Q&A: Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz on covering China, his new blog, and … Minnesota.

Mid-summer 2010 and I was scheduled to have lunch with Jeff Wasserstrom, academic, author, blogger, and all-around good guy. A few days before we met, Jeff emailed to say that he’d like to bring along Rob Schmitz the (then) new Shanghai correspondent for American Public Media’s Marketplace program (heard on US public radio affiliates). Fine by me, and we met up for (if I recall correctly) Turkish food. In retrospect, though, I wonder if Jeff didn’t have second thoughts: for it didn’t take more than ten minutes before Rob and I figured out that we’re both Minnesotans, and thus Jeff (a Californian with no Minnesota ties) had to sit through two Minnesotans in China, comparing notes for – I must admit – a little while.

Of course, that’s not all we discussed that day.

Rob’s background, and circuitous journey to being a business correspondent in Shanghai started in the Peace Corps in Sichuan with an illustrious class that included two colleagues who would also become important China correspondents (revealed below). Me, I think Rob’s Peace Corps background provides him with a different, richer perspective on China than what’s typically offered by correspondents with no prior relationship to China. In any case, I’ve been meaning to do a Q&A with Rob on this very subject for a long time, and – with the launch of his new Marketplace blog – Chinopoly – and the opening of his twitter account – @marketplacerob –  it seemed like the right time. So, without further ado, an emailed Q&A with Rob Schmitz on China, reporting … and the Minnesota Vikings.

Scrap: How does one go from Peace Corps volunteer to China Bureau Chief for Marketplace?

Schmitz: I’ve met journalists who always knew that this is what they wanted to do with their lives. They wrote for their college paper, they worked the police beat at a tiny newspaper and worked their way up to foreign correspondent. I lacked that sense of direction. I took a long, circuitous route to the profession, and the Peace Corps was a big part of that journey. I’ve always had a single-minded determination to see the world, learn languages, and learn about other cultures. Much of that comes from growing up in rural Minnesota, where I was endlessly fascinated by the natural world. It was pretty much all I had in a town of a couple thousand people. As I grew up, that curiosity evolved into a desire to learn about other cultures, and that, in turn, spurred my interest in journalism. Continue reading