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Thomas Sparrow on Journalism in Times of Fake News

Deutsche Welle correspondent Thomas Sparrow delivered an engaging talk entitled “Journalism in Times of Fake News” to TASIS seniors in the Palmer Center on the evening of January 28. His visit represented the second installment of the 2019–2020 TASIS Speaker Series, following Dr. Janne Sirén ’88—the Peggy Pierce Elfvin Director of the renowned Albright-Knox Art Gallery—who visited back in October

Mr. Sparrow covered a number of pressing topics in his address, which can be viewed in full below. To help students better understand what a career in journalism entails, he explained that the five duties of a journalist are to explain realities responsibly, to hold powers and authorities accountable, to be a bridge between societies, to provide context, and to serve as a forum for public debate. He also added that you can summarize the profession in three words—journalists are translators—noting that he has been well-positioned for this role since birth, as both his parents were translators and he grew up in a trilingual environment in Bogota, Colombia, where he attended a German school and spoke English at home.

Mr. Sparrow went on to discuss that the two greatest challenges for journalists today are coping with the fake news epidemic—noting that while it is true that journalists do make their share of mistakes, the media remains a vital element of a democracy—and navigating complex relationships with politicians. He also spoke about how the ascension of social media has dramatically altered the landscape of journalism, rendering the traditional news sources of print, television, and radio far less potent than they were a generation ago.

Committed to sharing his expertise with younger generations and helping young adults reflect critically and responsibly on some of the biggest contemporary world challenges, Mr. Sparrow closed the main part of his talk by imploring students to do five things as they grow and try to make sense of an increasingly complicated world:

  • Think about what news you consume.
  • Use different sources for the same story.
  • Ask people around you and have discussions.
  • Be curious but careful.
  • Leave your comfort zone.

He then concluded his address in the Palmer Center by taking questions from students for 10 minutes before moving to historic Casa Fleming to continue the discussion with a smaller group for an additional hour.

Over the course of his three-day visit, Mr. Sparrow also connected with students in a number of classes—including IB Literature, IB Economics, Theory of Knowledge (TOK), and AP United States Government and Politics—and enjoyed a dinner at a local grotto with the students and faculty members who make up the TASIS Speaker Series Committee.

As a young bilingual correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Mr. Sparrow covered, in English and Spanish, some of the most important political events of the time—including reporting from the Oval Office in Washington when President Barack Obama met international leaders. He has since moved on to report on another world power—Germany and more broadly the European Union—for Deutsche Welle, covering German elections in Berlin, European elections in Italy, terror attacks in Barcelona, the G-20 protests in Hamburg, the migration crisis, Brexit, the rise of populism, terrorism and security, and more. He has also co-authored three books about European topics. 

As a correspondent, Mr. Sparrow has reported for Deutsche Welle’s partners around the world, speaking in English and Spanish on television news programs in Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Turkey, Estonia, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, United States, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, and Chile. (He is also fluent in German and speaks basic French and Polish.) He has lived in Colombia, Poland, Spain, Germany, and the United States.

TASIS Speaker Series

The TASIS Speaker Series (TSS), formerly known as the Senior Humanities Program (SHP) and renamed in 2018 to more accurately reflect its present purpose, draws from five fundamental elements of the TASIS identity—truth, goodness, beauty, international understanding, and humanitarian action—to provide TASIS students with a signature educational experience.

The TSS Committee, chaired by English Department Chair Dr. Chris Love, selects four speakers each year who embody the pillars of the program—with priority given to speakers who fulfill those virtues in some capacity. The Committee strives for a variety of voices, backgrounds, and professions represented in each year’s group but ultimately selects speakers on the basis of their ability to enhance the intellectual and moral experience of the outgoing seniors and the community as a whole.

Although the TSS focuses on students near the end of their TASIS careers, the program aspires to serve as an educative instrument for the entire division, creating opportunities for all High School students to interact with people and ideas of significance that are concerned with the world beyond the TASIS campus. Students enhance their intellectual experience through discussions, lectures, class visits, and film screenings centered on some combination of truth, goodness, beauty, international understanding, and humanitarian action. Above all else, the program conveys a clear message to students about what the School hopes for and expects from them after they leave TASIS.

The influential program was initially made possible by a CHF 100,000 donation from TASIS parents Michael and Jane Grindfors to The M. Crist Fleming Endowment for International Understanding and Leadership in 2008. It remains an integral part of a TASIS education thanks to ongoing support from the TASIS Board of Directors and the excellent behind-the-scenes work done by a dedicated group of students and faculty members.

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