For journalist David Barboza, death threats from Chinese companies and the governments do not affect his standard of reporting ethics and professionalism.

Barboza, the Shanghai bureau chief of The New York Times,  told students at Claremont McKenna College that he is constantly followed, photographed and spied on, even as a business journalist. His assistants and drivers are questioned, and he lives cautiously, knowing that the government keeps a file for him and his family.

Because the Chinese government is generally suspicious of foreign journalists, whom they consider as potential spies who aim to reveal China’s secrets, they track the lives and work of many foreign reporters.

Barboza faced difficulties while investigating stories, especially when working on sensitive stories about political leaders. Government personnel for example have disrupted Barboza’s interviews on occasion to prevent the interview from continuing.

On Tuesday Barboza visited CMC and met with students in an international journalism class, where he spoke about his personal experiences with the risks and consequences of being an investigative journalist.

While writing on a controversial topic involving well-known figures, Barboza received threats from family members and business partners involved as well as from local Chinese and central government offices. Some even sent him death threats.

Asked how he handles such issues, Barboza said that acceptance is key. To be an investigative reporter, one has to accept the fact that the job entails a certain degree of danger, he said. Trained journalists, therefore, will not let such threats affect their reporting.

Barboza stressed that journalists should always think about ethics, responsibility and professionalism. This includes repeatedly checking for impartiality, honesty and fairness to the subjects being written about. – standards that Barboza insists must be upheld. “No matter what the government does or a company does, I am going to try to be as fair as possible,” he said. “I’m going to give them a chance to respond, and I’m going to consider what their impression of the situation is. I think we owe that to everyone we write about.”

Barboza’s point echoes the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics that states, “Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information,” and “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”

Barboza said his philosophy of journalism is that “I am trying to help people understand what’s going on in the world, but I am not an activist, and I am not campaigning for anything, and I’m not too invested in my stories.” He emphasizes that effective reporting is unbiased and amenable to change, not biased and fixed.

Barboza believes that these steps — accepting the conditions of the job, upholding ethics and professionalism, remaining judicious and detached — lead to a good story and to an effective journalist, and said he hopes that the journalism students apply this advice to their work.

(Written by Christina Yoh, edited by Terril Y. Jones; Oct. 2, 2015)

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