Curator's Column

Anniversaries are arbitrary occasions for taking stock. Why do we celebrate one distant year over another? They can also tilt backwards, more nostalgia than inspiration. But our histories, personal and institutional, are important. Understanding them helps us to build upon them.

When we began planning for the Nieman’s Foundation’s 75th anniversary, we were determined to celebrate our history by being true to it, hosting a reunion that would recreate for Nieman alumni the very experience of being a fellow. With the help of a committed alumni planning committee, we sought a Harvard experience that would feel like a weekend Nieman for the more than 400 fellows and affiliates who traveled from across the globe to Cambridge last September. And for the 24 new fellows who were just beginning their Harvard year, we hoped to introduce them to the extraordinary intellectual opportunities that can challenge and expand them as journalists.

From the opening Soundings to the 90-Minute Nieman to Robert Caro’s conversation with Anne Hull to the presentation of the I.F. Stone Medal to Dorothy Wickenden’s panel on innovations in storytelling, the weekend’s programming not only revived memories of the Nieman experience, but challenged us all to think expansively about our journalism in this time of great disruption. Time to talk and celebrate at Lippmann House and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts rekindled old relationships challenged by distance and forged new ones occasioned by the cross-class gathering, all of it underscoring the very definition of fellowship.

The reunion was set against the backdrop of deep reporting on Nieman’s history, collected in a special issue of Nieman Reports. As we prepared for the 75th, it was clear that Nieman knew little about Nieman — Agnes Wahl Nieman, the woman whose gift to Harvard created the fellowship but who remained a vague and ghostly benefactor. Maggie Jones, co-chair of the reunion committee, reported and wrote a detailed profile of her that reveals for the first time the story behind the foundation’s creation. Paired with this profile is Julia Keller’s moving essay on the evolution of the fellowship from its birth as President Conant’s “dubious experiment”; a collection of Nieman “moments” from 75 of our esteemed alumni; and a history of Nieman developments, from the coining of “curator” to the creation of the Nieman Lab.

Against the backdrop of the 75th, the Nieman Foundation continued to innovate in multiple ways, many of which you will see detailed throughout this report. The fellowship itself, which at Nieman's founding and for many years was its sole initiative, evolved. This included an expansion of a Visiting Fellows program to attract a new type of applicant and project, and a redefining of the traditional fellows' experience to embrace a more rigorous training curriculum.

I hope my own reflections on Nieman at 75 convey both gratitude for Nieman’s historic gift for educating “persons deemed specially qualified for journalism” as well as our determination to keep the fellowship vital for the next 75.

Ann Marie Lipinski, NF '90
Nieman Foundation Curator