Goodbye from far afield
by Posted Wed, Nov 17 2010
The time has come to say good-bye to Global Journalist and what better way to do than on a train traveling up to 250 kilometers an hour from Jinzhou, China to Beijing, almost 500 kilometers away. The speeding train and my mission are both part of the drive to bring the world’s most populous country into the future. Global Journalist tries to bring a revolutionized news business into the future.
This country was driven in the 20th century by almost a hundred years of war and harsh repression, first with foreign powers, then civil war, and later harsh dictatorship.
Now that China has adopted many of the precepts of the free market to save the Communist Party’s supremacy, there is no better time to be here helping to train young editors and writers working for the Chinese International Publishing Group (CIPG). This is a government organization similar in many respects to the United States Information Agency or RIA-Novosti. Its job is to explain—or propagandize —China to the rest of the world. I was here to lecture and coach on how to look for story ideas, conduct interviews and write articles. Nobody told me to do it—or not to—but I understood the burden of my time here as giving instruction on the uses of free-market-free-speech-competitive journalism to these young professionals at CIPG. They would have little use for it now, but might if the government-controlled free market economy wins more authority to break free.
So my retirement field trip has been a fitting swan song to 12 years of editing Global Journalist.
In 1998, the Missouri School of Journalism inherited the magazine (née IPI Report and then IPI Global Journalist) at the International Press Institute world congress in Moscow from David Laventhal and Al Shuster, publisher and international editor, respectively, of the Los Angeles Times and active members of IPI. They founded the magazine in the early ’90s. The mission of Global Journalist was, and remains, to defend a free press from suppression, to promote its expansion to countries that broke from totalitarianism and to bring to the world of international journalism news of revolutionary developments.
China’s news business has no members in IPI. Under strict state control, editors, publishers and leading journalists here would have little chance of gaining membership if they applied at present. But journalism is an increasingly complicated profession and business these days. The line between countries with a free press and those without has blurred. And maybe now is the time to try to interest Chinese news organizations in an institute devoted to free press traditions.
I am proud of the accomplishments of Global Journalist. Under the supervision of managing editor Pat Smith and I, the magazine was edited and produced by students in a journalism course. They conceived most of the story ideas, found professional journalists throughout the world, worked with them to have deadlines met, edited the pieces and fact-checked them. They produced the graphics, found the photos and laid out the pages. The result was a learning experience of top quality not only for the students but also for me.
The only thing I had never done in more than 40 years as a journalist was to edit a magazine. In my 13 years at the Missouri School of Journalism, I learned how to do it. The surprises never ceased. A student editor found a British correspondent who enjoyed drinking tea with the Taliban and wrote delightfully about it in the Journalist’s Journal feature. Another story came in over the transom from a former Missouri student. It was about the dangers of covering the Japanese mafia in Tokyo.
Like the news business itself these days, nonprofit magazine publishing at a university can be complicated. When IPI Global Journalist lost the subsidies it had enjoyed from IPI in Vienna and from the Knight Foundation in the United States, we thought we would have to suspend hard copy production and produce an online-only magazine to save this important part of the news business.
At that point our students began producing www.globaljournalist.org, a multimedia version of the hard-copy print edition, and we missed an edition of the print magazine. But then the University and the dean of the School of Journalism, Dean Mills, decided the hard copy was still desirable. We won the sponsorship of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute, and today the magazine lives on. It survives with a dedicated readership in more than 140 countries around the world, a willing and able network of writers, the continuing cooperation of the International Press Institute and the support of the University of Missouri.
I will miss working for it. Maybe a future student will assign me a story. I look forward to that.