2011 Opening Remarks

By 2012 Nieman Fellows Jonathan Blakley and David Skok
December 1, 2011

What is it that drives us to become journalists?

In its purest form, journalism is not about fame, fortune, or the desire to have a voice.

It is about seeking the truth, assembling the facts, and holding those who choose to abuse their powers accountable.

Ever since movable type was invented, journalists have been using whatever tools we have at our disposal to speak truth to power, inform, and provide critical analysis.

The technologies we use to disseminate these ideals will always evolve, but the values and the message we share remain the same.

Mohammed Nabbous, known simply as Mo, came to the world's attention on February 19th of this year. He spoke to the BBC from a rooftop in Benghazi, four days after the Libyan uprising began. In it, he remarked "I'm not afraid to die, I'm afraid to lose the battle." He added, “That's why I want the media to see what's going on.”

True to his word, and at great personal risk, Mo did just that; Making sure the world’s media witnessed how Ghaddafi loyalists had turned their guns onto their own people. He would later provide live reports for CNN, the CBC and others…

But journalism isn’t just about reporting. It is also about editing and production. Here too, Mo was a journalist in the truest sense of the word.

NPR Social media strategist Andy Carvin, who was in direct contact with ‘Mo’ – and joins us here tonight, explains what Mo did best.

Andy says when Benghazi was in the process of being liberated, Mo managed to jerry rig a satellite internet connection. He set up a homegrown studio becoming the digital equivalent of Radio Free Benghazi.

Mo would sit there on the live-stream with headphones and a mobile phone for hours at a time, talking to people all over Libya, getting firsthand accounts of what they were seeing.

When they were having the conversation in Arabic, there would be a chat window where people were translating into English what they were saying… in real time.

Mo Nabbous was a media mogul, an anchor, producer, reporter, and a citizen journalist, all wrapped into one.

Using the latest tools at his disposal he circumvented the media blackout placed on those inside Libya, setting up the very first independent news channel in a country that hadn’t known a free press in over a generation.

Traditional journalism can act as the great amplifier of citizen journalists, like Mo, who NEED the BBC, NPR and the New York Times, we are in effect, working together to get the message out. This is the definition of collaboration and participatory journalism. In honoring Mo tonight, we are recognizing that journalists and citizens share a common value and a shared purpose: A free press.

Corrupt regimes and criminals are aware of this too and are now targeting bloggers and social media posters in the same way that they target journalists. Even today in Egypt, an Egyptian blogger, and political activist named Alaa Abdel Fattah, sits in prison facing charges related to an event on October 9th when more than 20 people were killed. According to eye witnesses, Fattah, was…like Mo before him, just documenting the atrocities.

Louie Lyons was a forceful advocate for freedom of the press. While he was curator of the Nieman Foundation, he broke new ground by diversifying the class of fellows to include women, minorities, and international fellows, and expanded its scope to include all major forms of media.

Tonight, we recognize Louie Lyons by breaking new ground once again. Selecting Mo Nabbous who also represents others like him for this award, is another endorsement for freedom of the press, and it is recognition of the increasing collaboration and contribution that citizens have in producing journalism.

Tragically, Mo is not here tonight to accept this award. He was shot and killed on March 19th on the same day that he told the world that Ghaddafi loyalists weren’t adhering to a ceasefire. His death was announced on the livestream by his wife Samra…. At the time, she was pregnant with their first child.

It has been documented that Mo’s favorite quote was, "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle." Samra told me last night that Mo always said he would do something big… We hope that this award gives Samra and Maya, comfort knowing that Mo’s candle still shines brightly for Libyans, and for those who believe in press freedom around the world.

Samra…On behalf of the Nieman Fellows class of 2012, it is our distinct honor to present Mohammad Nabbous with this year’s Louis Lyons award for conscience and integrity in journalism.