A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SDX awards: Newspaper non-deadline reporting, Craig Troianello

By Quill

Two rival newspapers in rural central Washington teamed up to create “The China Challenge.”

The Yakima Herald-Republic circulates 40,000 daily. The Wenatchee World operates 100 miles away and is owned and operated separately. Together, though, the two papers reach the United States’ largest apple-producing region, which produces more than half of all U.S. apples.

“Recently, however, central Washington lost several smaller markets to China,” said Spencer Hatton, coordinating editor for special projects for the Herald-Tribune. “While not hugely significant, the losses worried farmers who fear the implications of China’s high production and low labor.”

In recent years, China’s apple production increased 1,000 percent and is aggressively expanding its markets.

“The state’s asparagus industry has been decimated by cheap South American exports,” said writer Craig Troianello, coordinating editor for central Washington news for the Herald-Republic. “Given China’s massive growth in apple production and processing, many worry the same could happen to apples. … Despite the economic importance of apples to Washington, as well as several other states, no newspaper had undertaken a comprehensive look at China’s apple industry.”

Herald-Republic sent Troianello, and Wenatchee World sent photographer Don Seabrook to China to investigate the apple situation and to document its potential effects on Washington orchards.

“The goal was to provide a sense of perspective of how globalization has challenged apple growers on both sides of the Pacific and what those challenges and opportunities mean for both,” said Troianello.

In 2004, China’s crop accounted for one in every two apples, but Washington apples still sold well overseas.

Washington ships more than 1.8 million boxes of apples to Hong Kong and China each year. Although the price is higher, Chinese have shown a willingness to pay extra for premium Washington state apples – a trend that’s likely to continue as China becomes more prosperous. …

What’s clear is that apples are part of the complex machinery of an evolving global economy.

In China, Troianello and Seabrook spent nearly three weeks talking with farmers, villagers and rural bureaucrats. They also examined policies for expanding the country’s market share.

“In the end, they produced a four-day package designed neither to inflame panic nor to instill complacency, but rather to inform,” said Hatton. “The comprehensive report is the first of its kind by American newspapers to focus on China’s growing apple industry.”