Hollifield also used other techniques to involve the journalists in the workshop lectures, including creation of a television game show called Trade Wars, which focused on contestant knowledge of trade issues. The journalists were the contestants. The pair also created exercises to demonstrate how to use nonverbal communication techniques in journalistic situations.

"China is considered a high context country," Dr. Hollifield told the journalists in Beijing. "A lot of meaning of communication is imbedded in the context of communication. The United States is low context. Words are what they mean."

Dr. Hollifield is a professor in the Department of Telecommunications at the University of Georgia, where she also coordinates the Michael J. Faherty Broadcast Management Laboratory. She has worked as a business reporter in the Bonn office of BusinessWeek magazine and a reporter and managing editor of Business First, a business weekly in Columbus, Ohio. She also was a producer at KUAC-TV in Fairbanks, Alaska, a producer, reporter and anchor at KSPS-TV in Spokane, Washington, and a reporter at KXLY-TV in Spokane. Her research interests are in media business and management.

Dr. Hollifield stressed that much information about international businesses that are traded on stock exchanges in the United States is available in public records. She passed out examples of annual reports from such businesses and instructed the participants in how to read them. She said she routinely monitored such reports when she was a business journalist and obtained many important stories from them.

"Government officials, no matter the country, do not like to talk openly about major problems or conflicts," Mr. Ullmann told the journalists during the Shanghai workshop. "They like to talk about all the good things, but that is only part of the story."

Mr. Ullmann advised the Chinese journalists at both workshops to get to know foreign journalists who come to China to cover international conferences as a way of getting more complete stories on what actually was taking place. "I did that many times," he said. "I talked with Japanese journalists and they told me what they knew and I told them what I knew." Everybody gained from such exchanges, he said, since the journalists are not competitors.

Mr. Ullmann supervises State Department, Pentagon and economic coverage for USAToday. Previously he was a senior correspondent for the national daily newspaper covering economic policy and politics. Mr. Ullmann was a senior news editor in the Washington bureau of BusinessWeek, a reporter in the Washington bureau of Knight-Ridder newspapers, and a reporter for the Associated Press. He began his career as a reporter for the Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal. He is editor of The International Economy, published in Washington, and a contributor at Washingtonian magazine and to National Public Radio.

Mr. Ullmann told the group about his experiences interviewing American presidents, beginning with Ronald Reagan. He said Reagan "was not afraid to say controversial things, making him interesting to interview." George Bush was "very personable," Mr. Ullmann said.

Mr. Ullmann said Bill Clinton "was the smartest president I ever met. You could ask him anything, and he could answer." Current President George W. Bush, according to Mr. Ullmann, "does not like to be interviewed." Mr. Ullmann described President Bush as "a nice man" who is "open to new ideas. He will change."

Dr. Hollifield told the journalists in Shanghai and Beijing that they should know that western business leaders who come to their country, including those who will participate in the October APEC meeting, are trained to deal with the media.

"The most important thing they are taught to do," Dr. Hollifield said, "is to take control of the interview. They don't care what you want to know. They will try control what information is released."

Dr. Hollifield said business leaders are taught not to elaborate on their initial answers for fear they will volunteer new information that should not be released. They also will restate difficult questions before answering them so they are less hostile.

The APEC meeting in Shanghai in October is expected to draw government and business leaders from all over the Asia-Pacific region. Business summits on technology and the media are scheduled to coincide with the main conference.

APEC was established in 1989 to advance Asian-Pacific economic interests and now includes 21member states, including China and the United States. U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to make his first visit to China as part of the October Shanghai conference.

While in Shanghai, Mr. Ullmann and Drs. Hollifield and Becker met with Mr. Zhao Kai, senior editor and publisher of the Wenhui Xinmin United Press Group. During the dinner meeting, the group discussed journalistic practice in the United States as well as the impact of technology on media industries.

In Hong Kong, Drs. Becker and Hollifield visited the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the School of Communication at Hong Kong Baptist University, and Department of English and Communication at the City University of Hong Kong. The purpose of the visits was to learn about journalism education in the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong and about linkages between the journalism programs there and journalism professionals in mainland China.

The Shanghai and Beijing workshops were the first conducted by the Cox Center in China. Dr. Becker and Dr. Haoran Lu of CVIOG traveled to China in December of 2000 in response to invitations from officials there to discuss journalism training and exchanges.

"The workshops in Shanghai and Beijing were extremely gratifying," Dr. Becker said on his return to the University of Georgia in May. "The participants were full of energy, very knowledgeable, and very interested in learning about journalistic practice in the United States. Our hosts were most gracious, and we look forward to future collaboration with them and others in China."

"The visit to Hong Kong also was extremely valuable," Dr. Becker added. "I'm glad I had this opportunity to see the facilities of these three universities and to meet with faculty there. I think there are many opportunities for exchanges involving students and faculty in the future."