Since its launch in September 2007, the Global Business Journalism (GBJ) program has produced 403 graduates from 61 countries. A joint venture of the International Center for Journalists and Tsinghua University in China, GBJ is aimed at preparing skilled business reporters and editors who can cover China’s economy and international markets in a more transparent way.
In an interview with IJNet, GBJ co-director and professor Rick Dunham discussed the importance of formal training in business journalism, China’s economic trends and important tools for business journalists.
IJNet: What role do business journalists currently have in China’s growing economy? How does that compare with their role on a global economic scale?
Dunham: Business journalism in China may be more important than business journalism in most countries because the economy has grown so quickly over the past three decades and is going through a period of uncertainty and restructuring. There is a strong need for high-quality business reporting to explain Chinese economic issues to news consumers.
Historically, the quality of economic reporting in China was low, and it is one of the top goals of the GBJ program to improve the skills of business journalists so they can accurately convey information and analyze it intelligently.
Of course, because the government owns or regulates the media, there is a different relationship between reporters and their audience. Outside of China, a business reporter who understands the complexities and contradictions of the Chinese system becomes a real asset to international news organizations.
Does a previous degree in business, commerce, finance or economics help in easily pursuing a degree in business journalism? Do journalists necessarily need a background in business to report on business and economics?
Journalists don’t need a degree in business to be successful business or financial journalists, but it is a major asset to have a broad knowledge of the business world, economics and finance. I recommend developing one or more specialties as well.
While journalism jobs are shrinking worldwide, business journalism jobs are increasing, and well-trained young journalists who know business and know how to tell business stories in a compelling way are in great demand around the world.
Which tools and skills do journalists need to excel in today’s business journalism environment?
Four sets of skills are essential. First, a basic knowledge of business, finance and economics. Second, critical thinking skills. You must be able to analyze and explain complex subjects. Third, an ability to tell stories clearly, completely and yet concisely. And fourth, an ability to tell stories in multiple media. Young journalists must be versatile to succeed. That means an ability to create interactive graphics, photo galleries, audio and video reports, and an ability to adapt to the latest technological tools for storytelling.
What advice would you give to journalists interested in taking on business and economic beats?
Learn about the global economy and study how to analyze balance sheets. You need both “macro” and “micro” skills. You don’t need to be a business expert when you’re hired, but you need to be a quick and willing learner. You must be more than a stenographer who rewrites company or government agency press releases. You need to develop a network of sources and analytical expertise in the subject of your beat, whether it is a company, an economic sector or the global economy.
What resources are available for journalists who want to specialize in business and economics?
I strongly recommend University of North Carolina Professor Chris Roush’s “Show Me the Money: Writing Business and Economics Stories for Mass Communication,” a highly readable and deeply informative textbook. “The Bloomberg Way,” a manual created by the prestigious news organization, also is invaluable to would-be business specialists. The blog “Talking Biz News” keeps you up to date with the latest trends in business journalism and job openings, too.
Business and economics often intersects with other “beats,” such as politics, health and social issues. How can journalists who don’t specialize in business coverage increase their understanding of difficult economic concepts?
You are absolutely correct. If you follow the money, every beat is fundamentally an economic one. I covered politics at BusinessWeek magazine for 15 years, but I joke that I got an MBA at BusinessWeek because I took crash courses in international economics, trade, macroeconomics, budgets and taxes, corporate strategies, health care economics and money-in-politics.
You don’t need a real MBA to be a good economic reporter. You just need intellectual curiosity and a willingness to learn from diverse sources who often disagree with each other. The world is more interdependent than ever, and global business is more important than ever to all of us. I think it’s an exciting time to be studying global business journalism and to be reporting on our rapidly changing world.
This interview has been condensed.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Rafael Matsunaga.