Nieman News

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Gwen Thompkins, East Africa Correspondent for National Public Radio, will present the 2009 Joe Alex Morris Jr. Memorial Lecture at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard on February 5, 2009.

Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Thompkins covers a variety of nations from the Horn to the heart of Africa. From 1996 to 2006, Thompkins was the senior editor of Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon.

The Joe Alex Morris Jr. Lecture honors the foreign correspondent of the Los Angeles Times who was killed in February 1979 while covering the Iranian Revolution in Tehran. The lectureship was created in 1981 by his family, Harvard classmates and friends.

Morris was a member of the Harvard Class of 1949. He inherited an interest in international news from his father, who had served as foreign editor of United Press International and the New York Herald Tribune. After working as a local reporter at The Hartford Times and the Minneapolis Tribune, Joe Jr. worked at Newsweek and later the Los Angeles Times. The Middle East was his journalistic home for 25 years.

In February 1979, Morris and other Western journalists were in Tehran covering one of the final events leading to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. On February 10, in a clash between forces loyal to the government and those committed to the Ayatollah Khomeini, Morris was struck by a bullet and killed. In the fall of 1981, he posthumously received the Nieman Fellows’ Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity.

Gwen Thompkins, the 2009 Morris Lecture speaker, was born and raised in New Orleans. She is a graduate of Newcomb College at Tulane University and double majored in history and Soviet studies. She was a Thomas J. Watson Fellow in Eastern Europe when the Berlin Wall fell.

For many years, Thompkins worked as a reporter and editor at The Times-Picayune newspaper. In 2005 and early 2006, she and NPR producer Sarah Beyer Kelly filed a series of radio stories from New Orleans on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Thompkins’ own home had been damaged by the storm’s flood waters.

Established in 1938, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard administers the oldest midcareer fellowship program for journalists in the world. The fellowships are awarded to working journalists of accomplishment and promise who come to Harvard University for a year of study, seminars and special events. More than 1,300 journalists from 88 countries have received Nieman Fellowships.

The Nieman Foundation publishes the quarterly magazine Nieman Reports, the nation’s oldest magazine devoted to a critical examination of the practice of journalism, and is home to the Nieman Journalism Lab, which identifies emerging business models and best practices in journalism in the digital media age. The foundation also runs the Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism and the Nieman Watchdog Project, which encourages reporters and editors to monitor and hold accountable those who exert power in all aspects of public life.

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