By Cal Wong
It is with great sadness that we heard the news of the passing of Barry Kalb on Wednesday, 19 December 2018, at the age of 75.
Barry was a long-time lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre (JMSC) at The University of Hong Kong, spending close to a decade teaching the fundamentals of reporting and writing before retiring in 2014. He continued his association with HKU however, running regular English-language grammar boot camps for students.
A journalist with more than 30 years of experience, Barry started his career in journalism in 1967 at the Evening Star in Washington, D.C. After eight years, he moved to Hong Kong in 1975, briefly for NBC News, and then as a staff correspondent for CBS News. In 1979, he joined Time magazine as Eastern Europe bureau chief, based in West Berlin, and subsequently moved to Rome, New York and back to Hong Kong.
Barry took a 14-year break from journalism to pursue entrepreneurial ambitions in Hong Kong including running Il Mercato, a notable Italian restaurant in Central. In late 2002, he returned to journalism, as an editor at the Voice of America bureau in Hong Kong.
His career included coverage of many remarkable news events, including the Watergate corruption scandal in Washington, D.C., the deaths of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong and the return to power of Deng Xiaoping in China, the beginnings of the Solidarity movement in Poland and the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in Rome, among many other stories.
Barry brought his deep understanding of journalism and world politics to the classroom, where he insisted on accuracy, balance and good grammar from all of his students. He joined JMSC as an honorary lecturer at the invitation of then-director of JMSC, Ying Chan, in September 2008. “Barry was a much-loved and legendary teacher,” said Ying. “He was both tough and kind, demanding but caring. He despised sloppy writing but would give it the most meticulous editing. He had given generations of students writing lessons for their lifetime.”
Barry also worked closely with Keith Richburg, the current JMSC director “Barry became a close friend and mentor, who guided me in my current job at JMSC and who became a regular dinner companion, almost invariably at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, where he seemed to be a permanent fixture.”
During his time at JMSC, Barry would become a mainstay of the Master’s program and part of the faculty that now epitomises the strength of journalism education at HKU. He became a valued teacher, mentor and friend to the hundreds of students that have passed through the Eliot Hall. He was renowned for his ‘tough love’ approach to students’ work, concurrently eliciting fear, gratitude and admiration. His teaching methods improved journalism throughout Asia-Pacific and beyond.
“I felt so lucky to sit in Barry’s last class at JMSC. He was probably the strictest teacher I’ve ever met — in his writing class, every time I got my homework back, the file would be marked with countless questions and corrections in red. He set high standards for writing news that I struggled, and often failed, to meet. Yet only when I started working as a career journalist did I realise the value of his training. I was really proud when he marked “A-” to my final project, a feature story on Hong Kong’s burial problems.
‘Barry taught me to never go soft on myself,’ I wrote that day in my WeChat moment. He rarely smiled in class, and as shy as I was, I never approached him in person and thought he might not remember me at all. Yet at his retirement party, when we took a photo together, he whispered to me that he was the one who recommended me for the winter internship I applied for. ‘With practice, you should turn into a competent journalist,’ he wrote, and so I believe, and continue to work towards, with all my strength.”
-Elaine Wang Yiwei, reporter at Sixth Tone
“Out of all the incredible teachers at the JMSC, Barry made the most impact on me, probably because I respond well to tough love. Right before I graduated, I asked him what I needed to keep working on and he said, “at the beginning of the class, you needed to cut 30% of your work. Now you need to cut 10%.” Ultimately, Barry gave me the confidence that the foundation of my work is good, but I need to keep myself on a tight rein. In fact, he’d probably want this to be 30% shorter, too.”
-Heidi Yeung, Web Editor, Young Post, South China Morning Post.
Barry Kalb will long be remembered for his passion for the profession of journalism, and his insistence on better reporting of the news. He will be missed.