A Year of Ideas and Exploration

Morris lecturer Dexter Filkins, NF '07, with Ulla Morris Carter

Early in 2011, Dexter Filkins, NF '07, returned to Lippmann House to deliver the Joe Alex Morris Jr. Lecture, sharing stories of his years as a war correspondent and his new post at The New Yorker. On the heels on his visit, the foundation hosted a special session with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting on digital, foundation-funded, project-based international reporting. The workshop was followed by a dinner presentation on events in Sudan with 2011 fellow Gwen Thompkins moderating a conversation with Rebecca Hamilton, special correspondent on Sudan for The Washington Post and PBS NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro.

Journalists Fred de Sam Lazaro, Rebecca Hamilton and Gwen Thompkins, NF '11

Throughout the spring, fellows heard from an array of impressive speakers — from legendary documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman and investigative civil rights reporter Jerry Mitchell to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson, who explained why it took her 15 years and more than 1,000 interviews to produce her bestseller “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration." The fellows also listened to Berkman Center guru Ethan Zuckerman explain how social media is affecting world events, notably the Arab spring uprisings, and they viewed images straight out of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, taken by photojournalist Iason Athanasiadis, NF ’08, just back from a trip to Egypt. Among the many other speakers sharing insights were Lyor Cohen, CEO of recorded music at Warner Music group and author and New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean, NF '04.

Photojournalist Kael Alford, NF '09, and her husband Thorne Anderson taught photojournalism techniques while journalist Walter Robinson discussed how to do investigative reporting in a nonprofit setting. Sebastian Junger spoke about the gritty realities of filming “Restrepo” in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army.

Top: Filmmaker Errol Morris in conversation with Maggie Jones, NF '12; bottom: theater director Peter Sellars with Nieman curator Ann Marie Lipinski

In the fall, the class of 2012 fellows feasted on a range of ideas presented by David Simon, co-creator of “The Wire,” theater director Peter Sellars, filmmaker Errol Morris and a host of Harvard luminaries including Harvey Cox, David Gergen, Jill Lepore, Stephen Greenblatt, Kenneth Rogoff, Randall Kennedy and Laurence Tribe.

They learned about the remarkable innovation taking place at the MIT Media Lab from co-founder Nicholas Negroponte and director Joichi Ito, later followed by a visit to the Lab hosted by Nieman Fellow Akiko Sugaya and her husband Hiroshi Ishii, who is associate director of the Lab. And they gathered in a packed lecture hall to hear narrative journalism icon Gay Talese, an event Nieman co-sponsored with the Harvard Writers at Work lecture series. The fellows also explored new nonprofit journalism business models with ProPublica editor-in-chief Paul Steiger and Chicago News Cooperative founder James O’Shea.

The fellows held intense discussions about what defines a journalist in the Internet age. After careful consideration, they chose an unconventional winner for the annual Lyons Award: Mohammed Nabbous, the founder of Libya Alhurra TV, who had never been trained as a journalist. Nabbous had broadcast images online of the Libyan uprising in Benghazi to the outside world before being shot and killed in March 2011. He was honored as a representative of all those who worked to provide information about the Arab Spring protests. Nabbous’ wife Samra Naas, came to Cambridge to accept the award and talk about his important work.

Throughout the fall, the fellows learned new skills and ways to work. Adam Sharp, manager of government and political partnerships at Twitter, discussed Twitter in the newsroom; Peabody Award-winning producer Pat Walters spoke about Radiolab’s narrative-style reporting; and Nieman affiliate, Judy Siviglia, taught a series of video classes.