Journalism coverage of issues related to climate change can educate the public and shed light on one of the most important global policy issues of the 21st century, a group of international journalists and educators said during a workshop hosted by the Global Business Journalism Program.
The workshop, called “Taking the Heat – Using Journalism for Educational Engagement on China,” was organized by the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication in partnership with Washington University in St. Louis, the Pulitzer Center and the Global Business Journalism Program.
The event took place Oct. 14 as part of the 7th International McDonnell Symposium. The symposium, which examined “Global Challenges for Today’s Research Universities,” was held for the first time in China. It was the first workshop held at the new Tsinghua Future Media Lab, which will be used by GBJ for New Media classes.
A recently released United Nations report cautioned that world leaders had just 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change. Rather than debating the problem, the time has come to discuss solutions, Doug Harbrecht, a visiting professor at Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication, told the audience of global scholars.
Professor Harbrecht described a trend toward “solutions journalism,” where media outlets around the world not only educate the public about the problems related to climate change but offer constructive solutions.
“They want to know how we can fix it,” he said. “They focus on what works, and why. It’s excellent journalism.”
Professor Rick Dunham, co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua, highlighted international best practices in climate coverage. He cited extensive reporting in the South China Morning Post, The New York Times and the British Broadcasting Corporation. All of these news organizations used multimedia storytelling to explain the depth of the climate change crisis and focused public attention on innovative attempts to reverse its damaging effects.
Professor Dunham also looked at diverse coverage of the issue on the Chinese mainland. These included an in-depth series of reports in People’s Daily focusing on the government response and a series of documentary videos produced by Shanghai-based The Paper illustrating the effects of climate change in different countries including Mongolia, Madagascar and Morocco and explaining how each nation is adapting to the changing environment. He also highlighted how China’s meteorological administration has produced a series of multimedia reports on climate change in 11 areas of China and has discussed possible solutions.
Speakers at the workshop focused on the need for creative storytelling to make stories of climate change compelling to news consumers. Sean Gallagher, a Beijing-based photographer and filmmaker affiliated with the Pulitzer Center and National Geographic, said that focusing on individuals helps to tell broader stories about climate change.
“Most people do not connect to a story unless you show the people affected by the issue,” he said. “The best way to do it is put a face to that issue.”
Anthony Kuhn, a reporter for U.S. National Public Radio, reported extensively on deforestation in the Asia Pacific region. Deforestation is the second-leading cause of global warming after the burning of fossil fuels, he noted. In his presentation, Kuhn recommended that journalists and educators “go to the scene and explain” what is going on and its impact on society. He explained how he had reported from Indonesia, explaining that the deforested trees eventually were used in everyday consumer products from cookies to lipstick.
“One of my jobs is to connect this to people’s lives,” he said.
Professor Hang Min, TSJC Associate Dean for International Affairs, welcomed the participants and underscored Tsinghua’s role as a global leader in education and journalism innovation.
I teach my multimedia students in the Global Business Journalism Program the importance of using graphics to tell stories. Timelines are one of the most effective narrative storytelling tools. This is one of the best timelines I’ve ever seen. It’s a history of Earth’s average temperature since the last Ice Age glaciation. Scroll to the end for a surprise. (Well, it’ll be a surprise to some of you.)
Thanks to xkcd for creating this ingenious timeline. It is reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.
Here is the text of my address to the 2017 graduating class of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University on June 28, 2017.
大家好。Добрый день. Benvenuti. Welcome.
I am honored, on behalf of the International Center for Journalists and the international faculty of the Global Business Journalism Program, to congratulate all of you on your successful completion of your graduate studies.
You are a special group – the best young business journalism minds in China, along with a unique mixture of nations: Iran, Israel, Italy, Vietnam, Thailand, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Slovakia, Turkey, Russia, Canada, and the United States. Some of you already have made a mark on the world of business journalism during your Tsinghua years. I have great confidence that many more of you will have an impact in the years to come, in journalism systems as disparate as Iran, the United States and China.
All of us in this room have our differences – cultural, geographical, even political – but one thing that unites us is the search for truth. As Jim Asher, a 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner for his role in the Panama Papers investigation, said recently: “A world without facts can’t function.”
We live in an unsettling era when the concept of “truth” can be a matter of dispute. Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Donald Trump, has declared that the White House is entitled to its own “alternative facts.” Whatever that means.
To the graduating class of 2017 and your proud professors, that’s just plain nonsense. We owe it to the public, whether we operate in the United States, China, or anywhere around the world, to share the truth, as best as we can tell it, and to explain what the truth means to our audience. As the 2017 National Press Club president, Jeffrey Ballou, said to fellow American journalists in Akron, Ohio: “Truth is not a game at all.”
The esteemed Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, in Братья Карамазовы, The Brothers Karamazov, summed up the predicament of the perpetual prevaricator. “The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie,” he wrote, “comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.”
We must respect knowledge, respect truth, and respect ourselves. We owe it to the global public to use the knowledge we have gained about China and about global economics to provide our audiences with intelligent, insightful and factual reports. With your newfound expertise on the Chinese economy, globalization, corporate strategies and much more, you can communicate clearly and comprehensively, on any multimedia platform, about issues ranging from the Paris climate change accords to the Belt and Road Initiative.
One of my favorite philosophers, Nelson Mandela, said that “a good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
You have something very special – tools that you can use to make the world a more informed and a more just place. Because, as our dean, Liu Binjie, said in his speech welcoming many of you to the Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication in September 2016, “Justice is the soul of the news.”
Barbara Cochran, my successor as president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute in Washington, reminds us that truth is an imperfect pursuit, and journalists are imperfect people. “All news organizations make mistakes from time to time,” she said recently, “but they are trying to tell the truth and generally do it well.”
Truth and justice. The Global Business Journalism program has been trying to live up to the highest international standards for the past 10 years. Since 2007, the GBJ program has combined rigorous academics with practical journalism training in a cross-cultural setting at one of the world’s great universities.
Thanks to the vision of brilliant minds such as Professor Li Xiguang, ICFJ president Joyce Barnathan, and ICFJ vice president Vjollca Shtylla, the GBJ program was created. Thanks to the financial and journalistic support of Bloomberg News, ICFJ, the Knight Foundation and Bank of America, it has grown and prospered. Thanks to the commitment of Tsinghua leaders like Dr. Hang Min, Dean Shi, Dean Chen, Dean Hu, Professor Lee Miller, Professor Dai Jia, and many more, it has a bright future. Thanks to dedicated and high-achieving alumni from some 60 countries, GBJ is improving the quality of journalism – and public understanding of economic issues — in China and around the world.
I close by quoting my favorite philosopher, my grandfather, Barrows Dunham. In his 1947 book Man Against Myth, he concluded that understanding the truth was necessary to overcome society’s myths. “With words, as with knowledge generally,” my grandfather wrote, “there can be no substitute for constant analysis of fact.”
Truth. Justice. Words. Knowledge. Tsinghua. That pretty much sums it up. Congratulations on your achievements in the Global Business Journalism Program. I look forward to your truth-telling in the years to come.