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February 16, 2009 

 Blagojevich’s World Media Review 2/16/2009
The mission of Going Global, which appears on MidwestBusiness.com on most Tuesdays, is to educate and inform Midwest technology companies on what local technology companies are doing internationally so other firms can learn from the successes of like-minded peers.

CHICAGO - By far, the biggest news stories in the state of Illinois over the past few months have been the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States & the impeachment of IL governor Rod Blagojevich. Obviously the rest of the world has been infatuated with Barackamania & this has been documented in many places, but do they care about what happens to a state governor? We rarely hear anything about what happens to governors or their equivalents in other countries, so I wanted to do a little investigation. I perused a random sampling of major periodicals in countries throughout the world to gauge the pulse of the Blagogate worldwide.

My hypothesis was that I'd find little coverage of smiling Rod, but I was somewhat surprised by the results. First as a baseline, I found Blagojevich was named in 250+ articles in the Chicago Tribune in the last 30 days, almost 10/day. The Economist & Financial Times both have writers & readership here so naturally they brought him up 31 & 88 times respectively. The New Zealand Herald, mentioned Rod 18 times. (There is a Hamilton, New Zealand businessman Michael Blagojevich, who entered into a contract to manage the 40-room hotel in 2003) Australian Financial Review named him 16 times in the last month. The Sunday Times in South Africa gave him 49 mentions. Even foreign language publications covered Rod's exploits. Wirtschaftswoche (German Business Week, not affiliated in any way with American publication of same name in English) had 13 mentions & Svenska Dagbladet 1 of Sweden's daily newspapers tossed him out there 11 times. Most of these were syndicated articles from Reuters, the New York Times, Washington Post, Economist, AP, etc. I think the main reason my hypothesis failed is because of the proximity to Barack, i.e Rod is being indicted partly for trying to sell Barack's vacated senate seat. Otherwise I suspect I would have been spot on.

I bring this up to highlight how the media is changing these days, & in some ways not for the better. What's interesting is that despite the trend of journalism supposedly becoming more locally-oriented, these foreign publications are paying attention to what's going on over here. Internet technology makes information exponentially more available & it zips around the world @ hyperspeed, helping economies change at the same pace. If you seek it out, there's little information that you can't find somewhere on the web for a price.

Maybe it's just the American press that's narrowing in solely on local issues. Recently the Chicago Tribune has drastically scaled back their coverage of many topics, international included. They've called home a number of foreign correspondents & haven't replaced them, which I don't consider a good thing. I understand that given their financial leverage & the current economic climate, they are under severe economic pressure, which leads them to cut costs by paring expensive foreign-based staff. You'll still find articles on foreign topics contributed by syndicated services or other Tribune-owned papers, but it's not the same. What I need are articles on what Chicago companies are doing internationally & they are becoming more & more scarce. Writers who aren't familiar with Chicago-based companies can't comment on them in an informed way.

In some ways I don't even trust foreign-based Midwestern correspondents because of their local biases. Dick Longworth, formerly lead foreign correspondent @ the Tribune, maintains that providing a Midwestern sensibility to international events makes these events relevant to local readers. I counter that if said correspondent is a pampered ex-pat who lives in an insular environment abroad, their viewpoint skews reality. I question how many foreign correspondents who don't speak the local language of where they're posted & don't develop local contacts who don't speak English can cover foreign events clearly. In some cases you can't get to the root of the issue without being able to talk directly with the principals in their own language. When I was living in Germany I had a few friends who hung out exclusively with other Americans. They had a very different experience of Germany & I contend that my experience living & working in German with Germans clued me in to the local viewpoint much better than theirs. You can live & work abroad & still live in a bubble. It happens. The lesson is take whatever you read, especially about foreign events, with a big grain of salt.

I realize I'm old-school by depending on a newspaper to get any of my news, but I'm in the habit of reading the paper over breakfast. I do get a fair amount of my news while I'm surfing the web during the day, but there are differences. Newspapers are a "push technology" in that the delivery person pushes it onto my doorstep so that it's waiting for me when I get up in the morning. I can skim it to find articles I otherwise wouldn't have read unless I came across them in the paper that day. I realize it's somewhat wasteful because I only decide to read which articles I choose & probably don't read over half of it. The difference is for me to find those same articles online, I have to seek them out & have a much greater chance of missing them without seeing the headlines, bylines, etc. There's no way for me to find what new interesting companies are doing internationally if I can only search on companies with which I'm already familiar.

Crains Chicago Business should be a great source for what Chicago companies are doing internationally, but I don't find much coverage that helps me. I attended an event a number of years ago hosted by a managing editor brought in from New York & asked about CCB's international coverage. Her response was that it was weak & probably always would be. I wasn't able to get to the bottom of whether it was a chicken or egg problem, i.e. that either they don't have the writers qualified to cover international topics or there isn't sufficient reader interest to cover them. CCB doesn't have any foreign correspondents & I haven't read anyone that seems well-versed in international business. You can't cover something without being there & knowing the lay of the land.

It's getting both easier & tougher to get information on international business. More publications throughout the world are coming online, so the information is becoming more available. The problem is having to sort through so much dreck to be able to find it & finding well-informed sources you can trust. They're getting harder & harder to find all the time.

So the world seems to be a little-bit infatuated with Rod Blagojevich as well. The rest of the world is interested in us. Shouldn't we be as interested in them? We should be just as interested in other foreign personalities as they are in ours. I wonder how many scandal-plagued foreign dignitaries we've missed out on.

Michael Muth is managing director of GATA, an international business development consultancy that helps technology companies build international partnerships. He can be reached at muth@midwestbusiness.com.
Click here for Muth’s full biography.

Previous Columns since 2007:
Recession: International Causes, Effects of Today’s Global Financial Crisis (1/19/2009)
Q&A: Ex-Chicago Tribune, ‘Caught in the Middle’ Writer Richard Longworth (1/5/2009)
Q&A: Midwest Regional Director Michael E. Howard of Export-Import Bank (6/17/2008)
Q&A: Intetics Managing Partner Alex Golod on Belarusian Economy (4/15/2008)
Q&A: Intetics Managing Partner Alex Golod on Protecting Intellectual Property (4/9/2008)
Q&A: Intetics Partner Alex Golod on Being a Jack of All Trades (3/31/2008)
Q&A: Motorola WiMAX Director Tom Mitoraj on Unstoppable Freight Train (11/26/2007)
Q&A: Motorola WiMAX Director Tom Mitoraj on Global WiMAX Differences (11/20/2007)
Q&A: Motorola WiMAX Director Tom Mitoraj on Widespread WiMAX Growth (11/12/2007)
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Translation Tools, Costs (9/18/2007)
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Globalization, Translation (9/11/2007)
Q&A: InterPro Translation CEO Ralph Strozza on Intercultural Translation Issues (8/7/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies on Specific Country Issues (7/10/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry W. Gies Jr. on Cultural Differences (6/26/2007)
Q&A: Madison Capital Partners CEO Larry Gies on International Private Equity (6/11/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Foreign Deal Making (5/15/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Middle-Market M&A (5/8/2007)
Q&A: Scott H. Lang of S.H. Lang & Co. in Chicago on Middle-Market Firms (4/24/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Data Localization, Reach (3/27/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Partners, Personal Privacy (3/20/2007)
Q&A: George Filley of NAVTEQ in Chicago on Digital Mapping (3/7/2007)
Click for 2006 column archive.
Click for 2005 column archive.
Click for 2004 column archive.

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