About 80 journalists gathered in New York City on June 13 to celebrate 50 years of the Wharton Seminars for Business Journalists. Over five decades the Seminars, organized by Wharton Media Relations, have attracted representatives from media outlets all around the world including China News, CNBC, the Economic Times (India), and The Economist — who count among the program’s 3,000 past participants.
Attendees took their seats for an all-star panel discussion moderated by leading social and digital media consultant Sree Sreenivasan on the changing landscape of business journalism and the business of journalism. Media landscape leaders Matt Murray, the editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal, Andy Serwer, editor-in-chief of Yahoo! Finance, and Stephanie Mehta, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, shared their opinions on chasing big stories, the future of print and fake news. Before and after the panel journalists had the opportunity to network during a reception at 48 Lounge.
Cezary Podkul, W’ 06, attended the panel discussion as a Senior Reporter, Financial Enterprise from the Wall Street Journal. He took the discussion on Twitter where he added, “Good debate over quality vs. quantity in business coverage — my bet is on quality, esp. at @WSJ #WhartonBizJourn.”
“The June 13 event was a triumphant moment for everyone involved,” said Peter Winicov, Wharton’s director of media relations. “It allowed us to recognize both the many journalists who have benefited from the Seminars and Wharton colleagues who have worked so tirelessly to run the program over these many years. The celebration exceeded all expectations.”
Filling the Business Education Gap in Journalism
In 1968 Donald T. Sheehan, Penn’s first Vice President of Public Relations, launched the Seminars as a way to provide journalists a better understanding of key business issues. An extension of Wharton’s mission to expand business literacy globally, the Seminars gained early support from journalism associations and corporate donors who, to this day play a crucial role in sustaining the program.
Since its founding, the program has become a global exchange for media professionals, leading executives, and Wharton professors, with a flagship four-day program held annually in Philadelphia. The Seminars have significantly expanded geographically — with the first one-day Seminar held at Wharton San Francisco in 2003 and the first international Seminar held in Hong Kong in 2007.
And it has continued to grow. Connie Sellers, the Business Administrator for Wharton’s Marketing and Communications department, has witnessed the change over the 10 years she has worked with the program. “The Seminars have not only expanded to various locations, but they have evolved around topics based on what’s happening in today’s business environment,” she said.
When the Seminars travel to other business capitals, session agendas are designed to address topics of interest to journalists in that region. For instance, the June 13 evening celebration was preceded by a seminar in New York focused on public policy and finance held before a capacity audience of over 35 locally based reporters. Peter Conti-Brown, Wharton Assistant Professor of Legal Studies & Business Ethics, presented on central banking and financial regulation, and Kevin Werbach, Professor of Legal Studies & Business Ethics, presented on blockchain, cryptocurrency, and cyberlaw.
Like previous Seminars held in Madrid and Hong Kong, the program was organized to coincide with the Wharton Global Forum, a bi-annual event bringing Wharton alumni together with faculty, international industry leaders, and the most relevant topics in business.
Spreading the Message
At the core of the Seminars is the understanding that journalists have the power to shape society with their reporting and writing. The goal is to open doors to a diverse array of journalists so that they, in turn, can reach larger audiences with information and research findings to which they might otherwise not have access.
Marianela Toledo, a research analyst at CNN, has attended several Seminars including the one-day New York program on June 13. She said, “as a business journalist one cannot stop learning. Things change. But often the learning process comes biased. “Wharton programs are the exception. Having the opportunity to learn straight from professors that are influential in the media, and so well versed is such a great thing. I give my infinite gratitude to Wharton and the team for organizing those programs, so current, and essential for our profession.”
Some participating journalists in the Seminars are launching or transitioning their careers and attend for the guidance from experts, the hands-on exercises, and most importantly, exposure to key business and economic issues.
“This program is crucial for any business reporter new to the beat or just a few years into covering business,” said Leticia Miranda, a retail reporter for BuzzFeed News who attended the Seminar in Philadelphia last year. “Everyone in the program is brilliant, diverse, and values debate and discussion.”
Even journalists outside of business reporting find value in attending the Seminar. Karen K. Ho is a Columbia University School of Journalism Delacorte Fellow, as well as a writer, photographer and editor. She attended the Seminars in 2014 in Philadelphia. “No matter what beat you’re in — government, crime, tourism, finance, commodities, sports, even arts and culture — there are stories and investigations with a business element,” Karen said.
“Everything has to do with money. Looking at who is making money, who is losing, the backstory of why and how other people are affected is the heart of a lot of great reporting. Business education helps unlock the skills and perspective needed to see these stories, analyze the numbers and key players, and present the information in a way that helps move markets, change laws, and educate the public.”
The longer flagship Philadelphia program is tuition-based, though ample funding opportunities abound and no-cost one-day seminars take place twice a year in other cities. Organizations like the South Asian Journalists Association, National Press Foundation, and the National Association of Black Journalists provide sponsorships for journalists that vary from all-expenses paid to tuition coverage.
The program can have a long-term impact on participants like Mukul Pandya, now editor-in-chief and executive director of Knowledge@Wharton. Mukul’s first-ever exposure to American education and Penn was as a participant in the Wharton Seminars for Business Journalists in 1991. At that time he was deputy editor of Business News New Jersey (now NJBiz), New Jersey’s top business publication.
Mukul’s experience at the seminar sparked his career and inspired him to write for publications like The New York Times and The Economist before returning to Wharton in 1998 to become the founding editor of Knowledge@Wharton. He attributes his 20-year career at Knowledge@Wharton to his first encounter with Wharton at the Seminar.
“It’s a program that literally changed my life,” he said.
— Emory Saia and Gloria Yuen
Posted: June 29, 2018