Leading journalism into social responsibility
“My father once told me about the T-shaped theory of human development,” Chongyi Zhao tells us. The horizontal bar represents a person’s width of vision and is stretched wider by experiences and by reading, the absorption of the world’s wisdom. The vertical post expresses the depth of an individual’s specialization, such as a college major or a unique career. In Chongyi’s case, the symbol works especially well because as she learns more about life, she also gains perspective that drives her vertical line deeper. She has wanted to be a journalist since she was ten years old, interviewing different people to write “profound and unique reports and reviews.”
Chongyi is aware of the tradition that refers to journalists as the uncrowned king, conquering with the might of their pens, but she asks who confers such power? It is the people, and so journalists have a responsibility to write in such a way as to better people’s lives. One aspect of this kind of responsible writing involves understanding conflict in its many forms and bringing it to public attention for the purpose of dialog and resolution. As an example, Chongyi writes of the conflict of “Old and New,” of heritage plowed under to build skyscrapers, of teenagers ignoring the stately Peking Opera in favor of rock music and Hollywood movies. The history of her grandparents’ town, a “water village” called the “Venice of the East,” stretches back 900 years, yet its quaint serenity has attracted a tourist industry that has overpowered its authentic legacy with gaudy souvenir shops and hordes of vacationers. She urges people to protect their precious heritage.
Chongyi writes of the conflict of “More and Less.” Her mother lost her job, not because she didn’t work hard, but because she asked for a raise during China’s trade war with Japan. Japan curbed Chinese farm products such as mushrooms. China retaliated with a stiff tariff on Japanese-made cars, cell phones, and air conditioners, and on it went, drastically affecting the lives of ordinary people—conflicts in need of resolution.
Currently the chief editor of a monthly periodical at Fudan University in Shanghai where she is a journalism major, Chongyi is also the deputy director in charge of news at Fudan University Broadcast, a radio station where she shares power with the broadcasting and editing directors. She was doing volunteer teaching at a school for the children of migrant workers when she got an idea for a story. She and her team researched the psychological impact on the children of relocating from rural areas into cities. The story she wrote became an award-winning essay that targeted ways to enhance the children’s health, self-esteem, and positive attitudes.
One of her articles on recycling books was reprinted in a nationally distributed newspaper with a circulation of several million. When she took the initiative in organizing the university’s first broadcast competition, the story drew the interest of the BBC and Shanghai East Radio. Under Chongyi’s leadership, Fudan’s broadcasting station became the most popular media in the university, yet she is quick to share the credit.
Her positions as chief editor and deputy director have taught Chongyi much about leadership, which includes a few quick reminders she distills with the acronym HEAD. First, H is for humility. “It’s easy for a leader to accept praise,” she says, “and it’s easy for him or her to deflect criticism. But I accept blame, knowing that it is on my watch that the trouble started.” She also passes on acclaim to the team members who have earned it. E is for energy. A is for analyzing the core of the problem in order to make a strategic plan and assign the appropriate people. D is for decisive, because a leader must be a problem solver.
Though she believes the Chinese saying, “Read ten thousand books, travel ten thousand miles,” she also finds it vital to meet real people from many cultures to truly expand her T-shaped personal development. She especially enjoyed HSI in this respect, because, “If I can shake hands with many young friends from different parts of the world, it is the most fascinating moment of my life.” Journalism will be well served by what Chongyi’s advisor describes as her “energetic, quick-witted, and accurate” reporting.