"IU Takes You to China" Media Relations Initiative
Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business
As the newspaper industry continues to adapt to falling circulation rates, only a few papers can still afford to assign full-time reporters to international beats. Regional papers like the Indianapolis Star primarily rely on wire services for their international coverage. Because of China’s role in global manufacturing, including in Indiana, Professor Scott Kennedy of the Research Center for Chinese Politics & Business felt it was essential to help a greater number of regional reporters become "China experts."
To help Indiana reporters better understand how events in China impact the state, Professor Kennedy partnered with IU Communications to plan a week-long trip to the area for IU faculty, Indiana business executives, and reporters. IU Communications also assisted with the planning for two visits by reporters from the New York Times and Washington Post for media seminars and public events with students.
Typically, IU covers international visits with a press release announcing the trip and a summary release at its conclusion. To provide a better resource for reporters covering the region and to tell a fuller IU story about the experience, IU Communications decided to document the entire trip in real time on the IU Takes You to China blog.
We suggested key industries that connect China and Indiana, including auto manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and the life sciences, and the media. Through Professor Kennedy's vast network in China, he made arrangements to visit factories and business executives in those segments so participants could see how they differed from their Indiana counterparts, the competitive threat they posed, and the economic opportunities they offered.
An international excursion of this nature is not a vacation. Each day, participants followed an exhausting schedule of meetings, factory tours, and conference sessions that could last late into the evening. Throughout the day, it was our reporter/blogger's responsibility to attend these events, understand the issues raised and how they were relevant to his audience, and write and post blog entries. He also served as the delegation's official photographer and even provided photos to media representatives traveling with the group. In the meantime, he also struggled with jet lag, cultural acclimation, and the ordinary discomforts of life on the road.
International engagement is a key goal of IU President Michael McRobbie's vision for the university. Because external media coverage of these activities is limited by the lack of regional journalists working overseas, IU Communications felt it was important to find a way to tell these stories through our own communications channels. The blog was a natural platform.
Because China has such an impact on Indiana’s economic future, however, it was important to generate as much media coverage as possible. IU Communications worked with Professor Kennedy to recruit two regional reporters to accompany participants on the trip. We sought out journalists whose focus was writing about business issues for Indiana readers. The managing editor of The Indianapolis Business Journal, the state’s largest business publication, and the business reporter for the Bloomington Herald-Times both produced a series of stories about their experience, thus accomplishing the goal of increasing coverage of China's relevance for Indiana audiences.
The itinerary focused on companies with direct relevance to Indiana audiences. Because auto manufacturing is such a large Indiana industry, Professor Kennedy arranged visits both to the Chinese car company Geely and the Chinese manufacturing arm of General Motors. We were also able to meet with GM’s vice president for Chinese operations, who led the company’s entry into the Chinese market. The itinerary also included a pharmaceutical research company with strong ties to Eli Lilly, with several of its managers coming from that company. Lilly executives, who were holding their annual meeting in China, also came to a reception for participants.
Professor Kennedy also helped to plan a two-day conference at Zhejiang University, "U.S. – China Business Cooperation in the 21st Century: U.S. – China Economic and Trade Relations after the Global Economic Crisis." Reporter and blogger George Vlahakis gave a presentation at the conference on how American universities such as IU share their international activities with wider audiences. He also produced and distributed a news release in English and Chinese about new research by the IU School of Journalism on Chinese attitudes about the United States.
University and regional media combined forces to give readers new insights into China. The trip was covered extensively in the Indianapolis Business Journal and the Herald-Times, reaching more than 75,000 readers.
The China blog was also featured on the Indiana University home page and on the IU Alumni Association website throughout the month of March 2011. During the first three weeks, it received more than 4,700 hits from the United States, Europe, and Asia. By late April, after reporting had concluded, it had received more than 12,000 hits. To date, more than 28,500 visitors have read the blog.
The success of this project has set a new model for IU’s coverage of international activities. In August 2011, we launched the IU Goes to India blog to cover IU President Michael McRobbie’s trip to South Asia.
From start to completion, IU Communications spent approximately one year working on this project. The total budget for the project was $3,614.50, primarily for development of the accompanying website.
"I thought [George's] blog was absolutely terrific. It combined fresh stories that were accessible and good photos that gave people a sense of the country. Viewers could also see that we had a diverse group and did a lot of different things to address a wide variety of interests. Without the blog, the trip would have not been as closely followed as it was. I think something like this should be mandatory for every large international trip by IU groups."
Professor Scott Kennedy, Director, Research Center on Chinese Politics and Business
"I wanted to say thank you for so thoroughly documenting our China trip on your blog. I hope that you received some great feedback on your posts."
Benjamin A. Shobert, Managing Director, Rubicon Strategy Group, LLC and contributor to Asia Times