Nieman Reports

Nieman Reports ventured into new territory in the fall of 2012 with our much-discussed "Be the Disruptor" issue on the need for radical ideas in the newsroom. In a collaborative cover story "Breaking News," Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen, 2012 Nieman Fellow David Skok and researcher James Allworth came together to analyze the news business and its prospects through the lens of disruptive innovation. The authors provided news executives the means to help save their organizations and find new revenue streams in a rapidly changing industry.

Their analysis of how journalism institutions can adapt to the changing times brought many positive responses on blogs and social media, demonstrating the value of the kind of thoughtful, in-depth research and scholarship that a Nieman Fellowship makes possible. In early 2013, Christensen and Skok, director of digital content for, will sit down together at the Nieman Foundation for a live-streamed discussion of the questions and ideas that they raised in their article.

The spirit of collaboration crossed over to the Nieman Journalism Lab when Lab director Joshua Benton interviewed the authors for a lengthy podcast on the topic.

A fresh look and focus

The 2012 calendar year began with a new direction for Nieman Reports, one closely aligned with programming at Lippmann House that also honors the magazine's long tradition of helping journalists and media leaders cope with the challenges of the day. The new design of the magazine reflects a desire to present information more visually and vibrantly to our print readers.

With the new format, we've focused on bigger, bolder images and a creative use of white space. Nieman Fellows will find echoes of their fellowship year in two new features: "Sounding" and "Heard at Lippmann House." They reflect an interest in sharing the rich exchanges that occur within the house with a wider audience.

Traditionally, the weekly Sounding at Lippmann House has been by fellows for fellows, with each member of the class telling the story of his or her career path in journalism at a get-together that takes place nearly every week throughout the academic year. Through the addition in each issue of an essay adapted from an actual Sounding, Nieman Reports is bringing some of these inspiring tales to a wider audience.

As all who've been a fellow know, the weekly seminars and special talks at Lippmann House offer an opportunity to hear from and converse with leaders in a wide variety of disciplines. "Heard at Lippmann House" provides an opportunity to offer highlights from the talks given by the many speakers who come to Lippmann House to engage with fellows.

"Watchdog Project" is a third feature that has been added to Nieman Reports this year. After the Nieman Watchdog Project stopped publishing its website in August, Dan Froomkin, formerly deputy editor of the site, began writing watchdog articles for Nieman Reports as a new contributing editor. He previously worked as a senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post and wrote a White House politics column for

Nieman Reports is now the home for Nieman Watchdog Project articles examining the successes and failures of watchdog journalism. In the Fall 2012 issue, Froomkin's article "The Big Chill" probed the challenges facing national security reporters at a time when the Obama administration is operating amid unprecedented secrecy.

In between print issues of the magazine, visitors to can find updates on Nieman programs and a continually updated Twitter feed on news from the world of journalism. The website also features additional Watchdog content, including Dan Froomkin's interviews with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editor Marty Kaiser and Columbia University professor Sheila Coronel about investigative journalism.

Nieman Reports in 2012

Spring 2012
What Would You Change if You Were Back in Charge?
Looking back what would they do differently? Six editors take a hard look at newspapers and what it will take for them to stay alive. More investigative journalism, more training, and an embrace of digital initiatives are among the priorities they'd have if they were back in charge. What resonates throughout their essays is the need for coverage that helps citizens and democracy thrive.

Veteran newspaper designer Mario Garcia praised former Baltimore Sun editor Timothy A. Franklin's suggestion for converting the newspaper into a local-oriented, digital-first new operation by distributing e-readers to subscribers, commenting that the "plan sounds like one that many US publishers should read and implement. It is not print first or digital first, it is the story first, and serving it to the reader/user in whichever platform he wishes to consume it."

The issue was also distributed to the country's top newspaper editors at the American Society of News Editors conference, held in Washington, D.C. this past April.

Summer 2012
Truth in the Age of Social Media
Verifying information has always been central to the work of journalists. These days the task has taken on a new level of complexity due to the volume of videos, photos and tweets that journalists face. It's not only the volume that presents challenges but the sophisticated tools that make it easier than ever to manipulate information. This issue of Nieman Reports looks at how the BBC, the Associated Press, CNN and other news organizations are addressing questions of truth and verification.

"Truth in the Age of Social Media," attracted notice. Among the readers weighing in:
  • The Poynter Institute's Craig Silverman, a contributor to the issue, called the "exhaustive cover package" a "state of the art crib sheet of best practices" for vetting information. In addition, his Poynter colleague Bill Mitchell tweeted that Storyful founder Mark Little, in his piece "Finding the Wisdom in the Crowd," "makes [a] compelling case for collaboration [with] competitors as well as non-journalists."
  • NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen praised Linda Greenhouse's article on the perils of seeking balance over truth, tweeting "Bit by bit the 'he said, she said' glacier is breaking off and crashing into the sea … The practitioners themselves balk."
  • On his iRevolution blog, Patrick Meier, former director of Harvard's Program on Crisis Mapping, highlighted some of the issue's "gems," including "Inside the BBC's Verification Hub."

Fall 2012
Be the Disruptor
Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen's theory of disruptive innovation provides a framework to understand how businesses grow, become successful, and falter as nimble start-ups muscle in on their customers. It's a familiar story, one that has played out in the steel and auto industries, among others. In this issue, Christensen, in collaboration with 2012 Nieman Fellow David Skok, applies his analysis to the news industry. Their goal in the cover story, "Breaking News," is to encourage news executives to apply the lessons of disruption to the media industry as a means of charting new paths to survival and success.

The article has been shared thousands of times on Twitter and Facebook, with one user calling it an "absolute must read for anyone in the business of digital media." Some also used it as a starting point for their own discussions on the subject of disruption:
  • Designer and publisher Craig Mod called the article a "Phenomenal overview on how the systems of the post-artifact newsroom have evolved," and drew inspiration from it for his essay "Subcompact Publishing," examining what a disrupted media environment would look like.
  • Mark Potts, the vice president of content at The World Company, wrote that it was "maybe the most insightful, important article on the future of the news business since … 2009," and further said that "This is exactly the kind of restructuring and rethinking we're embarking on in Lawrence to become truly 'audience first' and find a model for a successful local news organization. Christensen's article is like reading the recipe."
After 65 years serving as the Nieman Foundation's primary news outlet and as a mutual gathering point for the worldwide community of Nieman Fellows, Nieman Reports looks forward to welcoming the editorial oversight of new deputy curator—and magazine industry veteran—James Geary, a 2012 Nieman Fellow. James's experience with the European edition of Time magazine and in launching other international publications will help Nieman Reports continue to tackle the biggest issues facing journalism today and further expand our reach in the greater media ecosystem. He'll join Nieman Reports in January 2013.

Jan Gardner, Assistant Editor
Jonathan Seitz, Editorial Assistant