Truth matters: A commencement address to Global Business Journalism Program graduates

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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.

谢谢。Thank you.

Video: Why the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua is a great choice for graduate school

The Global Business Journalism Program is the subject of a documentary film that highlights the program’s unique role in teaching advanced economics reporting skills to Chinese and international graduate students.

The GBJ program, the first graduate business journalism program taught in English on the Chinese mainland, features a rigorous curriculum taught by leading Chinese academics and prominent international journalists.

The five-minute mini-documentary was produced and directed by second-year GBJ student Simone Martin of Italy. It was based on a project he completed for a documentary news course. First-year GBJ student Sarah Taylor Talaat of the United States was the film’s narrator.


2016 GBJ grads Anish Pandey and Jade Ladal

“In its first decade, the GBJ program has been recognized as one of the top international programs in China — and now, students from around the world, together with Chinese students, are learning advanced business writing, corporate strategies, economics, accounting, data mining, multimedia storytelling and other skills,” Talaat says in the documentary.

The film features interviews with current students and GBJ faculty. GBJ student Tendekai Finos from Zimbabwe called the program “an interesting opportunity to learn in China, as well to study in China, where the economy is growing rapidly.” Viktoria Fricova, a second-year student from Slovakia, said she first discovered the program when searching for a high-quality international graduate journalism program. “When I found it on the internet, I knew this was the option for me,” she told the documentarian.


Professor Dunham and GBJ grads celebrate, June 2016

The Tsinghua School of Journalism and Communication will use the documentary to reach out to potential students internationally, to further enhance its reputation in China, and to attract partners and supporters to the program, said GBJ Co-Director Rick Dunham.

“We’d like continue to expand, so that we can be the leaders in training Chinese journalists of the next generation, and become a destination spot for global journalism,” Professor Dunham says in the film.

Launched in 2007 in partnership with the International Center for Journalists and Bloomberg News, the GBJ program has trained more than 400 graduates, many of whom have become journalists at prominent news outlets from Bloomberg to People’s Daily and Xinhua News Agency.

“We wish to welcome the world to join us,” GBJ Co-Director Dr. Hang Min says in the documentary. “We are setting the standard for business journalism education.”

>>> You can also watch the video on YouTube

>> For more information on the application process

>>> Here’s the GBJ website

>>> Here’s how you can begin the application process


2016 graduation festivities