This summer I'm leading a number of workshops in Minnesota and Wisconsin on "How to be a Glocal Journalist." I'm going to use the workshops as a way to develop new writers for The McGill Report, which I have written solo for the past three years.
A bunch of people have asked me "Where do you get your story ideas" and here's what I will teach in the workshops:
There is a primary strategy and a primary tactic for landing great glocal stories.
The main strategy is to start thinking glocally. It is a certain way of looking at things that can be nurtured and, once you have it, it's second nature and on its own generates lots of ideas. You basically address both your job and your life with this question always running in your mind: "What is the global angle to what I am experiencing right now?" In this world, it hardly matters where you are when you ask this question, there is nearly always a global perspective. It's simply in the nature of the world we live in today -- economically, socially, and culturally global.
I have got good stories by asking the question while buying a pair of shoes (http://www.mcgillreport.org/swiss.htm), eating at a local restuarant (http://www.mcgillreport.org/bosnia.htm), and kayaking the St. Croix River (http://www.mcgillreport.org/exotics.htm). These stories have natural readerships in Switzerland, Bosnia, and Iran, respectively.
The primary tactic for getting good glocal story ideas is cultivating the right sources. Glocal reporting is really beat reporting, and like any beat you know where you are likely to get good stories -- especially the people who will give you good stories. So you cultivate them like crazy.
My Top Ten best sources for glocal stories are:
1. Immigrants. Immigrants keep a very close watch on the politics of their home countries. Especially with cell-phones, e-mail, and the Internet, they are often more knowledgeable about home-country politics than the people at home who may not enjoy freedom of the press. As a result, immigrants can give you insights into home-country politics that can be scoops that you write, or can offer great tips and leads for AP reporters in-country to follow up. In addition, many immigrant diasporas now have formed political interest groups for the express purpose of influencing politics in the home countries. This follows the Cuban model in Florida. Very often, because the U.S. is a free country, dictators and autocrats in foreign countries hate the immigrant diasporas of their country with a special passion, because they are their most potent source of dissent. This is growing more true every day as a result of the Internet, of course. Again, these immigrant diasporas can therefore provide us here in Minnesota with very powerful scoops and stories that will have a very big readership in foreign countries. In Minnesota this certainly applies to the immigrant diasporas of Iran, Iraq, Russia, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Mexico, China, South Korea, and many other countries. Many of these communities have or are starting their own newspapers and web sites, which are good places to make contact.2. Academics. The university system in the U.S. has for decades subsidized professors to take extensive leaves to live and work in foreign countries. As a result, virtually every university, including more than a dozen here in Minnesota, are heavily stocked with genuine experts in foreign countries -- not at an abstract but a very real level. These professors speak the foreign langauges and stay in close touch with the countries they study, return there often, and engage in continuing dialogues with students from those countries. As a result, the profs also are a great source of news from these countries -- especially news of trends, grassroots movements and moods. Presently these profs are used mainly as "quotamtics" when news breaks overseas. But they are also a good and underutilized source of the kinds of scoops, analyses, and other enterprise pieces we are talking about.3. Foreign Students. Everything that's said about professors (above) can be said equally of students. You can find these students through the global studies programs and departments on every campus, in the ethnic restaurants, and in many specialized foreign language clubs and associations. The students tend to be politically savvy because A) their visa status depends on the state of political relations; B) they are trying to decide whether to return to live in their homeland or not; and C) they inherently know geopolitics matters in a way that U.S. students don't. Foreign students also have their own associations for sports, academics, singing and dancing, and so on. The Minnesota International Student Association at the University of Minnesota is the largest foreign student group in Minnesota and probably in the U.S. with 3,000 members.4. Expatriates. About 2% of the U.S. population at any given time lives overseas -- between 3 and 6 million people. An even larger percentage lives in the U.S. after having lived abroad for three or more years. These folks are a motherlode of glocal tips, ideas, and story leads. In Minnesota there are informal expat groups for employees of 3M, Medtronic, Cargill, and many other companies. Several dozen Minnesotans live in Saudi Arabia where they work for Saudi Aramco, having been recruited out of Saudi Aramco's midwest office in Iowa. The Fulbright Scholarship and Peace Corps programs both have very active alumni organizations in the state. The list goes on. Many great ideas here.5. Corporations. This is the toughest nut to crack -- I haven't yet done it well by a long shot -- but potentially is one of the best sources for glocal stories. Many major Minnesota corporations have large overseas staffs, and also regularly host foreign visitors from those offices here in Minnesota. Many corporations in the high tech, healthcare, and other knowledge-based industries also very actively recruit in foreign countries, and of course many manufacturers and information service providers outsource to foreign countries. It's a tough nut for the obvious reasons -- the corporate bias to secrecy, concern for PR image, and so on. Yet persistent nurturing of corporate sources could turn this around. Also the foreign-born employees of the largest firms often form groups such as langauge schools for their kids, sports teams, and so on that are easily approachable.5. Foreign Trade Offices. Many local consulates, offices, and individuals are active promoters of trade between Minnesota and foreign countries. I'm sure the AP covered the opening of the Mexican consulate in St. Paul next June. The Minnesota Trade Office maintains extensive contacts with foreign trade offices, and many departments of Minnesota government maintain programs with overseas partners and markets, such as the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's continuing interest in opening Chinese agricultural markets and developing China trade.6. International Trade, Contract, and Immigration Lawyers. Most of the major law firms in Minnesota have specialists in international contracts and trade, and many smaller and solo practitioners specialize in immigration law. These folks are always deeply knowledgeable in their fields of expertise and often, if they travel frequently or were born in their countries of expertise, are broadly knowledgeable. Many immigration lawyers know very interesting immigrants who for political reasons cannot return to their home countries. One of my glocal stories was about the only immmigrant in Minnesota of the discriminated Uyghur minority of western China. A local law firm was working on her visa application which took a couple of years to pass; once it did and she was free of fear of deportation, I was able to write about her.7. Local International Relief Agencies -- The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Relief Agency and Catholic Charities are the two largest local agencies for resettling immigrants into Minnesota. The American Refugee Committee is a Minneapolis-based international humanitarian group with offices in Loring Park. I'm sure you are familiar with the Minnesota Center for Victims of Torture. Also there are many local agencies that are staffed mainly with recently-relocated immigrants who help newer immigrants get over legal, housing, and visa issues, such as the Intercultural Mututal Assistance Association in Rochester, where I get a lot of good stories ideas. Books for Africa is a fabulous program run out of a storefront in downtown St. Paul. Schools that teach ESL to immigrants are also terrific places to meet sources.8. Local International Programs -- There are a ton of these in the Twin Cities which has lots of people, and groups, devoted primarily to fostering better international relations, trade, global citizenship, global education, and global thinking. A few of these groups include the Minnesota International Center, Citizens for a Global Solution, Great Decisionmakers (Council on Foreign Affairs), World Citizen, Global Citizens Network, Ground Zero Minnesota, and plenty of others. There's a full list at www.tcglobal.org/directory.9. Translation Agencies and Cross-Cultural Consulting Agencies -- Plenty of the former, and some of the latter (e.g. FGI World in Butler Square) in the Twin Cities. A full list is at http://www.exportassistance.com/translation_services.html.10. International Music, Dance, Food, Arts and Religious Groups -- Scads of these too including not only arts groups but mosques, temples, and churches. The directory at www.tcglobal.org/directory is by no means a complete list. Going to any of their programs or services, and talking to the people next to you, will put you in direct contact with the great sources from any of the categories above.