Curator’s Column

Ann Marie Lipinski
When Nieman Fellow David Skok arrived on campus in the fall of 2011, he sought out Professor Clay Christensen, the renowned Harvard Business School expert on disruptive innovation. Skok’s goal: apply Professor Christensen’s theories to the seismic disruptions rocking the media industry and model ways for newsrooms to respond.

David’s work at the business school had tremendous impact on his thinking and we were determined that the fruits of his inquiry not end with his fellowship. The results underscore how we are working to amplify the Nieman Foundation’s impact far beyond Harvard’s Lippmann House.

From one fellow’s singular quest came “Be the Disruptor,” a special issue of Nieman Reports co-authored by Christensen, Skok and James Allworth, one of Christensen’s fellows. Their report was additionally published as an e-book. Nieman Lab posted a recording of an interview with the three Fellows leaving Harvard have long gone on to extraordinary accomplishments and we have strengthened our programming so that we are fortifying each generation to lead through a new set of And this winter, Lippmann House will be the site of a forum with Christensen and Skok that we will live stream to a broad industry audience. The wide response we have received is a direct outgrowth of the quality of one fellow’s year at Harvard and the power in coordinating Nieman’s multiple assets—the fellowship, our programming, and our publications, both in print and online.

David’s post-fellowship commitment to this work also demonstrates the value of perhaps our most important asset: Nieman alumni. He was one of 24 extraordinary journalists selected for the 74th class of Nieman fellows, and as their fellowship year ended, 24 more journalists prepared for their Nieman year. With each transition, our alumni community grows and in my second year as curator, I have begun to more fully appreciate the importance of that community to Nieman’s vitality.

Nieman alumni demonstrated their commitment to the foundation in generous ways. They contributed stories to Nieman Reports, Nieman Lab and Storyboard. They met with the fellows to offer valuable counsel. This Storyboard post recounts a visit by writer H.G. Bissinger NF ’86, author of several books including “Friday Night Lights,” who challenged fellows to leave Harvard with renewed purpose.

A group of Nieman alumni, co-chaired by Maggie Jones NF ’12 and Robert Blau NF ’97, is overseeing planning for the Nieman Foundation’s 75th Reunion in Cambridge September 27-29. And the Nieman Advisory Board received new alumni leadership this year when board member John Harwood NF ’90 succeeded Bill Wheatley NF ’77 as chairman. John, a political reporter for The New York Times and CNBC, also participated in an important campaign forum for Harvard faculty and Nieman fellows 40 days before the presidential election. That discussion—moderated by Harvard historian Jill Lepore and featuring alumnus and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson NF ’88 and New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza — demonstrated the unique contributions the Nieman Foundation continues to make to campus and faculty life.

Moderator Jill Lepore with political journalists John Harwood, NF ’90, Eugene Robinson, NF ’88, and Ryan Lizza in September.

In preparing for Nieman’s 75th anniversary, it is fitting to evaluate the health and relevance of the fellowship to a rapidly evolving journalism. Fellows leaving Harvard have long gone on to extraordinary accomplishments and we have strengthened our programming so that we are fortifying each generation to lead through a new set of challenges.

Some of that work, which you can read about in more detail in this annual report, involves working with Harvard faculty and journalism industry leaders to expand the professional training opportunities at Nieman. We also have added to our fellowship options in order to enhance the experience for journalists studying here and open our doors to others who may not be candidates for our traditional program.

This past year we welcomed our first two Nieman-Berkman Fellows to Harvard — journalists Laura Norton Amico of Homicide Watch D.C. and Borja Echevarría de la Gándara of El País in Madrid. In addition to their status as Nieman fellows, Laura and Borja are steeped in the work of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a forum that has greatly expanded their network and knowledge. In turn, they have strengthened Nieman’s relationship with an important partner on campus and brought to Lippmann House and the other fellows new ways of thinking about the complexities journalists confront.

We also experimented this year with our first Visiting Fellowship, responding to the need some journalists have for project-based research at Harvard and the opportunity we have to work with those who are impacting journalism but may not be candidates for our traditional fellowship.

Our inaugural Visiting Fellow was Paul Salopek, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was researching Out of Eden, his seven-year reporting walk across the globe to retrace the path of human migration from East Africa to Patagonia. In three months at Harvard, Paul made tremendous progress working with scholars and researchers ranging from the Peabody Museum to the Graduate School of Education to MIT’s Center for Civic Media. Based on the success of that first test, we are welcoming a succession of three Visiting Fellows to Nieman next year; they include a programmer who is creating a new social media tool for journalists, an academic researching the narrative values in war reporting, and an editor crafting a new business model for journalism in his country. Each will publish or present the results of their work at Harvard.

Those who created the Nieman Fellowship 75 years ago may not have anticipated the immediate need for women or international journalists, inevitabilities without which the program would have withered. So too we may not know today all the ways in which the fellowship will evolve or the problems journalists will come to Nieman to solve. But with the support and guidance of our fellows, present and past, we plan on being prepared, as ever, “to promote and elevate the standards of journalism and educate individuals deemed specially qualified for journalism.”

Ann Marie Lipinski
Nieman Foundation Curator
1990 Nieman Fellow