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.
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.
Journalism ethics are universal. But some ethical issues take on an added dimension on multimedia platforms.
After spending nearly two decades in digital journalism — writing an online column for BusinessWeek, creating two blogs and teaching multimedia journalism — I have boiled down my advice for my Tsinghua University Global Business Journalism students to ten commandments. Here they are:
•1. Thou shalt not steal
- Don’t lift other people’s posts. Or quotations. Or photographs.
- Intellectual property is intellectual property. If you don’t have the right to reproduce a photo or an article – even with attribution – don’t do it!
- Make sure to properly attribute any quotation you pull from another source. Every single time!
- If the original published source of your item turns out to be incorrect, you can be held liable for civil penalties in courts of law if you republish the falsehood.
•2. Thou shalt get it right.
- 24/7 deadlines are no excuse to get it wrong.
- Carefully attribute all facts you cannot confirm.
- Just because somebody else published it on the Internet or sent it out by social media doesn’t make it true.
- Just because somebody told you something doesn’t make it true. As the old journalism saying goes, even if your mother told you, check it out.
- Better to wait a few minutes to confirm or disprove a post than to get it wrong, wrong, wrong.
- As the Pew Research Journalism Project wrote: “Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is built.”
•3. Thou shalt repent with speed and sincerity.
- If you get something wrong, or link to another source who got it wrong, make sure you correct the mistake. Pronto. Your credibility is on the line.
- Make sure to send corrections to your followers via social media. Falsehoods can go viral and it’s very hard to reel them back in.
- If you made a mistake and others linked to your post, inform them of your mistake. Pronto.
- Learn from your mistake.
- Because of the instantaneous nature of digital communication, correcting errors is more important – and difficult — than ever.
•4. Thou shalt avoid gratuitous personal attacks.
- Multimedia journalism provides you a basketful of communications options. Don’t use them to be childish, petulant or rude.
- The same rules of fair play apply online as apply in traditional media.
- Don’t mistake “snark” and “attitude” for wit and cleverness.
•5. Thou shalt be fair and balanced.
- It’s not a partisan slogan. It’s our goal as journalists.
- Fairness should never be sacrificed at the altar of an artificial deadline.
- Efforts should be made to contact public figures referred to or criticized in multimedia reports.
- Avoid sensationalism or distortion that is designed to win you “clicks” or “page views.”
- A few tips from the Society of Professional Journalists:
- “Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.”
- “Never distort the content of news photos or video.”
•6. Thou shalt not use unnamed sources to attack others.
- It’s a sure sign of a journalism amateur or poseur.
- People have a right to know who your sources are, with rare exceptions.
- People have a right to know your sources’ motives.
- If someone is too cowardly to attach their name to an attack quote, it tells you something about the person.
- As SPJ writes, “The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.”
•7. Thou shalt live in a glass house.
- Don’t do anything you would criticize someone else for doing.
- Journalists are public figures. Hypocrisy is news, whether the hypocrite is a politician or a reporter.
- From National Public Radio’s Ethics Handbook: •“We hold those who serve and influence the public to a high standard when we report about their actions. We must ask no less of ourselves.”
•8. Thou shalt never give false witness about who you are.
- It is always unethical to pose as someone else to collect information for stories.
- You should identify who you are and for whom you work.
- You should never identify yourself simply as a “citizen,” a “constituent” or a “consumer.”
9. Thou shalt not pay sources for information.
- Or interviews.
- It’s unethical. It separates infotainment sites from journalism sites. Let TMZ.com get the paid-for celebrity scandal scoop. Better to keep your soul.
•10. Thou shalt not be paid off.
- Don’t take money to post, publish or air something.
- Don’t show favoritism toward sponsors, advertisers or donors.
- Disclose any conflicts of interest you or your publication may have.
- Transparency allows your audience to weigh your credibility.
As SPJ’s code of ethics declares, “Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.”
We owe it to the public. And ourselves.