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The Fellowship Program Expands

Lyons was succeeded in 1964 by Dwight Sargent, Class of 1951, a former editorial page editor of The New York Herald Tribune, who was known for funny but sometimes unprintable shaggy-dog stories. He cared deeply for the language, to the extent that he would occasionally refer to a list of 11 words he said journalists typically misspelled.

Sargent’s arrival as curator coincided with an imperative to find additional funding; income from the original Nieman grant was sufficient to provide stipends for only nine U.S. fellows in 1964 and eight in 1965. Sargent persuaded Boston Globe publisher Davis Taylor to join him in a national campaign to match a $1.2 million grant from the Ford Foundation. The two men visited newspaper publishers across the country and raised $1.3 million to match the Ford gift, which put the Nieman Foundation on sound financial footing.

Sargent stepped down in 1973 and Harvard appointed as curator Jim Thomson, an Asia expert noted for his early opposition to U.S. policies in Vietnam and China in the 1960s. Thomson once told a group of Nieman alumni to “Think of me not as a journalist but as a journalizer: one who has hovered and nibbled at the fringes of journalism for most of my life. My academic friends think of me as a journalist; my journalist friends think of me as an academic.”

Thomson’s imprint on the program was large. Women and journalists of color were more broadly represented in his classes. Nieman spouses were welcomed into the program as affiliates. Jim’s wife, Diana, a critic and poet, established creative writing classes for fellows. Perhaps Thomson’s most lasting contribution to the program was in enabling the foundation to acquire in 1978 the stately Greek revival home we now know as Walter Lippmann House. To a considerable extent, the foundation’s arrival at One Francis Avenue marked the end of the early years and the beginning of a new era for the Nieman Fellowship program.