Travel, technology expand PN's global reach

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Plastics News has been an active chronicler of the ups and downs of this industry’s globalization since we started publishing 25 years ago.

Sometimes we’re more than a chronicler, with our coverage giving us an unexpected seat to world events, like when I was in Thailand on a work trip during its September 2006 military coup.

It was right after the Thai International Plastics and Rubber show, and I was in my hotel packing up to leave the next day when the TV suddenly went black.

BBC and most of the TV channels were cut off. Singapore’s Channel News Asia was able to keep broadcasting coup updates, but most TV stations were replaced by speeches from the military.

The next day before my flight, I wandered the streets of Bangkok, debated postponing my trip home to look around more, and found things very calm. It didn’t fit my image of a coup, I didn’t see masses of soldiers or tanks, but it’s a day I’ll always remember.

(I count myself lucky. Thailand’s latest coup, on May 22, hasn’t been calm. It followed months of protest and political violence that have killed at least 28 and pushed the economy to the brink of recession.)

Globalization, of course, has meant much more to us than new experiences and staff travel.

In 2005, we launched a Chinese-language version of PN, and in 2007 our parent company bought two U.K.-based magazines, Plastics & Rubber Weekly and European Plastics News. That took us very quickly from a North American newspaper to a much more global one.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s also brought us new competition, and put us face to face with one of the media industry’s challenges of globalization — rampant intellectual property theft.

There’s a proliferation of news websites around the world who take our stories and put them on their websites without our permission.

In some cases, I laugh when I see they haven’t bothered to edit out references to Plastics News in “their” articles, such as when we write that such and such a person “told Plastics News” and they leave it in but don’t acknowledge the original story came from us.

Of course such IP theft costs Plastics News money because it makes it harder to protect our stories and sell ads around them, so it’s not funny to us.

It’s not just China. There are news thieves from India and elsewhere.

Caroline Seidel Asia Bureau Chief Steve Toloken.

We defend ourselves when it’s practical, but in the end, we have to focus on innovating and being better than competitors whose main journalism skill is “cut and paste.” Welcome to the interconnected world!

We’re all joined today in ways that would have been hard to see when Plastics News rolled its first weekly paper off the presses in 1989.

I spent time in December, for example, interviewing factory workers in Dongguan, China, who were refusing to leave the American-owned mold making factory where they had worked because they were worried about back wages they were due in that company’s sudden bankruptcy.

Hard to imagine that scene in 1989.

There have also been cultural adjustments. We’ve made our share of mistakes and faulty assumptions.

U.S. companies are very creative and have global advantages. But our company probably made our global moves thinking that the PN name and American pedigree meant more than it did in the big world.

Living in mainland China for the last seven years is a daily reminder that the big world is coming closer together.

In the time I’ve lived here, China’s become the largest production center in the world for plastics machinery, surpassing Germany. It’s become the largest of many things as far as plastics are concerned. In spite of the copying, there are creative companies here driving that, just like there are throughout Asia.

And this place won’t stand still. I took a bullet train in April between the Chinese cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou, about 650 miles, or the distance between Chicago and Washington, D.C. At top speeds of more than 200 miles per hour, it was a four-hour trip.

I would be psyched if I could do that in the United States, avoiding airport hassles and relaxing on a train (who’s up for lower-carbon-footprint travel?) while I whiz between family in both places. Instead, it’s a 17-hour trip on the U.S. rail network.

The China bullet train ride and the thick air pollution here are pointed reminders that globalization may just be getting started, assuming we can manage it properly.

In 25 more years, will Plastics News be traveling between shows on bullet trains from Bangalore to Singapore?

They can take up that topic in the 50th anniversary issue.

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