GBJ Co-Director Nailene Chou Wiest Expands Curriculum Through New Textbook

Feb 112010

A veteran journalist who is co-director of ICFJ’s Global Business Journalism (GBJ) program at Tsinghua Univerisity in Beijing has written the first and only Chinese-language textbook on business and economic reporting.

Nailene Chou Wiest used her own experience as a reporter, along with lecture notes developed over six years of teaching business reporting, and additional research to write Reporting and Writing International Business News (Guoji caijing xinwen zhishi yu baodao), published by Tsinghua University Press in November 2009.

With China in the midst of an economic explosion, many universities offer business journalism, both at graduate and undergraduate levels, said Wiest. She was a founder of the master’s degree program in business journalism at Tsinghua University, a joint project by ICFJ and Tsinghua.

Since the program’s launch in 2007, ICFJ has provided faculty and expertise to the Tsinghua program, the only one of its kind in China. The aim is to educate journalists who are knowledgeable about global business and economics, and particularly well-versed in the intricacies of the market in China. Transparency and independence are key concepts in the program.

Wiest’s goal was to write a textbook tailored specifically to aspiring and practicing Chinese journalists, putting the Chinese financial markets in the global context.

“The book takes journalism students on a tour of business reporting and teaches them the basic skills of handling data and writing accurately, clearly and concisely,” said Wiest.

She was a print journalist for more than 20 years, with Knight Ridder Newspapers, Reuters in New York and Shanghai, and Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. She was a Knight International Journalism Fellow in 2005.

Along with her experience as a journalist, Wiest also has an academic background. With a PhD in history and international politics from the University of Washington, she taught modern East Asian history and politics at universities in the United States and business journalism at University of Hong Kong before joining Tsinghua in 2006.

Like the course she teaches, her book tackles complex and difficult topics in macroeconomics, and also aims to help students become comfortable with using numbers and understanding terms used in accounting, stock markets, bond trading, foreign exchange and financial derivatives.

Students in her GBJ course sometimes moan about the difficulty of the course, but in the same breath, say that her teaching has inspired them.

“Even as a student who took finance as my second major [as an undergraduate], I still think Prof. Chou’s course is one of the most difficult, not so much because of the content, but for the need to read and study,” said Peng Li (Penny), a 2009 student. “I think I've got a better understanding of the combination of journalism and finance. The field is amazing, and tricky as well.”

Wiest with students in the Global Business Journalism program

It took Wiest two years to write and re-write the chapters for the 247-page book, while she continued to teach her own course in business journalism at Tsinghua and serve as director of the GBJ program.

Wiest believes that one of the priorities for anyone teaching journalism is keeping lecture material up-to-date and relevant. That meant rewriting chapters, especially as the 2008 financial crisis unfolded.

“The world changes too fast and news gets stale quickly,” she said. As an example, she recalled that in 2001, when she first taught business journalism in Hong Kong, she spent a lot of time discussing the Asian financial crisis and the Enron scandal. “They are still important,” she said, “but the passage of time gives us better perspective.” She plans to update chapters when necessary via a blog and issue new editions every few years.

Other business journalism teachers in China will be able to use the textbook; every chapter has a list of discussion questions and suggested reading. The author also hopes that practicing journalists will use the book to learn about certain topics and use the reporting tips and suggestions for more in-depth reading.

Reporting and Writing International Business News (Guoji caijing xinwen zhishi yu baodao) can be purchased for just 28 yuan (less than $4). “The book is practically a give-away,” said Wiest. “It was more a labor of love than a commercial venture.”