By ANNA BALDERSTON —
CLAREMONT, Calif. – In an era when anyone with a story to tell can be a journalist, what separates the professionals from the novices?
International acclaim is a good sign of a journalist whose work reflects exceptional skill and reliability. David Barboza, Shanghai correspondent for The New York Times and 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner in international reporting, has received such praise due to his work ethic, persistence, and willingness to delve deep – despite personal risks – to uncover important stories.
Barboza described his evolution from college reporter to award-winning correspondent on Tuesday to a journalism class at Claremont McKenna College. The students’ queries prompted Barboza to reveal much of his personal story as well as some lesser-known aspects of his reporting.
Barboza’s initial uncertainty in his career choice likely resonated with many of the students in the “Politics and Craft of International Journalism” class, given that Barboza was unsure of what he wanted to pursue when he first started at Boston University.
After a short time in college, though, he found his passion in journalism and developed an interest in China, specifically after taking a course on American reporting during the Chinese Revolution and Vietnam War. “I looked at microfilm to scroll through old New York Times stories to see how they covered the Vietnam War and the China Revolution,” he said, “and that was my introduction to China.”
After noticing his college reporting, The New York Times hired Barboza as a staff writer in 1997. He worked for five years as a Midwest reporter, but his interest in China did not wane. When a Shanghai position with the newspaper opened up in 2004, he said, “I asked The New York Times if I could go to China, if I could live there. … I told them, ‘If you don’t send me to China, I’ll quit.’” The Times assigned Barboza to Shanghai, and he has been the bureau chief since 2008.
Journalism associations have praised Barboza’s reporting for a variety of its different aspects, showing his versatility as a business reporter. Barboza has won prizes in business journalism, environmental journalism, explanatory reporting and international reporting, and has covered topics from labor to corporate corruption. His most famous stories – those that won him the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in international reporting and helped him to share another – delve into how political power trumps regulation in the Chinese business world.
His thorough reporting on the subject was not easy. Barboza says that reporting on nepotism in the Chinese business world made him a target of Chinese corporations and the government. “When I was working on the most sensitive story that I’ve written, I was in contact with the business partners of this family, and they threatened me,” he says. “I’ve also gotten death threats in China. It’s just something you have to accept if you’re going to do investigative reporting.” Barboza said that after publishing the highly sensitive story, it was commonplace for government agents to follow him and photograph him while he was doing his job.
Despite the obstacles of being a foreign journalist in China, Barboza says that he still made objective journalism his top priority, which he believes is the mark of a truly professional journalist. “I do think many journalists let these threats affect them and affect their reporting, and it makes it easier for them to write something nasty about someone that they don’t like,” he said. “But if you’re trained as a good journalist, you’re constantly thinking about ethics and responsibility and professionalism.”
If there is one quality to attribute to professional journalists, it is just that: objective reporting of the facts to inform the public of what it may not know otherwise. David Barboza’s work, deservedly lauded for its even-handedness, reflects his professional status and sets a high standard for the future of journalism.
(Written by Anna Balderston, edited by Terril Y. Jones; Oct. 2, 2015)