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January 11 2012

16:00

Announcing the Nieman-Berkman Fellowship in Journalism Innovation

For over 70 years here at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, we’ve run the Nieman Fellowships, which allows a couple dozen journalists from around the world to spend a year studying here at Harvard. And today, we’re announcing a new fellowship partner that I’m really excited about.

I’m happy to announce the Nieman-Berkman Fellowship in Journalism Innovation. It’s a joint project between us here at Nieman and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the primary unit of the university dedicated to understanding our digital present and future. Berkman runs its own awesome fellowship program that brings technologists, social scientists, legal scholars, journalists, and others to Harvard. The Nieman-Berkman Fellow will be a full Nieman Fellow and a full Berkman Fellow, able to draw on both communities and help strengthen connections between technology and journalism.

So what’s this Nieman-Berkman Fellowship all about? We’re looking for someone who had a specific course of research or project that they’d like to undertake — something that would have a substantial benefit to the larger world of journalism. We’re intentionally keeping the boundaries of that idea wide open — so proposals might deal with social media, with data visualization, with database analysis, with the underlying business models of online journalism, with newsroom structure, with networked journalism, with mobile consumption patters, or anything else that plays a meaningful part in how digital journalism is evolving. If it’s a subject or field that we write about here at Nieman Lab, it probably makes sense for a proposal for the Nieman-Berkman Fellowship.

This fellowship is also open to a wider range of applicants than the other Nieman Fellowships. For instance, someone who works on the publishing or technology sides of a news organization could be a strong candidate, even if they aren’t reporters or editors.

When the Nieman-Berkman Fellow arrives on campus this fall, he or she will work with Nieman and Berkman to advance the work of the proposal, sharing their work and their findings with readers of Nieman Lab and with the Harvard community. It’s a pretty great gig — one I’d be applying for myself if I weren’t already here!

You can read a lot more about the Nieman-Berkman Fellowship over here, and I’m happy to answer specific questions by email. Because we’re announcing this fellowship a little later than usual, we’ve extended the deadline for applications to February 15 — so you’ve got a little over a month to think up a proposal and apply. This fellowship is open to both U.S. citizens and international applicants; we’ll do interviews with finalists in the spring and, if we find the right person, make an announcement in May. We look forward to seeing your ideas.

(An aside: Americans are also still very much welcome to apply for the traditional Nieman Fellowships, which have a deadline of January 31. Unfortunately, the deadline for international applicants was back in December. I’d strongly encourage any journalist who wants to apply for the Nieman-Berkman Fellowship to also apply for the standard fellowship — that’ll help your odds.)

May 24 2011

17:00

Welcome to the new class of Nieman Fellows

It’s official: The 2011-12 class of Nieman Fellows has been announced. These 24 terrific journalists will come to Harvard a few months from now and spend the next academic year investigating subjects that will make them into even better journalists. Since I’ve talked about the fellowship many times before, I thought you might like a chance to see who this year’s winners are.

If you’d like to join their number next year, we’ll open up applications again in the fall. I don’t know for certain yet what the deadlines will be, but they’re traditionally December 15 for international applicants and January 31 for Americans.

U.S. Nieman Fellows in the class of 2012 and their areas of interest:

Jonathan Blakley, foreign desk producer, NPR, will study history, politics and social media in sub-Saharan Africa. He also will examine the domestic media environment in the United States on the cusp of the 2012 presidential election.

Tyler Bridges, an author and freelance journalist based in Lima, Peru, will study the changes, challenges and opportunities for delivering news in the digital era in both the United States and Latin America.

James Geary, editor of Ode magazine and a freelance journalist based in London, will undertake a multidisciplinary study of wit, exploring what wit is and how it enables us to understand and solve complicated social problems, identify and exploit political and business opportunities, achieve psychological and scientific insights and improvise in the arts and in daily life.

Anna Griffin, metro columnist, The Oregonian, will study the evolution and future of American cities, with an emphasis on the role government agencies play in combating poverty and controlling sprawl.

Maggie Jones, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine based inNewton, Massachusetts, will study immigration public policy, law and literature, particularly as they relate to families in the United States and abroad.

David Joyner, vice president for content, Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc. in Birmingham, Alabama, will study the availability of local news and information and its effect on civic engagement. He is the 2012 Donald W. Reynolds Nieman Fellow in Community Journalism.

Dina Kraft, a freelance journalist based in Tel Aviv, Israel, will study dueling national narratives in conflict zones, examining how they are born, evolve and impact their societies. She also will look at attempts to reconcile narratives in countries and regions emerging from decades of unrest.

Kristen Lombardi, staff writer at the Center for Public Integrity, will study the legal and social conditions that promote wrongful convictions, particularly the impact of institutional misconduct and the consequences of systemic resistance to reform.

Megan O’Grady, literary critic for Vogue, will examine the relationship between women novelists, literary criticism and the canon, focusing on postwar American literature and the persistence of gender myths in cultural discourse. O’Grady is the 2012 Arts and Culture Nieman Fellow.

Raquel Rutledge, investigative reporter, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, will examine federal regulation and oversight of the nation’s food supply as it relates to public health. She is the Louis Stark Nieman Fellow. The fellowship honors the memory of the New York Times reporter who was a pioneer in the field of labor reporting.

Adam Tanner, Balkans bureau chief for Thomson Reuters, will study the expanding computer universe of personal data, including how private firms and governments assemble massive databases on individuals and the implications for business, journalism, the law and privacy. He also will examine techniques of narrative journalism in the Internet era.

Jeff Young, senior correspondent with PRI’s “Living on Earth,” based in Arlington, Massachusetts, will study the full costs of energy sources and how new media might spark a more meaningful discussion of energy choices. Young is the 2012 Donald W. Reynolds Nieman Fellow in Business Journalism.

International Nieman Fellows in the class of 2012 and their areas of interest:

Claudia Méndez Arriaza (Guatemala), editor and staff writer for El Periódico and co-host of the television show “A las 8:45,” which airs on Canal Antigua, will study law and political science to understand the shape of the rule of law in emerging democracies. She also will explore American literature and its links to Latin American culture. She is a 2012 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Latin American Nieman Fellow.

Carlotta Gall (United Kingdom), senior reporter for Afghanistan/Pakistan, The New York Times, will study history, with particular focus on American expansionism, the Middle East and American diplomacy in the region. Gall is the 2012 Ruth Cowan Nash Nieman Fellow. Nash was a trailblazer for women in journalism, best known for her work as an Associated Press war correspondent during World War II.

Carlos Eduardo Huertas (Colombia), investigations editor, Revista Semana, will study how to design a journalism center to produce transnational investigations about Latin America. He is a 2012 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Latin American Nieman Fellow.

Fred Khumalo (South Africa), “Review” editor, Sunday Times, will study the future of publishing in the digital age and the impact, management and financial implications of social media in a changing global society and in the developing world. He also will take courses in creative writing and script writing. His fellowship is supported by the Nieman Society of Southern Africa.

Wu Nan (China), a Beijing-based reporter, will study how new media is empowering people and businesses, changing political dynamics and sparking social change. She is the first Nieman Fellow at Harvard to be supported through Sovereign Bank and the Marco Polo Program of Banco Santander. She also is the 2012 Atsuko Chiba Nieman Fellow. The Chiba fellowship honors the memory of Atsuko Chiba, a 1968 Nieman Fellow.

John Nery, (Philippines), senior editor and columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer, will investigate journalistic assumptions about history and, in particular, explore ways in which Southeast Asian journalists can use greater awareness of historical context to inform their work. Nery is the first Sandra Burton Nieman Fellow. His fellowship is supported by the Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Foundation and honors the memory of journalist Sandra Burton, who reported from the Philippines for Time magazine.

Samiha Shafy (Switzerland), science reporter, Der Spiegel, will study how public policy and economic principles shape the way scientific evidence is translated into action to address global challenges, especially in the context of natural resources management, sustainable development, energy, water, climate change and public health. Shafy is the first Nieman Fellow from Switzerland. She also is the Robert Waldo Ruhl Nieman Fellow. Ruhl, a 1903 Harvard graduate, was editor and publisher of the Medford Mail-Tribune in Oregon from 1910-1967.

Pir Zubair Shah (Pakistan), reporter, The New York Times, will study the art of narrative journalism to develop his ability to present investigative work in a compelling format and make it accessible to a broad audience. Shah is the 2012 Carroll Binder Nieman Fellow. The Binder Fund honors 1916 Harvard graduate Carroll Binder, who expanded the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service, and his son, Carroll “Ted” Binder, a 1943 Harvard graduate. Shah also is the 2012 Barry Bingham Jr. Nieman Fellow. Bingham, a 1956 Harvard graduate, was the editor and publisher of the Courier-Journal and Louisville Times in Kentucky.

David Skok (Canada), managing editor, globalnews.ca, will study how to sustain Canadian journalism’s distinct presence in a world of stateless news organizations and explore the impact new tools of journalism have on the role of the free press. Skok is the Martin Wise Goodman Canadian Nieman Fellow. Goodman was a 1962 Nieman Fellow.

Akiko Sugaya (Japan), a freelance journalist based in Boston, will study how social media can promote citizen journalism and enhance the democratic process. She also will explore the new media literacy skills needed to empower the public to actively participate in society through the use of social media. Sugaya is the William Montalbano Nieman Fellow. Montalbanowas a 1970 Nieman Fellow and a prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter who reported from 100 countries during his 38-year career.

Global Health Reporting Nieman Fellows in the class of 2012 and their areas of interest:

Samuel Loewenberg (United States), a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles, will study neglected factors in global health interventions, foreign aid reform and the role of journalism in increasing accountability.

Rema Nagarajan (India) assistant editor, The Times of India, will study patterns and trends in mortality, fertility and population growth and their relationship with population health, the impact of poverty, class, gender and geography on access to health care and medical ethics.

May 18 2011

12:50

Dorothy Parvaz, Al Jazeera journalist and Nieman Fellow, released from Iranian custody

Last night, I started writing a post about our friend Dorothy Parvaz, the Al Jazeera English journalist and former Nieman Fellow (class of ’09) who went to Syria to report on the uprising there, then was detained and sent to Iran. It was going to be another post calling for her release, as the Nieman Foundation already had.

I was very happy this morning to find out I can leave that post in draft form: she was released by Iranian authorities overnight and is back in her base in Doha. We’re extremely grateful to all who helped achieve her release, and that she reports she was treated well in Iranian custody. She’ll be heading back to Vancouver soon to visit her family.

Here’s more on her release from the NYT, Seattle Times, and Canadian Press.

January 07 2011

16:30

Calling American journalists: It’s time to get serious about your Nieman Fellowship application

The photo above — bucolic and autumnal and sunny — is a bit of a lie at the moment. It’s cold outside. Nonetheless, that image could be a lot like the one you’ll be seeing next August when you arrive at Lippmann House to start your Nieman Fellowship year. But, like the lottery, you can’t win if you don’t play, and it’s time for American journalists to get serious about preparing their applications.

(We love non-Americans too — but their deadline passed last month.)

For those just joining us, the Nieman Fellowship is a decades-old opportunity for working journalists to spend an academic year here at Harvard, studying the subjects of their choice. Are you a business reporter who wants a stronger grounding in macroeconomics? A foreign correspondent who needs to dive deeper into contemporary Islam? A statehouse reporter who wants to put the daily political maneuvering in a theoretical context? Then a Nieman Fellowship might be for you.

Those examples are all pretty purpose-driven, but Niemans aren’t tied just to the study plan they propose. They end up taking lit classes with James Wood and Luke Menand, law classes with Alan Dershowitz, government classes with Robert Putnam, science classes with E.O. Wilson and Steven Pinker, history classes with Niall Ferguson, economics classes with Amartya Sen — even if those subjects have little directly to do with their beats back in the office. (I don’t mean to give short shrift to the thousand of Harvard faculty you haven’t heard of — they’re pretty brilliant too.)

Aside from classes, Niemans spend the year in the company of their fellow fellows, who are typically some of the most fascinating people you’ll ever meet. (Speaking as an American Nieman Fellow ‘08, I can say that spending a year with a dozen top non-American journalists prompts a lot of thinking about how the way we operate isn’t the only way.) Perhaps most important, fellows get to soak up all there is to take from Harvard outside the classroom: an endless stream of lectures, lunches with faculty, and engagement with the many smart people who live within a 10-mile radius of campus. And if Harvard isn’t enough for your intellectual interest, there’s a little place called MIT down the street.

All this can be yours, for the low, low cost of an application, plus evidence of your general awesomeness. The deadline for applications is January 31, which means you’ve got some time to assemble yours. We typically get around 10 applications for every fellowship spot we have to offer, so it’s competitive — but that shouldn’t dissuade you from giving it a try.

You can learn lots about the fellowship program on the main Nieman Foundation site; click through the links in the orange bar at the top. Here are a few of the questions I usually hear from applicants:

Q. Am I too young (or too old) for a Nieman?

A. No! There is no age requirement for a fellowship. We require at least five years’ experience in journalism, which in practice means if you’re 22, you’re unlikely to qualify. (Those middle-school years spent as a paperboy don’t count as journalism experience.) I’d say most of our fellows run between late 20s and mid 40s, but that’s just the typical range — there have been younger and older, and all are welcome to apply. The perfect applicant will have enough experience to show a strong record of achievement, but still have plenty of years ahead of her to use what she learns as a fellow.

Q. I’m a [photographer|documentary filmmaker|blogger|public radio producer|opinion writer|database nerd|news librarian|magazine editor]. Am I eligible?

A. Yes! (Well, assuming you meet the other requirements, like the five years bit.) Historically, most Niemans worked at newspapers, but the current batch of fellows includes journalists who’ve worked primarily in magazines, TV, radio, wire services, and online. And they’re not all reporters — editors, photographers, documentarians, and others are welcome, so long as you work in the production of journalism and can show evidence of your general awesomeness. Also worth noting: Freelancers are welcome.

Personally, I’d love to see more fellows from the world of online journalism — developers, data journalists, entrepreneurial types, or reporters and editors who’ve worked at startups or nonprofit outlets. The kind of people we write about here at the Lab, in other words. There are lots of opportunities through Berkman, MIT CMS, and here at the Lab for digitally oriented fellows to improve their game and plan their contribution to the evolution of journalism. If you’re a regular Lab reader and you’re generally awesome, you’d probably be a strong candidate.

Q. I see there are specific fellowships reserved for certain kinds of reporters. I’m not one of those kinds. Am I eligible?

A. Yes! We do have specific fellowship slots we typically reserve for journalists who cover the arts, business, global health, and smaller communities. That’s great news if you fall in one of those categories — but most of the fellowships are open to all comers, no matter your beat.

Q. What do I tell my boss? He’ll notice if I’m gone for a year.

A. Traditionally, Niemans have asked their employer before assembling their application if they can have a leave of absence for their time at Harvard, so that their job is waiting for them back at their newsroom when the year’s up. We ask those employers to send us a letter confirming the leave offer.

But we recognize that employers aren’t always as willing to do that as before, even though journalists typically return from a Nieman ready to rock and roll and excited to use all they’ve learned. Talk to your boss and see if a leave is possible; if not, that doesn’t mean you can’t still apply. You’ll just have a difficult conversation ahead of you if you’re accepted. As we say:

We encourage news managers to work with fellowship applicants to help them shape their aspirations for a year at Harvard. We also encourage potential Nieman applicants to be upfront with their news organization’s leadership about their intentions, whether or not a supporting letter is forthcoming. In the absence of such a letter of support, however, a candidate is still eligible to apply for a Nieman Fellowship.

Some employers continue to pay part of a journalist’s salary while they’re here, which is awfully nice of them. But probably the most important thing they can do is keep you on your work health insurance while you’re a fellow, which will save you from trying to arrange it on your own.

Q. What’s the most important part of the application?

A. The application involves two brief essays, four letters of recommendation, and samples of your work, plus a form. Details here. Your general awesomeness should likely seep through every piece of that — your clips/portfolio should be impressive, your recommendations should be impressive. But the essays are the heart of it; a mediocre essay can sink an otherwise solid application. Give special thought to the study plan, which is our best evidence of what you’ll actually do with a fellowship.

Q. What about money? I like money.

A: Details here. The exact dollar figures vary on the size of the family you’re bringing to Cambridge. If you’re flying solo, you’re looking at around $65,100 for the academic year. (You’re only a fellow for 10 months, so that’s about the same as what you’d get at an annual salary of about $78K.) If you’ve got three young children, that goes up to $77,000 (which roughly equates to a $92K salary, annualized.)

Q. My husband/wife is generally awesome. Can he/she come too?

A. Yes! We even have a special name for the spouses (and significant others) of fellows: Nieman Affiliates. Arguably, affiliates get the best deal of all — they can take classes at Harvard too and have nearly the entire Nieman experience, but without some of the responsibilities that come with being a fellow. (We host a number of events each week at which fellows are expected to attend; affiliates can attend or not at their option.)

We know that most families are dual income these days, so we try to make the year family friendly and rewarding for a Nieman spouse. On the other hand, some spouses choose to stay back in their hometown when their spouse heads to Cambridge, either for job or family reasons. Either way is fine with us.

Q. What does the fellowship have to do with the Nieman Journalism Lab?

A. The fellowships and the Lab are both projects of the Nieman Foundation. The fellowships have been around over 70 years; the Lab’s been around about two. We love it when fellows want to work with us in figuring out what we can about the future of journalism, and I play a role in organizing some of the fellows’ lectures and activities. But working with the Lab is completely optional — fellows are free to spend all year working with us if they choose, and they’re also free to focus completely on their own interests and just wave at us from a distance.

As someone who’s been through the process, I get lots of emails this time of year from people working on their applications, looking for advice. I’m happy to talk you through any questions you may have. If they’re questions that would be of interest to others, please leave a comment below and I’ll respond. If it’s something more unique to you, drop me an email at joshua_benton@harvard.edu and I’ll get back to you. One final piece of advice: Get started on your application now. You don’t want to be running to a FedEx drop box the night of January 31, hoping you remembered to include that last front-page story you just photocopied.

December 06 2010

17:00

Come spend a year at Harvard! Deadline for int’l applications for Nieman Fellowships approaching

While you may know the Nieman name through this website, our primary project for over 70 years has been the Nieman Fellowships, the oldest journalism fellowship in the world. Every fall, around two dozen talented journalists from around the world come to Harvard for a year of study in the field of their choice — anything that will make them better journalists upon their return to their career.

Some study classic journalism-influencing subjects like economics, history, or government; some dive deep into a particular topic area they’ve worked in before. Others want to study the kinds of Lab-like subjects that will influence journalism’s future: revenue models at Harvard Business School, digital media at the Berkman Center, nonprofit structures at the Hauser Center, online media law at Harvard Law School. (And if Harvard isn’t enough, Nieman Fellows can also attend classes down Mass Ave at MIT.)

We’re starting the process of picking the 74th class of Nieman Fellows, who will come to Harvard next fall, in August 2011. So if you’re a talented journalist, it might be time for you to think about applying.

Each Nieman class is roughly half American, half from the rest of the world. And the matter is most pressing for prospective international fellows, since the deadline for your application is December 15. (American applicants have until January 31.)

You can read the eligibility requirements and the details of how to apply. But the key elements include two short essays (one a personal statement, the other an outline of what you plan to study), some samples of your work, and four letters of recommendation. If you get started now, internationals, you’ve still got time! (South African, Canadian, and South Korean journalists have their own special application processes; follow the links here.)

I’m happy to answer any questions from applicants, particularly any Lab readers from digital background who’d like to come to Harvard. (I was a Nieman Fellow, Class of ‘08.) There’s no age requirement, and the experience requirement is minimal (five years as a working journalist). The goal of the Nieman Fellowships is to improve journalism by unleashing journalists on a great university; if you think you could be one of those journalists, I encourage you to apply.

September 13 2010

15:00

When journalism meets academia: Reporter teams up with the Carr Center to research violence in Juárez

[Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its latest issue, which focuses on the current state of international reporting. There are lots of interesting articles — check out the whole issue — but we're highlighting a few that line up with our subject matter here at the Lab. Here's Monica Campbell, a veteran journalist and former Nieman Fellow, on how her partnership with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard allowed her to continue her work researching and reporting on the drug trade in Juárez. —Josh]

Eight o’clock Monday morning in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Federal cops, their high-powered weapons pointed outward, packed pickup trucks and patrolled the city’s streets. Women waited at a bus stop to head to factory jobs. A newspaper’s front page featured grisly crime scene photos. It was July, searing hot, and I headed to my first interview.

Unlike my previous trips to Juárez, I was not there on a traditional news assignment. On this reporting project my partner was the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. This opportunity arose during my Nieman year when I noticed a growing interest among academics in Mexico’s escalating drug cartel-related violence. Having reported from Mexico for several years, I developed a proposal for research that would focus on citizens’ response to the violence in Juárez, the epicenter of Mexico’s bloody drug war.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

July 27 2010

15:51

Reversed: Colombian journalist Hollman Morris is free to come to Harvard as a Nieman Fellow

I’m very pleased to provide an update on the case of Hollman Morris, which I’ve written about here and here. Hollman is the noted Colombian journalist who was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to come study here at Harvard — only to have his request for a student visa rejected by the United States government. An American official told Hollman he was being rejected under the terrorist activities section of the Patriot Act; Hollman has done much courageous reporting on ties between right-wing militias and the Colombian government, which has opened him up to criticism from those he reports on.

I’m happy to say that the U.S. State Department has reversed its decision and decided to allow Hollman into the country. He’ll arrive here in Cambridge within the next few weeks and will be able to study at Harvard as we’d originally hoped.

Lots and lots of people worked hard to try to get us to this point — in the human rights world, where Hollman has been held up for years as a model reporter; in the journalism world, which can be counted on to rally around a case like his; and in the community of past Nieman Fellows who wanted to see Hollman join their number. We’re very grateful to all who got involved and argued a journalist shouldn’t be kept out of this country based on who his reporting angers. We’re also grateful for those within the State Department who recognized the need to reverse their decision.

One of the traditional highlights of the Nieman experience is the weekly “sounding.” That’s what we do every Monday night during the year: One by one, the Nieman Fellows each prepare a meal for their Nieman colleagues and spend an hour or so telling the story of their career and life in journalism. I suspect Hollman’s going to have some good stories to tell.

Here’s the press release we just put out:

United States reverses decision and grants visa to Colombian journalist

Hollman Morris to join Nieman class of 2011

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The U.S. State Department has reversed its decision to deny a visa to leading Colombian journalist Hollman Morris. He is now free to travel to the United States, where he will begin a yearlong fellowship at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Reacting to the news, Nieman Foundation Curator Bob Giles said “We’re very pleased that the situation has been resolved this way. Many concerned individuals worked together to support Hollman during the past month and we’re looking forward to having him join us at Harvard. His valuable expertise and insights will be a welcome addition to our new class of Nieman Fellows.”

Last month a U.S. consular official in Bogota told Morris that he was being denied a visa under the terrorist activities section of the Patriot Act. That decision was widely condemned by individuals and groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and others, many of whom lobbied on behalf of Morris.

An independent television journalist, Morris has reported extensively on his country’s civil war and resulting human rights abuses. His television show “Contravía” has been critical of alleged ties between the administration of outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary groups and the Colombian armed forces. Uribe once called Morris “an accomplice to terrorism” for building contacts with the country’s FARC rebels in the course of his reporting. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest rebel group, is on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Many journalists and human rights activists view efforts to link Morris with FARC as the Colombian government’s way to discredit his work. Last year, reports surfaced showing that Morris was one of many high profile critics of the government who were subjected to illegal wiretapping and surveillance by Colombia’s intelligence agency.

Morris has traveled to the United States a number of times in the past, has met with high-ranking U.S. officials to discuss Colombia’s human rights issues and in 2007 won the Human Rights Defender Award, presented annually by Human Rights Watch.

Established in 1938, the Nieman Foundation 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.

In addition to administering the Nieman Fellowship program, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard 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. Additionally, the foundation produces Nieman Storyboard, a website that showcases exceptional narrative journalism, and the Nieman Watchdog Project, a website that encourages journalists to monitor and hold accountable all those who exert power in public life.

July 14 2010

15:00

An update on Colombian journalist Hollman Morris

I want to give you a quick update on the case of Hollman Morris, the Colombian journalist whose visa application has been rejected by the U.S. government. Hollman was set to come here to Harvard for the next year under a Nieman Fellowship. He has produced journalism critical of the Colombian government, and that appears to have been a factor in why the State Department took the extraordinary step of preventing an honored journalist from entering the country.

My boss, Nieman Foundation curator Bob Giles, wrote an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times explaining why the State Department should reverse its decision. Read the whole thing, but here are a couple excerpts:

In the 60 years that foreign journalists have participated in the Nieman program, they have sometimes had trouble getting their own countries to allow them to come. The foundation’s first brush with the harsh reality of journalism under repressive regimes came in 1960, when Lewis Nkosi, a black South African and writer for Drum, a magazine for black South Africans, was awarded a fellowship. His application for a passport was denied by the country’s apartheid government. Angry and bitter, he applied for an exit visa. It enabled him to leave, but he was forbidden to ever return.

Morris, though, is the first person in Nieman history to be denied the right to participate not by his own country but by ours. The denial is alarming. It would represent a major recasting of press freedom doctrine if journalists, by establishing contacts with so-called terrorist organizations in the process of gathering news, open themselves to accusations of terrorist activities and the possibility of being barred from travel to the United States.

[...]

The Nieman Foundation invites foreign journalists to join its class of fellows, in part because it is good for the U.S. participants to gain an international perspective, but also as a way of rewarding and nurturing excellence in foreign journalism. During the struggle to remove racial barriers in South Africa, Nieman Fellowships were awarded annually to South African journalists, who carried democratic and journalistic values home with them. Many went on to brazenly employ their editorial leadership to challenge the government and help bring an end to apartheid.

Several endangered journalists have come to the Nieman program from Colombia, where 43 journalists have been killed since 1992. In 2000, Ignacio Gomez, a young investigative reporter, was forced to flee after his newspaper, El Espectador, published stories in which Colombian police and military were linked with violent right-wing paramilitaries. In one of the stories, a Colombian military colonel was said to have masterminded the 1997 massacre in Mapiripan, in which right-wing paramilitaries killed nearly 30 people for allegedly supporting left-wing guerrillas. Gomez received hundreds of death threats after that article was published.

The Nieman Foundation program has been a safe, if temporary, refuge for foreign journalists like Hollman Morris, who are targets because they have challenged dictators and privileged oligarchs. Their experiences inspire others in the fellowship and beyond, and contribute to a greater appreciation of our constitutional guarantees of press freedom. It makes no sense that the U.S. government would intervene to prevent a journalist access to learning about the freedoms we so cherish.

The effort to let Hollman come to this country has gained support from both the journalism and human rights communities. The Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to Secretary Hillary Clinton yesterday outlining its belief that the visa rejection “damages U.S. interests in Latin America and increases risks for Morris in Colombia.” They also point to their February report on attacks on the Colombian press, which highlighted Hollman’s case:

Hollman Morris, a reporter known for his critical coverage of the country’s civil conflict, came under fire from the government after he traveled to southwestern Colombia to interview guerrilla fighters for a documentary on kidnappings. On February 1, Morris said, members of the leftist guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) urged him to interview three police officers and a soldier who were being held hostage. The journalist told CPJ that once he realized the hostages’ answers had been coerced, he simply asked for their names and their time in captivity. The same day, FARC released the four hostages to a humanitarian mission led by the International Red Cross.

As news of Morris’ meeting with the hostages was reported, the government reacted in forceful, rapid-fire fashion. Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón said Morris had acted without “objectivity and impartiality.” Then-Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos called him “close to the guerrillas.” And Uribe accused the journalist of being an “accomplice to terror.”

Morris told CPJ that the accusations triggered a string of e-mail threats. On February 5, CPJ and Human Rights Watch sent Uribe a letter objecting to the loaded assertions and urging the president to put an end to comments tying journalists to any side in Colombia’s armed conflict. CPJ research has shown that such public assertions have endangered journalists. The government has often resorted to such politicized accusations, the New York-based group Human Rights First said at a March hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Colombian prosecutors, the group said, have brought dozens of unfounded and “specious” criminal investigations against Colombians, including journalists and human rights activists.

The documentarian Alex Gibney wrote a post for The Atlantic about Hollman and included a video he had shot about Hollman for Human Rights Watch. I’ve embedded the video above.

The Boston Globe had a piece noting the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ call for Hollman to be allowed into the country. Michele Salcedo, NAHJ’s president, told the Globe: “Our government in the past has seen fit to acknowledge his very strong journalistic work, but yet we have denied his visa.”

Colombia Reports notes that the Inter-American Press Association has also called for the visa decision to be reversed and points to an article in the Colombian daily El Espectador on the situation.

And finally, this Washington Post story from a few days ago, by Juan Forero in Bogotá:

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — In his work reporting on this country’s drug-fueled conflict, Colombian journalist Hollman Morris has met frequently with high-ranking American officials and been received at agencies from the State Department to the Pentagon.

In January, it was a lunch with State’s No. 2, James B. Steinberg, at the residence of the American ambassador in Bogota. A few months before that, he had met Daniel Restrepo, senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council, to discuss alleged abuses by Colombia’s secret police.

But when Morris sought a U.S. student visa so he could take a fellowship for journalists at Harvard University, his application was denied.

July 09 2010

12:15

Colombian journalist Hollman Morris denied U.S. visa to be a Nieman Fellow at Harvard

It’s the time of year when the new class of Nieman Fellows starts arriving here in Cambridge, but we thought you should know about an unprecedented situation currently keeping one of our colleagues away. Hollman Morris Rincón, an independent journalist in Colombia, won a Nieman Fellowship this spring to study conflict negotiation strategies, international criminal court procedures, and the Rome Statute. I’ll just quote the AP:

BOGOTA, Colombia — The U.S. government has denied a visa to a prominent Colombian journalist who specializes in conflict and human rights reporting to attend a prestigious fellowship at Harvard University.

Hollman Morris, who produces an independent TV news program called “Contravia,” has been highly critical of ties between illegal far-right militias and allies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, Washington’s closest ally in Latin America.

The curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, which has offered the mid-career fellowships since 1938, said Thursday that a consular official at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota told him Morris was ruled permanently ineligible for a visa under the “Terrorist activities” section of the USA Patriot Act.

Here’s a video of Hollman talking about human rights abuses in Colombia; here’s an interview from the Center for Investigative Reporting with Hollman and his brother and colleague Juan Pablo Morris about their work:

The Morris brothers take their cameras deep into the Colombian countryside to probe into the disappearance of thousands of individuals kidnapped over the past decade, and track efforts to unearth their graves far from the cosmopolitan capital city of Bogotá or the eyes of the international or global press. “Our aim,” Juan Pablo told us, “is to reconstruct the memory of those atrocities….Many of the people who followed the paramilitaries in the 1980s and 90s are running the country today.”

Contravia has uncovered links between paramilitary leaders and high officials in Colombian politics and finance. Thirty senators and representatives in the Colombian Congress have been imprisoned because of their ties to the paramilitary death squads; another sixty have been investigated. That’s a third of Colombia’s 268 member Congress, giving rise to a new term — ‘para-politica’ — to describe the ongoing crisis as one top politician after another is accused of complicity with the para-military squads. Most of those accused represent political parties that are part of the governing coalition led by President Alvaro Uribe.

Hollman Morris was given the Human Rights Defender Award by Human Rights Watch in 2007. He’s been forced to leave Colombia several times for extended periods after the airing of Contravía revelations. The show does not receive commercial backing; subsidies come from the Open Society Institute, the European Union and other international sources.

In February 2009, Contravía’s reporting prompted a denunciation by the government: Colombia’s Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, accused Hollman Morris on national radio of being “close to the guerillas,” after he conducted several interviews with FARC hostages who were later released. Uribe himself denounced Morris to the national press, and implied he was a member of the “intellectual bloc” of the FARC.

Santos is now the president-elect of Colombia and, ironically enough, was a Nieman Fellow himself while a newspaperman in the 1980s.

The independent website Colombia Reports reports on documents from April, allegedly from the Colombian security agency, that appear to call for surveillance and harassment of Hollman, including requesting “the suspension of visa.”

Obviously, we’re hoping this can be resolved. For decades, the Nieman Fellowships have brought journalists from around the world to Harvard to study and learn from one another in an atmosphere of open exchange. My boss, curator Bob Giles, has written to the State Department asking it to change its decision, and other forces are rallying in his support. I don’t know that we have many readers in Foggy Bottom, but if we do, we sincerely hope this won’t be the first time an American political decision has prevented a foreign journalist from studying with us.

January 20 2010

15:00

Deadline approaching for U.S. applicants for Nieman Fellowships; take special note, business reporters

Doesn’t that look like the kind of place you’d like to spend a year?

That’s Lippmann House on the Harvard campus, where I’m lucky enough to come to work every day. It’s also the home of the Nieman Fellowships, the wonderful program that allows journalists to spend a year at Harvard, taking classes and researching the topics of their choice.

The deadline for American journalists to be part of the next class of fellows is coming up soon: January 31. (The deadline for international applicants has already passed.)

To recap, Nieman Fellows get to spend a year at Harvard, auditing whatever classes they want in any part of the university (or down the road at MIT). We pay you for the 10 months you’re here (at least $65,000, with more for fellows with children to care for). You spend the year with a couple dozen of the best journalists from around the world, your fellow fellows. The idea is to give you the chance to step away from the daily pressures of your work life and dive into the subject matters that interest you.

Some fellows use the year to focus on learning more about their beats; environmental reporters take science classes, business reporters take economics classes, and so on. Some focus on a subject far afield from what they’ve spent their careers covering, using the fellowship as a pivot point to a new career. Some use it focus on issues like those we cover here — the future of news, both financially and journalistically. (Fellows also get to spend the year working with us here at the Lab, if they choose.) It’s really up to you.

I want to give special notice to a new kind of fellowship we’re offering for the first time this year. Thanks to the generosity of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, we’re reserving one spot in the next class for a business journalist. So if you cover business or economics and would like to spend a year learning from smart folks like the profs at the Harvard Business School, we’d definitely like to see your application.

What kind of journalist becomes a Nieman Fellow? For many years, the class was made up primarily of newspaper reporters. But as the industry has shifted, so has the class. Our current American fellows include as many freelancers as newspaper reporters, plus people from radio, magazines, wire services, and the web. (Selfishly, I’d love to see more web folks in the next class.) Folks from television and documentary filmmaking are also very much welcome. If you do quality journalism, no matter the medium, you could be a candidate.

Anyway, the deadline is 11 days away as I write this, which is still plenty of time for you to get cracking. You can apply entirely online this year for the first time. You’ll need to submit two short essays, an application form, a few recommendations, and some samples of your work — it’s not a difficult process. So get moving, and come introduce yourself when you arrive in the fall.

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