Nieman Conferences

The Nieman Foundation hosts conferences that examine some of the thorniest issues facing journalists today. By convening journalists, leading scholars, researchers and other professionals who work across disciplines, an instructive dialogue begins and concrete, viable solutions to journalism’s challenges begin to take shape.

In the past year, the foundation welcomed journalists to discuss three areas of concern:

Journalism in Eastern Europe: Who Controls the Media?

In May 2011, the Nieman Foundation brought together academics, journalists and media experts to discuss the different paths societies and journalism have taken in post-communist Eastern Europe. Reporting in and about the former East Bloc nations is often difficult: While some of the states are now full democracies and members of the European Union, others struggle with fragile democracies and some remain de facto authoritarian regimes.

Using the Spring 2011 issue of Nieman Reports, “Shattering Barriers to Reveal Corruption,” as a starting point for discussion, the conference explored control over information, the lack of professionalism in mainstream media, the risks journalists face, the development of experimental networks of independent journalists and the industry of media assistance.

The goal of the conference was to generate new ideas for media and information policies in Eastern Europe and other post-totalitarian states.

Sessions included: Politics, Culture and Civil Societies of Eastern Europe: Framework for Journalism and Media; Practice of Journalism: Risks and Barriers; and Western Aid and Media Assistance: What is Needed Now?


Freedom of the Press in Latin America

Leading Latin American journalists, including past and present Nieman Fellows, gathered for a one-day conference at Harvard on Nov. 18, 2011 to take a close look at Freedom of the Press in Latin America. The speakers discussed the many difficult obstacles journalists face on the job in their countries, including the killings of colleagues, abductions, intimidation, pressure from government officials or from powerful media moguls and the absence of legal protection and press freedom laws.

They also presented innovative solutions to some common problems, including information on how online news magazines are making a difference in the regional media landscape.

Two major conclusions came out of the conference: the growing importance of new/social media for journalists in Latin America and a recognition that the dual problems of poverty and illiteracy continue to hamper journalists trying to serve their communities.

The Nieman Foundation co-sponsored the event with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.

Read the general assessments that opened each of the conference sessions:

Global Health and Storytelling in the Digital Age

In December 2011, the Nieman Foundation joined forces with GlobalPost and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s Media Fellowship Program to host a conference on Global Health and Storytelling in the Digital Age.

Bringing a group of 70 key decision makers, academics, practitioners and journalists to Harvard’s Loeb House, the event was kicked off with a formal dinner and keynote by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah.

Discussing USAID initiatives that are saving the lives of people around the globe, including successful programs to reduce child mortality rates, Shah engaged in a lively conversation with Nieman curator Ann Marie Lipinski. At a time when deep foreign aid cuts are threatening programs, Shah urged the journalists present to continue to cover efforts to assist the world’s poor, adding that global health professionals “have a lot to learn from those of you who bring genuine journalistic skills and critical insights to that task.”

The also featured GlobalPost's “Healing the World” project, which followed the Obama administration's flagship global health program--the Global Health Initiative--into several developing nations to assess what progress, if any, has been made since the announcement of the initiative more than two years ago.

Global Health Journalists Talk Shop, Create Community

On day two of the conference, a group of about 30 leading journalists who focus on health, poverty and development came together at GlobalPost’s headquarters in Boston. The reporters, editors, photographers and multimedia journalists shared information about what it takes to get more traction for seemingly distant, not-very-newsy global health topics with both editors and audiences alike; and what can be learned from journalists who have succeeded in turning complex, international stories into clear, engaging narratives for all platforms.

Participants included several current and former Global Health Nieman Fellows including Samuel Loewenberg (freelance, NF ’11), Rema Nagarajan (Times of India, NF ’12), Antigone Barton (freelance, NF ’11), Kalpana Jain (freelance, NF ’09) and Christine Gorman (Scientific American, NF ’08) as well as other leading journalists on the subject: David Baron, health and science editor at PRI’s “The World”; Sarah Boseley, health editor at The Guardian (U.K.); Gary Strieker, director of Global Health Frontline News; and Kristen Ashburn, a freelance photographer and author of the multimedia project “Bloodline.”

Workshop sessions covered topics such as: Why we need more and better reporting from the frontlines of global health; GlobalPost's "Healing the World" series; lessons learned taking a complex policy story to the field and back; and global health and storytelling in the digital age.

While working through the dual challenges in global health reporting today—finding funding and presenting complex international stories in ways that mainstream media will run them—participants also shared some uplifting stories and data.

“At The Associated Press, health stories from around the world are in high demand,” explained Margie Mason, Asia-Pacific medical writer at the AP and a 2009 Nieman Global Health Fellow. “People do read these stories, so newspapers ask us for more.”

Contradicting a major argument in newsrooms that audiences do not want to consume long-form stories on international health, GlobalPost's communications and marketing director Richard Byrne had some surprising data to share. “At first, I could not believe the numbers,” said Byrne, who spends his workdays watching Internet traffic. “Across the board, the "Healing the World" special project did far better than our regular news site. People stayed on the site longer, looked at more pages and came back more often.”

Since it launched in May 2011, "Healing the World" has had more than a million unique visitors, with 5.75 pages per visit compared to the Global Post average of 2.5. People spent on average 6.10 minutes on the series site compared to 1.5 minutes average for the site as a whole; and the bounce rate fell from an average 65 percent to 21 percent.

In addition to giving leaders in the field of global health journalism a chance to talk shop, the workshop — like so many Nieman conferences — also provided a rare opportunity for these journalists focusing on undercovered stories to find community. 2009 Nieman Fellow Margie Mason summed it up this way: "It was amazing to swap stories, frustrations and little bits of encouragement with fellow global health journalists. Who knew there were so many of us? Sometimes I think we all feel like we're alone fighting the good fight, so it was just fantastic for us to all have a chance to come together and talk about ways to do our jobs better."