FEBRUARY 18, 2005
The Local, the Global, and the Journalist In Between: Doug McGill
By Jay Rosen
Chairman, Department of Journalism, New York University
"We have freedom of speech and freedom of the press in this country," he
says. "Much more easily, cheaply, and safely than ever before, we
have the ability to export and share these precious freedoms via web-based
journalism." It works. McGill uncovered a genocide this way.
Doug McGill--the former New York Times reporter, now a blogger and journalism
thinker--wrote "The Fading Mystique of an Objective Press" for
PressThink back in October. Now he has a new weblog, Local Man: Global
Journalism, named for an idea he has been developing.
Over the years and before September 11th, I went to any number of foundation-funded
meetings about how to get more Americans interested in international
affairs-- and news from abroad. After each one I thought: why do we always
wind up at the same, miserably obvious places, like "find the local
angle on international news," and "Americans don't realize
the stake they have in global problems." Ugh.
McGill has a better idea than anything we conferencers ever came up with: "glocal
journalism," which he also calls "worldplace journalism." He
got the term glocal from Tom Friedman's best-seller, The Lexus and the
Olive Tree. He got worldplace from a college student's site, World Beyond
Borders. The names aside, he means weaving a global narrative from local
"The idea of glocal or worldplace news is that every place on earth is
connected by strands of mutual influence, interdependence, and
direct causality," McGill writes in a manifesto style essay. "Because
the geographical distances are so great, say between Rochester,
MN and Brooklyn, NY and Warsaw, Poland, it's often easy not to see those connections.
But those connections are there."
That every place on earth is connected, invisibly but not unknowably,
is a vaguely spiritual idea. (McGill: "For me it's by far the most
important part.") The job of the glocal reporter is to investigate
and write about the "invisible strands of mutual influence" connecting
town to globe, or one place to another place halfway across the world.
Those connections are what the reporter "tries to make visible,
to bring into public light and public life."
Now all this would be just another abstraction were it not for the fact
that it works. By doing glocal-style reporting in Southeast Minnesota,
Doug McGill discovered a wave genocidal killings in Ethiopia; and he
was then able to alert the world. This kind of reporting is one of the
highest achievements in journalism, and it can be credited to his blog,
The McGill Report, where the initial account appeared: "U.S. Anuak
Refugees Fear 400 Dead in Ethiopian Massacre." (Dec. 22, 2003.)
The Post Bulletin, the local newspaper, also ran many of his articles
on the killings.
At 1 p.m. on the afternoon of Dec. 13, more than 200 uniformed soldiers
of the Ethiopian army marched into the town of Gambella in remote western
Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan.
The soldiers spread out through the town and knocked on the doors of
the houses and huts made from corrugated steel and straw matting. Some
of the soldiers had pieces of paper with addresses and names. If no one
answered their knocks, the soldiers broke down the doors and grabbed
all the men and boys inside the house, looking under beds for anyone
Once the frightened prisoners were in the street, the soldiers beat them
with their guns and then told them to run. When they did, the prisoners
were shot in their backs. Meanwhile, civilians in town from a different
ethnic group than the victims appeared wielding spears and machetes.
I am going crazy right now," said Romeago, a Minneapolis resident
whose sister's home was burned down. "My sister and her kids ran
for their lives into the bush. We have no idea if they are safe. We are
The world's largest diaspora population of Anuak, whose tribe is being
viciously ethnically cleansed, live in southern Minnesota," he told
me in recounting the story. "I started just by interviewing them.
They told me their family members were being gunned down every day by
uniformed Ethiopian troops. I went to Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya to check
out their claims. They checked out. And that's what I wrote."
The articles he wrote about the ethnic cleansing in Ethiopia put pressure
on the Ethiopian government, on agencies like Amnesty International and
Human Rights Watch, and also on the U.S. government. They all began to
recognize what happened to the Anuak (who are largely Christian.) The
US Embassy is now demanding that the government of Ethiopia punish those
responsible for ethnic cleansing of the Anuak. McGill expects a genocide
case will be filed soon against the Ethiopian government at the International
It started, according to The McGill Report, when "hundreds
of Anuak refugees living in Minnesota reported receiving frantic
from their relatives living in Gambella state in Ethiopia." A
local story. McGill heard about it. He interviewed the relatives
who had witnessed the killings. They became his eyes and ears
on the ground in Ethiopia. He became their link to the Internet,
and to the
possibility of world attention. This is how he explained it to
Over the phone connections, Anuak in Minnesota were able to know what
what happening virtually minute-by-minute during the massacre of December
13, the single day when more than 425 Anuak were killed by uniformed
Ethiopian soldiers. Indeed, many of those Anuak men who were killed that
day were actually on the telephone with their friends and relatives in
Minnesota when they were attacked by the soldiers, dragged into the street,
and shot. Then I, in turn, was able to get nearly firsthand accounts
from the Anuak in Minnesota who had had those conversations. In one case,
only days after the massacre, I got on the telephone myself and interviewed
Even in a remote African village, electronics were sufficiently present
to link that village to the Internet-- first via the cell phones, and
via my Internet connection to the global Anuak diaspora community, the
Washinton community, and the world. Many Anuak say that for many years
similar killings--and even worse--have happened to their tribe. But no
one outside of their village prior to this massacre had ever heard about
them and so no outrage and international pressure was ever succesfully
brought against the killers. And my point is, the cell phone-to-internet
connection made it possible, linking a genocide in remote Africa to a
reporter in southern Minnesota.
And that's glocal journalism. Sitting with knowledgeable immigrants
in Minnesota (who are connected by cell phone to Africa), McGill
able to report on this kind of massacre than a correspondent
in Addis Ababa, the capital. The Anuak are unlikely to have any
voice there. But
the Web works around that situation. "The first day I wrote
a major story about the Anuak situation, I got 75 e-mails from
Anuak who are
living all around the world."
So it's partly about the civil liberties taken for granted in
a place like Rochester. McGill speaks of putting them in motion. "We have
freedom of speech and freedom of the press in this country," he
said. "Much more easily, cheaply, and safely than ever before,
we have the ability to export and share these precious freedoms
In this case, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his entire government
have felt the pressure of the free press more acutely than ever.
happen to be the free press in Ethiopia--where there is none--but
that didn't matter in the end. Freedom is freedom. It gets around
and it does
its work, especially if journalists give it a chance.
McGill's new blog, Local Man, is mainly for journalists interested
in practicing glocal journalism, or who want to incorporate a
into more of their reporting. "I will interview people on that single
topic, as you do with folks on more general blogging and journalism topics," he
told me. "And I will try to collect the best glocal pieces
from American journalism that are published every day and week
-- grab them,
link them, cite them, critique them."
He's also starting a second blog with a different idea-- picking
up where the local newspaper leaves off. The Daily V, named for
a geese formation
seen in the skies over Rochester, "will be a site open to any citizen
of southeast Minnesota who wants to publish an article or item of interest
that the local newspaper, the Rochester Post-Bulletin, is not covering
sufficiently." Instead of a watch blog criticizing the local
newspaper's coverage, it addresses the omissions:
I have been to plenty of public affairs programs in Rochester
where, during the Q&A, people get up and say "Why doesn't the Post
Bulletin write anything about this?" It is very commonly asked by
parents who want to know more about what goes on in Rochester's K-12
schools, for example. In recent months, at these public affairs programs,
I have heard people say "I am so frustrated with the Post Bulletin,
I am going to start a web site myself." But I haven't actually
seen anybody start one yet, certainly no journalist has made
the effort. So
now I will.
That one, which hasn't debuted, he plans mostly to edit. Both
projects have well-defined audiences and a clear value proposition,
sees as crucial to succeeding with a citizen journalism blog. "If
you want to get people to read your blog, you have to offer them real
value, which means reporting," he says. "Tell them
useful stuff they didn't know before."
I find interesting McGill's evolution away from Newsroom Joe
attitudes, which he absorbed in the course of his career.
" At some point as a Times reporter, I got tired of always carrying on
like I knew everything, of cultivating that phony 'know it all'
tone of writing. The Times being the Times, reporters and editors there have
a really serious case of this. Even the copykids at the Times
think they are helping solve the world's problems every day. I certainly did.
it's an incredibly worthy and self-sacrificing goal. But it can
also become surreal.
"The know-it-all voice has been exposed for what it is, a facade. The
corporate powers will now try to regroup and co-opt. But individual
journalists have the chance to step out courageously and try something new."
Individual journalists have the chance... Peggy Noonan made the
same point yesterday in her Wall Street Journal love letter to
was also a shrewd piece of writing. "Some brilliant rising young
reporter with a growing reputation at the Times or Newsweek or Post is
going to quit, go into the blogging business, start The Daily Joe, get
someone to give him a guaranteed ad for two years, and become a journalistic
force," she speculated. "His motive will be influence." His
method will be excellence.
Yes, but influence and excellence for what? Glocal journalism
isn't really a technique. It's the beginning of an answer to
that question. McGill
sums it up.
Glocalized journalism is a way of writing the news that describes
and explains a community in the widest possible useful context,
very often--I am tempted to say most often--a global context.
Glocal journalism exposes the local effects of global causes,
the local reactions to global actions, the local opportunities
of global trends,
the local threats of global dangers, and the local love of global
Glocalized journalism is not a policy. It’s a point of
And if you have share it, I'm sure Doug McGill would love to
hear from you, so as to make a few more connections.