Gene Mustain, the Director of Reporting and Writing Programme at the JMSC, has retired after more than a decade of teaching.

Gene Mustain

A party was held to celebrate the event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong on Thursday, 16 June, 2011.

More than two hundred people — a mixture of staff and students past and present — came to wish Gene farewell. The evening kicked off with a 12 question quiz about Gene’s life, with each correct answer winning a tequila shot.

The Director of the JMSC, Professor Ying Chan, paid tribute to Mustain as a great teacher. She told of how they’d first met on a picket line on a dark, cold, wet night while working at the New York Daily News. Thus started both a friendship and a strong working relationship in which, to quote Mustain, “no-one abused our copy because it was too damned good!”

Mustain moved to Hong Kong in January 2000, following his wife, Doreen Weisenhaus.

Weisenhaus was recruited from the New York Times by Ying Chan, who’d been tasked with setting up the JMSC, to teach the media law course. Mustain initially thought he’d write a book, but Chan had other ideas and asked him to teach an English writing course to second semester MJs.

“The previous fall, I had taught a course in Literary Journalism at night to graduate students at New York University; that was my only experience, other than teaching two semesters of basic reporting and writing to undergraduates at DePaul University in Chicago about 15 years before,” said Mustain.

“Despite my limited experience, I got through the semester somehow. The students were kind and gracious, and overlooked weaknesses on my part, particularly my lack of knowledge about Hong Kong — it was their way of welcoming me to this part of the world. I remain grateful to them for that.”

Mustain has a long and successful career as a writer. He has written three non-fiction books and was a reporter and writer for the New York Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times, where he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

He has worked in film and television, as co-producer for a Home Box Office movie based on one of his books, and as a consultant for documentaries based on his newspaper work. Mustain has also written freelance articles for publications around the world, including the New York Times Magazine and the Los Angeles Times.

While at the JMSC, Mustain co-edited a journalism text which was published on the mainland, called ‘English-language News Writing’, for which he also wrote two chapters. For two years, he was editorial advisor to Muse, a leading English-language magazine about arts and culture in Hong Kong.

“It was easy for me to teach reporting and writing because it was merely a matter of passing along values that I believe in,” said Mustain. “Journalists must be independent. They must be honest and responsible. In some of their writing, they can take attitudes and experiment with language, but in news writing, they must be fair and balanced. In all of their writing, they must be accurate and clear.”

“We are one of the first programmes in Hong Kong and the world to teach convergent media,” said Ying Chan in her speech at the party. “But the written word is still our foundation. We still use the same principles: reporting is reporting, writing is writing.”

When asked what he would miss most about Hong Kong, Mustain replied, quite simply, “the JMSC.”

“Without doubt, what I enjoyed most and what I will miss most about my time at the JMSC are JMSC people — the students, the staff and my fellow faculty members,” he said. “Over the years, I came to know hundreds of students very well, and many of them have stayed in touch over the years.”

“It’s been a real treat seeing so many of them go on to do so many different things and to get married and to have families. I also have gotten to know some JMSC staff members very well over the years, and they too are very special people who made parts of my job a lot easier. And then of course there is the JMSC faculty, beginning with the person I came here with — Doreen; it’s nice working with your wife, no matter what people say!!!”

Gene, Doreen and their son, Jake with former U.S. President Bill Clinton in Hong Kong, 2005

Mustain is as committed to journalism as when he started out as reporter many years ago. “Society will always need intelligent, resourceful people to keep it informed,” he said. “Though the ways news and information get distributed are changing rapidly and the future is unclear, journalism remains a good career choice for those curious about the world and how it works.”

“Even if you do not end up in journalism, our students have found that a journalism education is never wasted because the skills one obtains — researching, writing and communicating well — can be used in any profession.”

Mustain will leave his mark on Hong Kong with the publication of a book called “Global Stories”, which has just been published by the JMSC and will be distributed by Hong Kong University Press.

It is a collection of 25 nonfiction pieces written by postgraduate students whom he has taught since the Autumn semester of 2001 in his Literary Journalism class.

“I wanted to get this book out because some great work was done by students in this class over the years, and now we will have it all collected in one place,” he said.

“I wrote a 3,000-word introduction to the collection, and we are going to try and market the book as a teaching tool to universities across the world,” he continued. “We call it “Global Stories” because the students often wrote about events from their personal lives that involved dramatic events in different corners of the globe.”

Mustain thanked Professor Chan for giving him the chance to have a second career in teaching.

The staff and students at the JMSC would like to thank Gene Mustain for all his hard work and kindness over the years, and to wish him the very best in both his retirement from HKU and any future endeavours as both journalist and teacher.

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