Curator's Column

Nieman Partnerships Build Bridges

Collaboration is the new buzzword in journalism. In recent years, once-competitive news organizations have found that working together is not only necessary for survival, it often makes good business sense to share resources, brainpower and yes, even audiences.

The community we have built through our many partnerships and alliances has made the Nieman Foundation greater than the mere sum of its parts. It is through sharing that we have become stronger and more effective. But at the Nieman Foundation, teamwork and partnerships are nothing new. When Harvard President Neil Rudenstine and I met soon after he hired me to become curator 10 years ago, he emphasized his wish that the Nieman Foundation become more actively engaged with both the university and the world of journalism.

I recalled that conversation when the Nieman Fellows gathered on a recent Friday for a workshop on journalism and trauma, an annual event that has grown out of the foundation’s successful collaboration with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

We recognize that emotional harm is an occupational hazard for journalists. It is a subject painfully close to many Nieman Fellows, but one that is not always easy to address. Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center, and Frank Ochberg, a psychiatrist who specializes in violence and resilience and is the co-founder of the center, led the conversation. Through this exercise each year, the fellows begin to develop was has come to be called “emotional literacy” as they try to cope with their reactions to observing and experiencing trauma.

The following week, the foundation initiated a new partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in a public discussion about the challenges of reporting on the global water crisis and how in-depth international reporting on such topics can be both sustained and improved.

In addition to co-hosting occasional campus events, the Nieman-Pulitzer partnership will support international reporting initiatives with a special focus on global health coverage. The Pulitzer Center also will underwrite fieldwork projects in the developing world for our global health fellows and help place their stories with major news organizations through the center’s extensive media network.

Fellows Give as Well as Take

The Dart and Pulitzer associations are just two of many established over the past decade that have bolstered Nieman’s profile and impact on campus and beyond. These relationships have produced a series of collaborative projects that have enriched the fellows' experience and contributed to the education of many journalists.

The foundation’s engagement with Harvard is grounded in connections the Nieman Fellows have with faculty and students, giving talks, participating on panels, working as advisors to the staff of The Harvard Crimson and sharing meals at Harvard houses. Students and faculty who get to know fellows in classrooms often come to Lippmann House, Nieman’s home on campus, to attend soundings, seminars and conferences. These visitors develop a deep appreciation for the sacrifices and contributions made by the fellows in their reporting, which in turn helps foster greater respect for the work of journalists everywhere.

Nieman Fellows and members of the foundation’s staff can be found at dinners and brown bag discussions at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, programs at the Kennedy Schools’ John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, and the Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Noontime conversations over lunch with other midcareer fellows from the Institute of Politics, the Graduate School of Design, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Shorenstein Center Fellowship Program help Niemans to expand their networks of contacts and sources.

In time, all fellows join the ranks of the Nieman alumni community. The strong network they form provides untold opportunities for collaboration worldwide. The fellows also bring the knowledge they have gained at Harvard back to their newsrooms and to their work, creating new ways to share their Nieman experience.

A Common Goal to Support and Defend Journalists

Working with the Committee to Protect Journalists has enabled us to provide sanctuary for international journalists whose lives and careers have been in peril.

Still fresh in our memory is the cold day in January 2003 when Geoff Nyarota and his family walked into Lippmann House, safe at last from the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe that wanted to put him in prison for his forthright editorship of the independent newspaper he had founded in Harare.

This year, CPJ and the Nieman Foundation collaborated to enable J. S. “Tissa” Tissainayagam to come to Harvard from Sri Lanka after having been released early from a cruel and unwarranted 20-year prison sentence for articles he wrote critical of the government.

The value of the Nieman Foundation’s brand and our network of partnerships was once again effectively demonstrated this past summer when we mounted a successful effort to overturn a decision by the U.S. State Department to deny a visa to Colombian journalist Hollman Morris. His probing television reports had portrayed the plight of victims of the Colombian civil war and disclosed abuses by the country’s intelligence agency, angering the Colombian government. Our call for help from journalism and human rights organizations created a coalition of organizations that produced letters, news stories, columns and editorials as well as vital back-channel contacts with the State Department that resulted in a visa for Hollman and his family. They arrived in the United States in time to begin his Nieman year.

Outreach in all Media

During the past 10 years, the Internet and social media have provided the means for the Nieman Foundation to build new partnerships and speak with an authoritative voice in the conversation about the roles and responsibilities of journalists in the digital age.

Through our programs and publications, Nieman Reports and its “Professor’s Corner,” the Nieman Journalism Lab, Nieman Storyboard and Nieman Watchdog, we reach out to all who wish to explore journalism’s many challenges and possibilities and join us in our mission to promote and elevate the standards of journalism and educate persons deemed specially qualified for journalism.

In all of our publications, we rely on a large corps of talented contributors who enhance our work with their expertise and diverse viewpoints. We are grateful to them for their assistance. We are also greatly indebted to our most committed partners, our donors, who so generously support our work through their gifts and grants. 

Of course none of the Nieman Foundation’s success would be possible without the dedication and diligence of our staff. They keep our programs running smoothly with their many skills and their deep commitment to our work.

The members of the Nieman Advisory Board likewise provide valued support and wise counsel. They provide new contacts, fresh perspectives and valuable insight that helps guide our activities.

We believe that the community we have built through our many partnerships and alliances has made the Nieman Foundation greater than the mere sum of its parts. It is through sharing that we have become stronger and more effective.

All of our partnerships are designed to enrich the experience of the Nieman Fellows and extend Nieman’s say in the critical conversations about the role of serious journalism today. They have become a growing part of the Nieman legacy that the next curator will inherit and lead.*

* Bob Giles will retire as curator of the Nieman Foundation in June 2011. During his decade-long tenure, he expanded the reach and scope of the foundation’s work through a variety of new projects and programs. Read more »

Learn more about Giles' work at the foundation in his Curator's Corner column, "Expanding the Vision of the Nieman Foundation,"  in the Winter 2010 issue of Nieman Reports.