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Nieman Moments

  1. “The people I met during my Nieman year made it magic. The fellows have become an international family with loving relationships.

    But the Nieman also opened the doors, hearts and minds of the entire Harvard community to me. I had the privilege of working with the Harvard Black Law Students Association on their spring conference, serving as a keynote speaker, and also attended the Harvard black alumnae conference and helped undergraduates bring former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun to campus.

    At the Law School, I got to know constitutional scholar and expert Laurence Tribe, whose class I took and whose knowledge has been a source of help and clarification as I report on key legal issues.

    I also participated with Prof. Charles Ogletree in a powerful seminar on race and justice, which included a weekend-long analysis of the impact of the Dred Scott case. Both Professors Tribe and Ogletree now take my calls, and having them as resources makes me a better, more thoughtful journalist.

    For me, Harvard’s academics were amazing, our Nieman seminars and Soundings memorable, but the best part of the Nieman experience was the personal growth that came from a new network of colleagues and friends in the larger Harvard community who have forever changed my world for the better.”

    —Renee Ferguson , ’07 ’07 Investigative Reporter, WMAQ TV, Chicago
  2. “The Nieman year was a remarkable gift – a time of intellectual exploration, intense friendships and personal reflection.

    For me, there was no one “Nieman moment.” Instead, the year was sprinkled with moments singular and sublime – watching jazz musician Eddie Palmieri give an impromptu performance in Lippmann House, listening to Pulitzer Prize winner Gene Roberts recount history, and swapping stories with other fellows over a bonfire on Cape Cod.

    It was a chance to bond with kindred spirits – extraordinary journalists who remain committed to the ideals of journalism despite troubled times. I came away from my year with a renewed sense of mission and memories for a lifetime.”

    —Tini Tran, ’07 Associated Press, Beijing
  3. “One of my most unforgettable Nieman moments happened when I was in Gulu , in northern Uganda. It is an area where 80 percent of the population lives in camps for internally displaced people, nearly 20 percent of the children die before the age of five, and thousands of other children have been abducted by local rebels. The trip was part of my Nieman Fellowship in Global Health Reporting.

    After three months of seeing sick and desperate people, rundown hospitals and dying patients on my own, I felt lonely. I wanted to share these experiences with someone, but I thought my friends and colleagues at home probably wouldn’t understand the challenges faced by a traveling reporter. So I sent out a group e-mail to my fellow Niemans.

    Within a few hours I received 10 replies from all over the world – from South Africa, the U.K., the U.S., Columbia, Nepal and other countries. The messages were encouraging, they were sympathetic and they rekindled the special spirit I felt during my Nieman year at Harvard.

    The responses also reminded me of our shared objectives: fight shallow journalism, dig deeper, investigate harder. And they pointed out that there are still some journalists willing to risk imprisonment, torture, shootings, beatings and law suits to get nearer to the truth – and that I had become one of them.

    I realized that loneliness is a minor price a journalist has to pay once in a while, and that no matter how far I may travel, I will always be part of the Nieman community.”

    —Dr. Harro Albrecht, ’07 Medical Writer/Editor, Die Zeit, Germany
  4. “I’ll never forget venturing into a rundown legislative office in Ramallah during our Nieman class trip and engaging in a frank conversation with a senior Hamas politician. We grilled him on his party’s refusal to renounce violence, but we were also surprised when he advocated a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As simple as it sounds, my Nieman year reinforced for me the importance of listening.

    An hour later, we were touring a refugee camp when gun-toting teens start firing into the air. I didn’t know it at the time, but the shooting was part of a harmless funeral celebration. With my heart pounding, the seasoned foreign correspondents in our group guided us safely through the crowd – disarming the armed teens with smiles and high fives.

    One of the lasting commitments from my year at Harvard is to venture outside of my comfort zone and to see the world with new eyes.”

    —David Heath , ’06 Investigative Reporter, The Seattle Times
  5. “I first learned about the Nieman program more than 20 years ago while reading all I could about author Robert Caro. I wanted to know more about him because his work was changing the way I did mine.

    I had thought I understood what it meant to be a reporter until I read Caro’s books, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York,” and his first volume on Lyndon Johnson, “The Path to Power.” I marveled at Caro’s relentless quest for the last possible document and interview. I emulated this spirit, as best I could, and the lessons paid off. From his bio,

    I learned he had been in a program called Nieman (Class of 1966) that took him to Harvard. In 2005, when I too became a Nieman Fellow, I suggested he be invited to speak to our class and Caro graciously agreed. It’s not often you get a chance to tell someone you admire how much he influenced you, but the Nieman program gives you such gifts.

    I didn’t miss the chance to tell him. “I guess you could say you’re here today because of me,” I told him, “but I’m here because of you.””

    —Brent Walth, ’06 Investigative Reporter, The Oregonian
  6. “What makes the Nieman experience unique is the camaraderie, the courses, the campus. You’ll never have another year among so many like-minded people from all over the world, keen to seek the deeper truths that our deadline-driven lives so rarely allow.

    Harvard’s courses are not just topical, but cutting-edge – and led by some of the finest lecturers in the world.

    The Nieman is a calling card that unlocks doors to ideas and people. But the very best news? You carry it with you.”

    —Bill Schiller, ’06 Asia Bureau Chief, The Toronto Star, Beijing, China
  7. “Some of the most moving moments of my Nieman year came during our Monday Soundings. At one of the very first gatherings, I remember feeling particularly stirred.

    As an American reporter, I thought I had a difficult time pushing back against government officials reluctant to release even the most benign public records. But then Thepchai Yong, our fellow from Thailand, told us how he dealt with an incident as an editor in which the prime minister threatened to shut down his news organization just as it was going to press with photos of protestors clashing with Thai soldiers. Thepchai published anyway.

    We all cheered. I remember thinking, “This is going to be an incredible and inspiring year for me if these are the types of journalists I’m surrounded by.” I was right.”

    —Maggie Mulvihill, ’05 I-Team Producer, WBZ-TV, Boston
  8. “Throughout my year in Cambridge, I had the opportunity to meet leading scholars, journalists and writers, but my favorite Nieman moments were far more intimate.

    One of them came on a Friday in November. After a talk, a number of fellows and I stopped at a local restaurant. When we came out, the first snow of the season was gently falling and we reveled in the magic of a beautiful New England night.

    We had come to Harvard from the Deep South, France, Germany, Brazil, Iran, Thailand, South Africa and New Jersey, and as the eight of us walked back through Harvard Yard, we had a brief, spirited snowball fight. It was impossible not to wish for the moment to linger.

    In the diary I kept that year, I wrote something the great literary critic Helen Vendler said in a poetry class: “Nature, memory and desire are the ground of our emotional being.” If this is so, then a powerful part of my own emotional being is forever linked to my Nieman experience.”

    —Amy Ellis Nutt , ’05 Staff Writer, The Star-Ledger, Newark, New Jersey
  9. “Despite the many special moments I experienced while a Nieman at Harvard, the story I tell most often to friends and family is about Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, a former Finnish president who, as a spy for the Russian military, rode horseback to China during expeditions from 1906-1908.

    I was especially interested in documenting his story as I had been posted in China before beginning my year as a Nieman Fellow. I had already contacted a friend in Finland to get some material that I needed for my research.

    Then I decided to see if Harvard’s libraries had anything on Mannerheim, obviously not expecting too much. The online Hollis Catalog found more than 100 results for him, many of them in Finnish.

    Yes, that was my ultimate Nieman moment. Not only was I within shouting distance of some of the leading scholars on China, I was a mere five-minute bicycle ride away from Mannerheim’s China travel diary.”

    —Pekka Mykkänen , ’04 Washington D.C.-based U.S. Correspondent, Helsingin Sanomat