JMSC lecturer Barry Kalb retires from a decade of “tough-love” teaching

Barry Kalb, one of the JMSC’s most beloved and bemoaned teachers, taught his last class at the JMSC on the 24th of November.

Kalb taught fundamental journalism reporting and writing skills to hundreds of JMSC graduates over his nine years with the faculty, and also passed on his enthusiasm for the profession, telling new students that “being a journalist is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.”

Director of the JMSC, Professor Ying Chan, said although the faculty’s “resident drill sergeant” will no longer be teaching, he will be involved with on-going JMSC projects to “bring the gospel of good reporting and writing to Asia.”

“Barry is a wonderful teacher and his tough-love approach is the personification of the JMSC model,” said Chan. “His students moan and groan when doing his courses, but they feel immensely grateful for having learned from him.”

“Barry was regularly named one of the most memorable teachers by JMSC alumni, and he will be greatly missed by the students and staff alike.”

A journalist with more than 30 years on-the-ground experience covering stories including the Watergate corruption scandal in Washington D.C. and the death of Mao Tse-tung  in China, Kalb brought his deep understanding of journalism and world politics to the classroom, where he insisted on accuracy, balance and good grammar from his students.

Always on the lookout for dangling modifiers and misuse of apostrophes, Kalb’s hard marking is legendary among JMSC alumni. Daniel Pordes, a practicing journalist who was taught by Kalb in 2009, shared his favourite example of Kalb’s style of feedback.

“One of the worst British offenses against the English language is the word ‘actually’,” Kalb wrote on one of Daniel’s papers. “Remove it from your cache of everyday adverbs. Use it rarely, and only when you ‘actually’ need it.”

Channelling his frustration with sloppy writing, Kalb eventually wrote a book on grammar, “You Can Write Better English”, that has been used by bi-lingual graduates throughout the JMSC.

Kalb said although the idea of teaching had never occurred to him “when I was a working hack, out in the field where the action was…I’ve had a wonderful ten years at the JMSC.”

He also paid tribute to Professor Ying Chan’s leadership and vision in convincing the University of Hong Kong to start the JMSC, and to the “top-notch working journalists and researchers” he taught alongside.

“Former students of ours from Hong Kong, mainland China, Europe, North and South America and the Pacific now work in some of the world’s leading news organisations,” he said. “It’s an amazing record for a small component of a university located in this small and unique corner of Asia.”