Global Business Journalism Program: Leading the next generation of journalism around the world

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It has been a honor to serve as international co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University for the past three years. Here is a transcript of my remarks at the 2016 commencement on June 30:

This is a very special day for all of us. To you, the graduating class of 2016, it is the culmination of a multicultural, global experience that is certain to benefit you personally and professionally. For me, this day is very special, too.

This is the first group of Chinese students I taught at Tsinghua, and you have made this veteran journalist into a better professor and a better person. Jiao Jie, Cynthia, Jarchine. I could go on and on. I have such respect and affection for you. I am so proud of all of you.

This is the first group of international students I interviewed, taught and mentored from beginning to end. Jade: you may not remember it, but I recall asking you in your interview: Who was your favorite character from En Attendant Godot? (I bet you didn’t prepare for that question.)

From the beginning, I can remember being supremely impressed by the qualifications and enthusiasm of Lauren and Gaelle, who have been leaders and high achievers since the day they arrived.

And I can remember recruiting Jordyn as if she were a star athlete in the United States and I were an eager coach. I knew she would be an invaluable addition to our program. Even while she’s still in school, she’s published superb articles in Forbes and Beijing Review, respected global news outlets.

I am honored, on behalf of the faculty of the Global Business Journalism Program and the International Center for Journalists, to congratulate all of you on your successful completion of graduate studies at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication.

You are entering an uncertain world of journalism … of business and economics … of geopolitics and global conflict. I guess any commencement speaker could have said that at any time. But the pace of technological change, the immediacy brought by social media and 24/7 news, and the interconnectedness of the world, have made it easier for human beings to create positive things — or sow destruction anywhere, anytime.

The disruption created by the digital communications revolution has affected businesses from Dallas to Da Tong. In our world of journalism and communication, traditional forms of communication are collapsing – rapidly in America and Europe, more slowly in China. But make no mistake about it, the old world is gone and will never be revived, despite the antediluvian longings of ultranationalists and isolationists and technophobes.

The good news is that there are so many opportunities for people who embrace change and embrace the latest technologies. You are among the fortunate few. You have been trained in the latest technologies, but you also understand the enduring basics of journalism: accuracy, fairness, accountability, ethics and compelling storytelling. The Global Business Journalism program is a combination of a rigorous academic education taught by some of the finest professors in China, and a real-world journalism newsroom where students learn from distinguished journalists from around the world and create professional multimedia projects and data journalism reports.

With the skills you have learned, and the intelligence and drive you bring to your work, I have no doubt some of you are going to be journalism industry leaders and innovators, in China and around the world.

The Global Business Journalism Program is about to begin its tenth academic year this fall. In its first decade — with the support of Bloomberg News, ICFJ, the Knight Foundation and Merrill Lynch/Bank of America — it has brought together students from about 60 countries to experience a diversity of cultures and ideas.

The GBJ program has been indispensable in creating a new generation of business journalists who are reshaping and improving journalism in China. Not only does Chinese journalism benefit from our superbly trained alumni, but international journalism benefits because the next generation of reporters from Cameroon to California have a more accurate and sophisticated view of the Chinese economy and its role in global growth – and an understanding of the highest standards in global reporting.

What’s more, GBJ has created de facto goodwill ambassadors for China in dozens of countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. It could not come at a more important time.

The journalism industry is facing an era of limits. In the United States and Europe, those limits are mostly economic: the profit imperative at a time of declining revenues, the mistaken choice of click bait journalism over quality. In China, those limits are mostly political.

But neither the journalism establishments of China nor the rest of the world can afford to be reactive. Traditional news outlets, whether in Beijing or Great Britain, are at risk of losing the next generation of information consumers to social media or alternative sources of information. We must – and we will –adapt, to create innovative new ways to share news.

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Barrows Dunham, 1947

I would like to close by quoting from my favorite philosopher, who happens to be my grandfather, Barrows Dunham. Seventy years ago, as the world emerged from the destruction wrought by fascists, he wrote in his book Man Against Myth that the peoples of our planet faced “ambiguous gloom, which may perhaps be twilight and may perhaps be dawn.”

Sounds like today. Looking at the pace of change, he wrote in 1947:

“In our day, indeed, events have attained so formidable a tempo that a single lifetime … will seem to contain more than there once appeared to be in history itself.”

Sounds like today.

Every generation sees an unprecedented pace of social change. That is the reality of human accomplishment, and human nature. There are always those who see the dawn and those who see the sunset. In the dawn of our new era, many in our chosen line of work will resist the changes that are needed.

This challenge reminds me of the Season 6 finale of Game of Thrones – specifically, the reaction of the receptionist at the Citadel, who, in response to a message delivered by Samwell Tarly, told our hero: “This is highly irregular.”

“Well,” Samwell responded, “I suppose that life is irregular.”

Indeed, life is irregular. But we can’t respond to occasional irregularities by retreating or taking the safe path. We must pursue the ambitious vision we learned in GBJ.

As all of you know, I am an optimist. I choose to see the dawn. I don’t fear the future, and you should not, either. You are uniquely prepared to be the change – to lead the change – as we approach the third decade of the 21st century.

To quote Dr. Dunham one last time: “Even now, we ourselves are determining the future, not by knowing what it will be, but by conceiving what it can be.”

Congratulations to the GBJ graduating class. Good luck to all of you. Thank you.


Global Business Journalism students are improving the quality of journalism in China and around the world

A talented group of global journalists, including the first graduates from Nepal, Jamaica and Ukraine.

A talented group of global journalists, including the first graduates from Nepal, Jamaica and Ukraine.

I am so excited about the opportunities I have had in China to work with journalism students — both international and Chinese — and professional journalists to improve the caliber of reporting and writing in China, and to prepare us all for the Brave New World of journalism in the Digital Age. Here is a transcript of my speech at the July 10 commencement of the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication Global Business Journalism Program.

Speaking to the 2015 graduating class of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University.

Speaking to the 2015 graduating class of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University.

I am honored, on behalf of the faculty of the Global Business Journalism Program, to congratulate you on your successful completion of graduate studies at the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication graduation.

It indeed has been an adventure – a voyage of discovery – for all of us. You represent the best of China and the best of the world.

Over the past eight years, students from more than 50 countries have studied together, worked together, gotten to know each other here in the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University. Ours is a vibrant tapestry of cultures and ideas. You have been exposed to new perspectives, whether they are from the minds of brilliant Chinese professors or veteran international journalists who have plied their trade at the highest levels in the United States and around the world. All of us have gained a better understanding of the rapidly changing world we are inheriting, the rise of China and the rapid transformation of its economy, the complicated dynamics of our interdependent global business world, the rapid transformation of our own world of journalism and the imperative to learn new multimedia and data skills to compete in the emerging journalism marketplace. You have been tested with rigor. You have passed the test. I am so proud of you.

Eight years ago, the Global Business Journalism Master’s Degree Program was just a dream, an idea conceived by some exceptionally creative souls at Tsinghua University in Beijing and at the International Center for Journalists in Washington. In just a few years, it has gained tremendous respect throughout China and around the world, attracting renowned international scholars and Pulitzer Prize winning journalists to work with our students and share their wisdom and their skills.

From the beginning, the GBJ program has been nurtured by the invaluable and incalculable support of Bloomberg News, with its unprecedented gift of ten of its priceless terminals, a series of guest lecturers and events, and a wonderful faculty member named Lee Miller.

One of Tsinghua's finest, Zhang Sihan, is heading to Columbia University to pursue a dual master's program in journalism and public policy.

One of Tsinghua’s finest, Zhang Sihan, is heading to Columbia University to pursue a dual master’s program in journalism and public policy.

And special thanks to my partner in the program, Dr. Hang Min, for her support, her wisdom and her guidance in making the GBJ program an invaluable resource for global journalism. Under her leadership, we have offered some of the most advanced classes in communication theory, as well as practical, advanced skills that will help our graduates succeed in their chosen field of endeavor, whether that be global business journalism, business, journalism, or something else somewhere on this globe.

By setting exacting standards and requiring rigorous coursework, the GBJ Program has helped to improve business journalism in China by training a new generation of highly qualified journalists specializing in economics and business. Our Chinese graduates now work at some of the most important media outlets in China, such as China Daily, Xinhua News Service, CCTV, and Radio Beijing, as well as at important international media outlets such as Bloomberg News.

That is a testament to the quality of our alumni. It also is a testament to the iron will of friends in the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication who have exhibited an unwavering commitment to our success and our continuing growth. Dr. Shi Anbin has been a champion of our cause and a special mentor to me as a newly minted college professor. Thanks, Dean Shi, for everything you have done to make GBJ what it is today, and thanks to Dr. Jin Jianbin and other school officials for their support.

Of course, as all of us know in business journalism, you can’t have an entrepreneurial venture without some venture capital. I would like to thank our founding sponsor, Bank of America, for its steadfast commitment to the program since 2007.

I would like to close by quoting from my favorite philosopher, who happens to be my grandfather, Barrows Dunham. Despite a turbulent professional career that included an unwelcome appearance before the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee and a spot on the American blacklist during the Red Scare Era of the 1950s, my grandfather, a distinguished philosophy professor and internationally acclaimed author, never lost his sense of patriotism or optimism.

“Even now,” he once wrote, “we ourselves are determining the future, not by knowing what it will be, but by conceiving what it can be.”

None of us know what the future will hold. But with the knowledge we have gained at Tsinghua, the support of our families – and, yes, the Global Business Journalism family – we can conceive that better future.

Congratulations to the Tsinghua Global Business Journalism graduating class. Good luck to all of you. Thank you.