Nieman News

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard will present the Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism to Somali reporter Mohamed Olad Hassan on Thursday, November 18, 2010.

Nieman Fellows in the class of 2011 selected Hassan, a senior correspondent and writer for the BBC World Service and The Associated Press, in recognition of his courageous reporting from a perilous region and for his enduring commitment to the people of Somalia.

In choosing him, the Nieman Fellows said: “Journalists face increasing pressures in many parts of the world, but Mohammed Olad Hassan stands out in a crowd of worthy candidates. We admire his intrepid reporting in the face of mortal danger. We appreciate his determination to carry on in an environment so hostile that almost no else will. He has become the world’s eyes and ears in Somalia, and in a real sense the voice of the country. For that we honor him.”

Hassan has endured repeated death threats, intimidation and a shrapnel wound from a mortar explosion near his home in 2007. In December 2009, he narrowly escaped with his life when a bomb exploded at a graduation ceremony he was covering, killing two dozen people, including a colleague who had just taken Hassan’s own seat.

While a number of journalists and media professionals have been killed on the job in Somalia and others have been forced to flee the country, Hassan has persevered. Despite efforts by the government and radical insurgent groups like Al Shabab to silence the media, he has chosen to stay, citing his “desire to inform the world, to tell the truth and help bring peace and democracy to my own country.” Hassan’s peers recognize him as the voice of the voiceless in Somalia.

Hassan started his career writing for the Xog-Ogaal newspaper in Mogadishu in 2001. The following year he became the Somali Television Network’s chief Mogadishu correspondent and in 2003, he began reporting for the BBC World Service and The Associated Press. He has covered the conflict in Somalia, breaking a number of important stories. Earlier this year, he won the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s Speaker Abbot Award, presented annually in London to the journalist who is considered to have made the greatest contribution internationally to the promotion of parliamentary democracy.

The Nieman class of 1964 established the Louis M. Lyons Award in honor of the Nieman Foundation curator who retired that year after leading the institution for a quarter of a century. The award honors displays of conscience and integrity by individuals, groups or institutions in communications.

This year, in addition to Hassan, Nieman Fellows nominated a number of courageous journalists who report under difficult situations in countries around the globe. Finalists for the 2010 Lyons Award included:

  • Claudia Julieta Duque, a journalist who has covered human rights issues in Colombia for the past two decades. She has reported on massacres and disappearances, documented the recruitment of children in Colombia’s armed conflict and exposed the infiltration of right-wing paramilitary groups into government institutions. Because of her work, she has been a victim of intimidation, kidnapping, death threats and illegal surveillance — all carried out by the Colombian secret police, the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS). Duque was forced into exile three times between 2001 and 2008.
  • Ahmad Zeidabadi, an Iranian journalist who has been arrested multiple times for his writing and is currently serving a six-year sentence in a prison near Tehran. His most recent arrest followed the Iranian presidential election in June 2009. He was held for 35 days in solitary confinement and beaten badly during interrogations. His latest prison sentence includes five years of internal exile in the city of Gonabad and a lifetime ban on all social and political activities. Zeidabadi had been writing for Roozonline, a Web-based daily published in Europe, before his arrest.

James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, will deliver the keynote address during the ceremony honoring Hassan. Fallows has worked for the magazine for more than 25 years, based in cities across the United States and Asia. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter and two years as the editor of U.S. News & World Report. Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he also has won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a New York Emmy for the documentary, “On the Frontlines: Doing Business in China.” His two most recent books, “Blind Into Baghdad: America’s War in Iraq” (2006) and “Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China” (2009), are based on his writings for The Atlantic. A Harvard College graduate, Fallows was president of the student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. He also received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford and was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation.

Established in 1938, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard administers the oldest midcareer fellowship program for journalists in the world. Working journalists of accomplishment and promise are selected to come to Harvard for a year of study, seminars and special events. More than 1,300 journalists from 90 countries have received Nieman Fellowships.The foundation’s programs include the Nieman Journalism Lab, an innovative collaborative that identifies emerging business models and best practices in journalism in the digital media age; Nieman Reports, an influential quarterly written by and for journalists since 1947; Nieman Watchdog, a project that encourages journalists to monitor and hold accountable all those who exert power in public life; and Nieman Storyboard, a website that showcases exceptional narrative journalism in every medium and explores the future of nonfiction storytelling.

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