2008-2009 – A Year of Nieman Fellowship

Like many Nieman Fellows in recent years, the men and women in the Class of 2009 discovered that they have much in common despite radically different backgrounds. Over time, they found they share a deep commitment to their work, curiosity about the world around them and a thirst for knowledge in all its forms.

They came from all corners of the globe, from Grozny to Buenos Aires, from Lagos to Seoul and from Cleveland, Dallas, Charlotte and beyond. Professionally, they worked in all media and left jobs in print, radio, photography and the Web to spend a year in Cambridge.

Two fellows in the class were newlyweds who arrived with new spouses. Another welcomed a newborn midyear. But beyond personal growth and milestones, they all took time to ponder and plan for the future in an uncertain media landscape. As a result, they were hungry for the multimedia training sessions offered during the year including Flash, Final Cut Pro and “Storytelling through Video,” taught by The Poynter Institute’s’ Al Tompkins. What they didn’t learn in formal class settings, they taught each other.

A Year of Ideas

During the course of the year, the 29 fellows came together to watch as the nation elected Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States. They spent an intimate evening chatting with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rev. Desmond Tutu, explored courses on campus ranging from “Global Strategic Management” to “Roman Culture and Civilization” and stood in the cold rain at Fenway Park to root for the Red Sox. In their spare time, they checked out local events, performances and the hottest new restaurants and nightspots. Through it all, they developed a deep bond as they heard each others’ stories during Monday night soundings.

The fellows attended weekly seminars and shop talks on a wide variety of topics. They heard drummer Roy Haynes describe his work as a jazz musician and listened to legendary biologist and E.O. Wilson speak about Darwin on his 200th birthday. They hosted a Nieman dinner featuring New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Gail Collins, who shared her thoughts and observations about the U.S. presidential candidates; learned about life as a Cold War correspondent from 1974 Nieman Fellow Nicholas Daniloff; and got a glimpse into conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention center from Colonel Michael Bumgarner, commander of the Joint Detention Group there from 2005-2006.

In October actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith came to Lippmann House to talk about her work and in March, Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, spoke about the expansionist tradition of U.S. foreign policy. The fellows also shared breakfast with David Simon, creator of HBO’s gritty series “The Wire,” had lunch with author Tracy Kidder, who provided a sneak preview of his book, “Strength in What Remains,” and took tea with Reverend Peter Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard. Many other speakers informed, provoked and entertained throughout the year.

In May, the international fellows trekked north for the annual Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations in Maine and in June, the group enjoyed one final outing during a trip to Cape Cod.

A Keepsake

As their time together started to dwindle, the fellows and affiliates decided to do what they do best: They told a story—their own story—using their sharply honed skills to produce a remarkable chronicle of their Nieman year. The impressive result, a book titled “For the Record,” documents their time at Harvard and was produced under the direction of 2009 Fellows Carla Broyles and Ernie Suggs. The book features personal reflections, essays, snapshots, sketched portraits and impressions of all that the Nieman experience offers.

As Suggs explains, “Every class claims that they are the ‘best Nieman class ever,’ and they try to spend the year proving it to themselves. In a way, knowing that we were the first class to ever create a book—and knowing that subsequent classes would be hard pressed to duplicate what we did—only inspired us more. This book would not have happened without Carla. It was her artistic vision that was able to see what the book could and should become."

70th Anniversary Convocation Weekend

In November 2008, the class joined Nieman alumni for the 70th anniversary convocation “True Grit: Advancing Journalism’s Covenant in the 21st Century.” A celebration of 70 years of Nieman Fellowships, the event featured keynote speeches by Leonard Downie, Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post, who discussed “The Moral and Ethical Obligations of Journalism in a Digital World” and American historian/scholar Ellen Fitzpatrick, who spoke about “The Press and the Presidency.”

Participants gathered for three days of panel discussions, socializing and brainstorming about the challenges and opportunities facing journalists today. More information about the convocation, a complete list of speakers and session transcripts are available online at www.nieman.harvard.edu/70/.