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.
One of the realities of living in China is that I must communicate differently with friends and family.
No more drinks at the National Press Club. Cell phone calls and individual emails are an inefficient way to communicate with a large number of people.
So how have my communications methods evolved? Here are my five most frequently used sources — dominated by social media.
It is my lifeline. It is how I share my life experiences and travelogue through words and images. It reaches a large audience instantaneously. And it is my primary method of chatting with friends in America and Europe. The only problem is that Facebook is blocked by the Chinese government, so it is necessary to climb the Great Firewall of China to use it. That occasionally means some unplanned days of Facebook blackout.
I had never heard of WeChat when I arrived in China. I knew that Weibo was the Chinese combination of Facebook and Twitter. But I quickly learned (taught by my students) that WeChat is far superior. Almost nobody uses email in China. WeChat is the preferred means of communicating. Its “moments” feature allows you to post updates and photos like Facebook. And group chats allow me to communicate instantaneously with everyone in my class — or with a group of friends heading to dinner. It’s great. And there’s nothing in the U.S. quite like it. Yet.
I hadn’t realized just how much drivel gets posted on Twitter until I left the United States. So many American political reporters post so many unimportant updates. So many politicians have nothing to say. So many words (140 characters at a time). So little value. When I came to China, I spent a month “unfollowing” people who offered little insight and added some of the best tweeters in China. Now, once again, Twitter has value to me. But it is no longer my number one social media source, like it was when I was a reporter in search of breaking news, 24/7.
In the past week, I have Skyped with people in Africa, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Texas and France. It is the most cost-effective way for me to do my job as an academic. The quality is usually decent, though, as with everything in China, technology is hit or miss. But Skype allows me to see Pam regularly and to communicate with friends from America to Europe to Asia. I also spend less on long-distance calls today than I did as a college student at the University of Pennsylvania. Thank you, Skype.
My students don’t use email. My colleagues rarely use email. Email is a very “Y2K” thing. But I still use it. It’s the best way to send documents or memos. And it’s the best way to have lengthy exchanges. It’s the only “old-fashioned” way I communicate.
Funny thing: None of these five methods of communication had been invented when I started my career as a journalist. My, oh my, how technology has changed our world.