The role of a journalist in a time of pandemic and disinformation is to tell the hard truths

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Global Business Journalism’s “virtual” commencement, 2020

REMARKS BY RICK DUNHAM

GLOBAL BUSINESS JOURNALISM COMMENCEMENT

JUNE 21, 2020

大家好。Добрый день. خوش. Assalaam-o-Alaikum.

Congratulations to the graduating Class of 2020 for enduring the most unusual path to graduation since the global disruptions of the Second World War, or, for Chinese students, since the Cultural Revolution.

I have always been proud of your intelligence and hard work. But, over these past six months, I also have been awed by your grit, your determination and your adaptability.

The coronavirus pandemic has challenged our global institutions: healthcare, economic, governmental, and media. As journalists, we are not only witnesses to history but citizens living through dangerous times. At this perplexing and dangerous time for the world at large – and our media world in particular – it is important for you, the graduating class of 2020, to consider the role of a journalist in a confusing world.

During the pandemic, we’ve had to sort through misinformation, disinformation, stonewalling and cover-ups from people in power. Some governments have become increasingly resistant to transparency and, all too often, to truth itself. We’ve seen social media being used to sow chaos, confusion, hate and civil discord.  Reporters in Africa  and Asia have been imprisoned for pursuing the truth in defiance of official government lies. My fellow journalists in America have been deemed “enemies of the people” by an ahistorical president who says some of us should be executed for treason.

We are living in a world of parallel media worlds where indisputable truth is in dispute. “What happened?” during massive protests in Hong Kong? Your worldview varies depending on whether you watched Chinese state TV or the BBC. “What happened?” during massive protests in American cities after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd? Your worldview is completely different depending on whether you watched Fox News or almost any other news outlet in the world.

All this leads back to my question: What is the role of journalists in this world? Many people in power, from corporate executives to government officials, believe it is our job to write positive stories about them and to unquestioningly pass along whatever information they present to us.

But Jemele Hill, a prominent African American journalist and writer for the Atlantic, recently suggested a different role for the media. “Journalism is not a profession of being friends,” she said. “Journalism is a profession of agitation. That is what we’re charged to do: to hold everybody accountable, even the people who sign our checks.”

Global best practices are clear. We journalists don’t represent any particular political ideology, political party or nation – although each of us may have ideals, party membership and citizenships. We represent the people, the public, our readers, viewers and listeners. We represent the truth. We are the united nations of truth.

You are the best of global journalism. The Global Business Journalism program is uniquely positioned to improve journalism around the world and to continue improving global understanding of China’s economic role in the world.

At GBJ, we bridge cultural, economic and journalistic divides. We respect others, and their beliefs. We learn from others. We think globally and act locally. We speak truth always. We make the world of journalism and communication a better place.

Since its creation in 2007, the Global Business Journalism program has been the world leader in cross-cultural journalism education. Amid economic growth and economic tumult, China’s role in the global economy is deepening, and our Global Business Journalism graduates are uniquely situated to explain it  – factually –  to the world.

Every year, I like to conclude my commencement remarks with some words of wisdom from my favorite philosopher, my grandfather, Barrows Dunham. In 1961 he wrote an introduction to “The World of Lincoln Steffens,” a book of articles by America’s leading “muckraking” journalist of the 20th century.

Great journalism, as practiced by Steffens, provides “a hard ground lit by a cool, clear light: the seeing of things  as things  in fact are,” my grandfather wrote. “The seen reality may indeed be dangerous,” he continued, because so many people cling to “all the comforts of illusion.”

Journalists must shatter those comfortable illusions. “What we need,” Barrows Dunham wrote, “is integrity,  intellectual honesty, the clear seeing of the real world.”

For you, the next generation of journalism leaders and global leaders, I wish you clear vision. It is up to you to use your intellectual honesty to make the world a better place after all the missteps  of my generation.

谢谢, 大家。 Большое спасибо. Thank you.



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