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N ieman ReportsTHE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITYVOL. 63 NO. 2 SUMMER 2009Iran: Can Its Stories Be Told?21st Century MuckrakersPublic Health, Public Safety, Public TrustWords & ReflectionsObjectivity: Time to Say GoodbyeBooks: About Journalists, Religion, Blogging,Ireland, Post 9/11 America


N ieman ReportsTHE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY VOL. 63 NO. 2 SUMMER 20094Iran: Can Its Stories Be Told?Treatment of Journalists5 Understanding Iran: Reporters Who Do Are Exiled, Pressured or Jailed |By Iason Athanasiadis7 Journalism in a Semi-Despotic Society | Byline Withheld9 An Essay in Words and Photographs: Peering Inside Contemporary Iran |By Iason Athanasiadis14 When Eyes Get Averted: The Consequences of Misplaced Reporting |By Roya Hakakian15 Imprisoning Journalists Silences Others | By D. Parvaz17 ‘We Know Where You Live’ | By Maziar Bahari20 An Essay in Words and Photographs: A Visual Witness to Iran’s Revolution |By Reza26 Film in Iran: The Magazine and the Movies | By Houshang GolmakaniWomen Reporters, Women’s Stories28 Your Eyes Say That You Have Cried | By Masoud Behnoud29 Telling the Stories of Iranian Women’s Lives | By Shahla Sherkat30 Iranian Journalist: A Job With Few Options | By Roza EftekhariView From the West32 Seven Visas = Continuity of Reporting From Iran | By Barbara Slavin34 No Man’s Land Inside an Iranian Police Station | By Martha Raddatz35 The Human Lessons: They Lie at the Core of Reporting in Iran | By Laura Secor38 Iran: News Happens, But Fewer Journalists Are There to Report It | By Mark Seibel40 When the Predictable Overtakes the Real News About Iran | By Scheherezade FaramarziCover: Waving hello or goodbye?Iranian Presidential candidate MahmoudAhmadinejad in an electionposter from 2005 in the conservativeSouth Tehran district of Meidan-eShush. Ahmadinejad’s working-class,pious background and his experienceas mayor of Tehran allowed him tosweep most of the capital’s districtsin that election. Photo and caption byIason Athanasiadis.Nieman Reports Onlinewww.niemanreports.org


The Web and Iran: Digital Dialogue42 Attempting to Silence Iran’s ‘Weblogistan’ | By Mohamed Abdel Dayem46 The Virtual Iran Beat | By Kelly Golnoush Niknejad49 21st Century Muckrakers50 The Challenges and Opportunities of 21st Century Muckraking | By Mark Feldstein53 Investigating Health and Safety Issues—As Scientists Would | By Sam Roe55 Rotting Meat, Security Documents, and Corporal Punishment | By Dave Savini58 Mining the Coal Beat: Keeping Watch Over an ‘Outlaw’ Industry | By Ken Ward, Jr.62 Reporting Time and Resources Reveal a Hidden Source of Pollution |By Abrahm Lustgarten65 Pouring Meaning Into Numbers | By Blake Morrison and Brad Heath67 Navigating Through the Biofuels Jungle | By Elizabeth McCarthy70 Going to Where the Fish Are Disappearing | By Sven Bergman, Joachim Dyfvermark,and Fredrik Laurin74 Watchdogging Public Corruption: A Newspaper Unearths Patterns of Costly Abuse |By Sandra Peddie76 Filling a Local Void: J-School Students Tackle Watchdog Reporting |By Maggie Mulvihill and Joe BergantinoWords & Reflections78 Objectivity: It’s Time to Say Goodbye | By John H. McManus80 Worshipping the Values of Journalism | By John Schmalzbauer82 When Belief Overrides the Ethics of Journalism | By Sandi Dolbee83 Religion and the Press: Always Complicated, Now Chaotic | By Mark Silk85 Journalists Use Novels to Reveal What Reporting Doesn’t Say | By Matt Beynon Rees86 Life Being Lived in Quintessential Irish Moments | By Rosita Boland91 An Enduring Story—With Lessons for Journalists Today | By Graciela Mochkofsky93 They Blog, I Blog, We All Blog | By Danny Schechter95 Fortunate Son: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson | By Adam Reilly97 The American Homeland: Visualizing Our Sense of Security | By Nina Berman3 Curator’s Corner: The Journey of the 2009 Nieman Fellows—And of the Foundation |By Bob Giles101 Nieman Notes | Compiled by Lois Fiore101 Jobs Change or Vanish: Niemans Discover an Unanticipated Bonus in Community Work |By Jim Boyd104 Class Notes2 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Curator’s CornerThe Journey of the 2009 Nieman Fellows—And ofthe FoundationIn their experiences, conversations and future directions, they create a portrait ofwhat is happening in journalism today.BY BOB GILESDramatic changes in the world of journalism weighedheavily on the lives and outlook of the Nieman classof 2009: news of layoffs from their newsrooms (andof one of their newspapers disappearing), worry about thefuture of newspapers, uncertainty about their own pathsas journalists. Even as fellows wrestled with these realities,what remained firm was their knowledge that journalismis essential as a bulwark of democracy. Over time, thetransformative nature of the Nieman experience broadenedtheir outlook, encouraging them to envision rolesin journalism’s future and finding their places in it. Theylearned how emerging technologies enable connectionswith larger and well-targeted audiences while at the sametime empowering them to tell their stories on multipleplatforms and to interact more directly with the publicwhile still adhering to journalism’s core values.The fellows also found many supportive voices joiningthe conversation throughout the year speaking to the valueof journalism. Following a ceremony at Lippmann House,when the fellows received certificates for completion oftheir fellowships, Harvard University President Drew Fausturged them to use the digital tools wisely in moving pastthe mere rapid transmission of information into the tougherwork of ensuring understanding. “Go forth,” she said, “tochange the world not only in a way that will enable us tosurvive but to thrive.”A few days earlier, Martin Baron, editor of The BostonGlobe, had reminded the fellows that “Good journalism,as you know, does not come cheap. The most powerfuljournalism—breakthrough journalism—can be shockinglyexpensive.” He warned that the “end of reporting that requiresa major investment of resources … means we willsee a huge void in American journalism. And it will allowpeople who are powerful, or crafty, or both, to engage inwrongdoing without fear of being held accountable.”That same evening, the Nieman class honored one ofits own, Fatima Tlisova, with the Louis M. Lyons Awardfor Conscience and Integrity in Journalism. In presentingthe award to Fatima, a brave reporter and sensitive spirit,David Jackson, her classmate, said that we were bearingwitness to the reality that “no government can commit seriouscrimes against its own citizens—can practice abduction,torture or genocide—without first silencing the press.” [Onpage 49 are descriptions of Tlisova’s investigative reportingwith excerpts from remarks she and Jackson made at theLyons Award ceremony.]Tlisova, like many journalists, is at risk in her homeland,and she knows a life of struggle lies ahead by retainingher dedication to bearing witness. Like her, many NiemanFellows come from nations torn by conflict and often inthe grip of authoritarian rulers employing repressive measuresto restrict press independence and freedom. For ayear, they live in what Jackson called a “privileged exile.”For them, uncertainties lie ahead as they weigh the risksof returning home against the difficulties of finding waysto stay in the safe sanctuary that America offers.In this time of challenge and crisis for journalists andlegacy news organizations, the Nieman Foundation remainsfundamentally optimistic. Our fellowship program is forwardlooking—providing fellows with the all-too-rare opportunitytoday of being able to think deeply and reflect on how theycan best contribute to journalism’s future while fosteringthe values of excellence and high purpose.Throughout its existence, the foundation has spoken ina variety of ways to the widening range and of journalism’spossibilities.• Since the first issue of Nieman Reports was published in1947, it has been fulfilling its founding purpose: to explorethe responsibilities of the press and expand understandingabout how journalism can be strengthened.• The Nieman Watchdog project revolves around the ideathat asking the right questions lies at the core of meaningfuljournalism. In serving as a surrogate for the public,the press is obliged to ask probing questions, from townmeetings to the state house to the White House.• On the Narrative Digest, well reported, powerfully writtenstories demonstrate why long-form journalism matters asa way of conveying deeper understanding. Here excellentstorytelling is showcased and its methods explained.• The Nieman Journalism Lab, launched last fall in responseto industry’s search for workable business models forjournalism in the era of digital media, provides real timeupdates on the rapidly shifting ground on which journalismis rebuilding.These endeavors speak to the enduring principles ofquality journalism. At a time when some believe the bestof times are in the rearview mirror, the paths that lie aheadfor this year’s fellows and for the foundation—while sureto be bumpier than usual—are embedded in promise. Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 3


Iran: Can Its Stories Be Told?On a spring afternoon, Iason Athanasiadis, then in his Nieman year and a photojournalistwho’d worked in Tehran for three years before arriving in Cambridge,urged me to have Nieman Reports illuminate the ways in which Iranian andWestern journalists and those who carry dual citizenship work in Iran. His visionwas of a wide-ranging exploration of on-the-ground reporting. A year later,stories woven with threads of reporting experiences remind us of why it’s difficultfor outsiders to truly understand what is happening in Iran.Roya Hakakian grew up in postrevolutionary Iran. Now, as an Iranian-Americanauthor and journalist, she yearns for a clearer view of her homeland toemerge. “Poor reporting from and about Iran has kept the West in the dark,” shewrites. “In this lightlessness, Iranians are rendered as ghosts.”Wearing an Iranian flag, a Metallica T-shirt, and bandannassupporting reformist candidate Mostafa Moein, twofriends attended a 2005 pre-election rally in a Tehransoccer stadium. Photo by Iason Athanasiadis.Journalists still pushagainst boundaries of whatIran permits to tell what ishappening there. Doing soinvites the tactics of intimidation,threats and interrogationsand the risk ofimprisonment, banishment,torture and, in some cases,death. A reporter who hasbeen imprisoned and is writingwithout a byline says: “Itis undecided life, with therisks taken being unpredictable,since its press law isopen to interpretation. Punishment for breaking the law depends on many things,too, including who you are and what your job is.” Another reporter sent us ane-mail to explain why words intended for our pages would not be on them: “If itwas a better time, I would have done it. I am under a lot of psychological pressure,and I am trying not to let it affect my work. My neighbors keep getting callsfrom security officials who tell them that I am involved in drug smuggling. I amassuming that they want to intimidate me with embarrassing charges before theelection.”Others in our Nieman family provided invaluable guidance, and I am gratefulto them. Roza Eftekhari, once an editor at Zanan, a women’s magazine in Iranbanned in 2007 by the Press Supervisory Board, reached out to Iranian journalistsand asked them to write for this issue. She also found a Farsi translator,Semira Noelani Nikou, a 22-year-old student at Scripps College. Hannah Allam,Scheherezade Faramarzi, Dorothy Parvaz, Nieman Fellows in this year’s class,generously offered advice, with Scheherezade and Parvaz, both with family ties toIran, joining their words to our pages, giving a gift to us all. —Melissa Ludtke4 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


IRAN | Treatment of JournalistsUnderstanding Iran: Reporters Who Do AreExiled, Pressured or Jailed‘Roxana’s work consistently gave the lie to the narrative of amonolithic Islamic Republic.’BY IASON ATHANASIADISRoxana Saberi (right) with a friend in Tehran in 2006. Photo by Iason Athanasiadis.On May 10th, an appeals courtin Iran suspended the prison sentenceof American-Iranian journalistRoxana Saberi, who hadbeen held in detention for morethan three months. After beingreleased from jail, she returned tothe United States. In mid-April,Iran’s Revolutionary Court hadcharged her with spying for theUnited States and sentencedher to eight years in prison.This essay was written duringthe time Saberi was in Tehran’sEvin Prison about her and thechallenging circumstances underwhich she and other journalistswork in Iran.She joined our improbablegroup halfway through theacademic year and stuck itout until the end. In class shewas calm, courteous and reserved.Her notes were assiduous, herquestions intelligent. But sherefrained from the cut-and-thrustthat the rest of us thrilled in engagingin with our rather seriousforeign ministry professors.Roxana Saberi was selfpossessed,unflappable andinscrutable.We were a strange group evenbefore Roxana, the Japanese-Iranian-American broadcastjournalist beauty queen, joinedus. There was a blonde ScottishOxford graduate who managedto combine the flimsiestof mandatory headscarfs withsuperb Persian delivered in anupper-crust British drawl; anAmerican jurist who enthusiasticallyembraced her suffocating,government-mandated hijab longafter it was spelled out to her thatshe could get away with less; alikeable South African diplomatin a perennial black “ReservoirDogs” suit and string tie whowas quiet for weeks at a timeaside from occasional eruptionsinto frustrated, anti-imperialistscreeds; a devout Saudi whosenationality was revoked aftershe met a Shi’ite Iranian fellowstudent at a university in theUnited States, married him andmoved to Iran, and a Turkishdiplomat about whom we learnedvery little except that he likedIranian kebabs.Roxana floated serenely overour rambunctiousness. Shehanded in her assignments ontime, even while struggling tomake ends meet as a freelancecorrespondent. Just before theend of the year, she receiveda summons to the ministry ofeducation. If only such Sisypheanharassment of foreign studentswasn’t the bread-and-circus ofIran’s rambling bureaucracy,the incident might have beenprophetic.Patient, punctual and selfpossessed,Roxana went to theNieman Reports | Summer 2009 5


Iranmeeting. But the person she was supposedto see was not there, nor wouldhe be back that day, an assistant toldher as if arranging a meeting, skippingout on it, and then denying itsexistence was the most natural thingin the world. This charade played outa few more times until Roxana wastold the reason behind her summoning:As a journalist, she was ineligibleby Iranian law to receive her master’sdegree.No apparent logic was offered toexplain the verdict. After all of herhard work, Roxana was denied herdegree because of an unknown technicality.She knew how the systemworked and that she could do nothingabout it. She just had to put herhead down and deal with it. As myendlessly frustrated Iranian friendsnever tired of reminding me, logiccontrols little in Iran.This denial was only one of manyfrustrations imposed on Roxana as shestruggled to live for her first time inIran, work and reconcile her Iranianand Japanese identities with an Americanupbringing in North Dakota. WhenBBC World took her on in 2006 forthe post of second correspondent, itwas a long-awaited break. But a fewmonths later, her accreditation wasrevoked and she was forced to returnto low-profile freelancing.Whenever I saw her, Roxana neverbetrayed the difficulties she was goingthrough. She was always willing to help,pass on a contact, or inquire about myproblems. She never mentioned thatshe was working on a book. But judgingby her stoic character, a book she wrotewould almost certainly have avoidedthe self-indulgencies of so many otherexpat memoirs that focus on personaljourneys of self-discovery rather thanthe extraordinary, wonderful anddeeply frustrating society that usuallyjust provides the background.Meanwhile, Roxana, her turquoiseheadscarf, videocamera and tripodwere a fixture at press events. Her fluentPersian allowed her to give the kindof deep insight into the human sideof Iran that is intentionally strippedaway from the bombastic statementsabout Israel, threats to shut downIntense international pressure was exerted by journalists and political leaders to urge theIranians to release Roxana Saberi, which happened on May 10th.the Persian Gulf, or announcementof fresh technological leaps.Language, Meaning andDepthTherein lies the rub. Roxana’s workconsistently gave the lie to the narrativeof a monolithic Islamic Republic. Itwent counter to the tension-escalatingscript that sees journalists focuson hard-line prayer sermons, anti-American demonstrations—dominatedby government civil servants—andsuicide-bomber registration drives,in which “bombers” register but don’tcarry out an operation. It’s all partof Tehran’s never-ending baiting ofWashington.Roxana was no spy. Anyone who hasexperienced the difficulty of workingas a journalist in Iran can tell you thatresearching a balanced story about thenuclear issue, let alone infiltrating theIslamic Republic’s deepest secrets, isnear impossible. But Roxana was sogood at what she did as to become athorn. Her work cut away from theherd to focus on Iran’s tumultuousand deeply fascinating society. Howdisruptive this must have been forthe regime’s painstakingly constructedimage of a stiff upper-lipped Islamicsociety dedicated to revolutionary idealsrather than the proliferating plasmaTVs and home appliances over whichIran’s materialistic postwar middleclass (post-sanctions, they are now alsonouveaux pauvre) salivate over.There is a constant to Iran expellingjournalists once they become too wellversed in the country. HyphenatedIranians, who cannot be expelled,instead experience the pressure beingratcheted up on them until residencethere becomes unbearable.Iran turned into a security stateafter the 2005 election of MahmoudAhmadinejad. Sanctions were imposed,the covert intelligence war between theIslamic Republic and the West swelled,and the authorities announced theyhad broken up several intelligencenetworks and carried out repeatedsweeps of dissidents. Workers’ protestsand a number of unexplainedexplosions rocked the country from2005 onwards, putting the regime onedge. As correspondents for AgenceFrance-Presse, The Associated Press,The Independent, The Guardian, andthe Financial Times were barred, the6 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of Journalistsforeign journalist exodus began.Far better, Iran’s sphinx like bureaucratsthought, to give finite visitorvisas to clueless, non-Persian speakingforeigners than to have permanentlyaccredited (and bothersome) correspondentsunderstanding the countryand its culture. Instead, these outsiderswould scoot around the Tehran-Qom-Isfahan triangle with theirstate-appointed guide, breathlesslyinterview a few regime-sanctionedreformists, indulge in some surreptitiousflirting with Iran’s abundance ofluscious womanhood, and come awaymouthing similar platitudes about this“complex civilization,” “paradoxical”country, and “layered” society.By summer 2007, Roxana, workingwithout a press permit, was one of avery few journalists still surveying thescene. The night before I left Iran in2007, an Iranian political analyst fora foreign embassy told me that theIranian government abhors foreignjournalists, who are seen as proffering“social intelligence” about their hostcountry. Unlike truly locked-awaylands such as North Korea, Iran is anopen society proud of its contributionto world civilization. But the currentsecurity-minded regime wants to minimizethe outflow of information.Despite the abundance of informationavailable about Iranian society,CIA agents allegedly speak TajikaccentedPersian, the kind of hillbillysquawk that might secure them roadconstructionjobs in provincial Iranbut probably not high-level politicalaccess. Over at Langley, they watchIranian cinema for clues about thetarget society or fish for scraps of informationamid the exile communitiesin Los Angeles, Dubai and Baku.The security-minded Ahmadinejadadministration has sought to shutout information gathering of eventhe most innocent kind, an attitudediametrically opposed to the earlierKhatami administration’s emphasison debate and openness. But even ifthe hard-line trend is now dominant—egged on by the Bush administration’sprovocative and threatening maneuversamong Iran’s neighbors and Pentagoncovert operations within its borders—journalists should not become sacrificiallambs.Roxana and other journalists whoreside in Tehran were massively hamperedby existing in a state that viewedthem as official spies. That was barrierenough to considering a freelance careeras an intelligence informant. Butwhat Roxana’s case reminds us—asidefrom the great disservice it did to Iran’sreputation—is that in our increasinglyintertwined world journalists are notconsidered a protected species buttreated as fair game. Iason Athanasiadis, a 2008 NiemanFellow and a freelance journalist inIran between 2004 and 2007, wrotethis article for The National, publishedin Abu Dhabi in the UnitedArab Emirates.Journalism in a Semi-Despotic Society‘Censorship, low payment, and the high risk of arrest for any journalistwho dares to take an investigative step, among other reasons such as lackof individual liberty, have pushed Iranian journalists to the virtual worldof the Internet.’This article is written by a journalistin Iran. No byline appears on it due tothe situation this journalist confrontswhile working. This journalist has donereporting for Western television.To be on the safe side, it is advisableto apply the prefix “semi” indescribing events, politics, NGOsand journalism in Iran. “Here is nota democracy, but ‘semi’ democracy,”some write. For others, “It is not ademocratic, but a dynamic society.”Sentences like these are used by nearlyevery Western journalist visiting Iranto describe the society safely whilebeing certain of securing their nextpress visa and satisfying the curiosityof readers in Europe, Asia and theUnited States.But how does it feel to live andwork in a “semi” society? It is undecidedlife, with the risks taken beingunpredictable, since its press law isopen to interpretation. Punishmentfor breaking the law depends on manythings, too, including who you areand what your job is. For example, ablogger or print journalist committingthe same crime might end up withdifferent verdicts. A former classmatein high school writes for roozonline.com, a news wire based in Europe thatis moderate in criticism. She is notarrested, though she lives in Tehran.Another person, writing for the samepublication, ended up in jail, was bailedout and had to escape Iran.Reporters, when arrested, canend up in solitary confinement inthe notorious Evin Prison. In fact,this is usually where journalists andbloggers are locked up at first for acouple of weeks or months. If they letthemselves be co-opted, agree to actas a collaborator after being bailedout, or bid farewell to journalism andgo abroad, their cooperation labelsthem as good or tolerable journalists.They can achieve this by volunteeringinformation about their contacts orthose they’ve interviewed, or even tellthe interrogators about like-mindedfriends.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 7


IranThe income “good” journalists canearn is so meager (around $500 amonth) that they are forced to compromisetheir professionalism by being anadvertising agent or by wheeling anddealing in planting favorable reportingto business or consumer goods. Manytimes one of my coworkers at my dailypublication wrote letters in Farsi andEnglish to Nestlé or other companiesin Iran to negotiate the marketing ofproducts under the excuse of writing“health or food stuff ” pieces. Collusioninvolving moneymaking is also foundamong sports writers. The sports pageshave among the highest readership, anddozens of male sportswriters are in jailbecause they’ve been involved in fixingmatches or, in most of these cases,served as brokers in selling and buyingsoccer and basketball players.Self-censorship: To write in Farsi is topush internalized red lines from thesubconscious to conscious. Those wellversed in the ways of self-censorshiptransgress these red areas unknowinglyin the same way a soldier findshis way through a minefield. A wellexperiencedjournalist is defined in thisinstance as “a person who can say whathe means in a way that the friends(audience) can get the point and theenemies (censors and pressure groups)miss the point.” Another effective formof self-censorship involves distractingthe focus of the audience (includingwriters at the dailies) to the disastrouswoes of the current economic crisis inthe United States, in particular, andthe West, in general.Heaping invectives on the U.S. administrationand its misconduct canalso be a way of continuing to workas a journalist while staying out ofjail. Another tricky way to do this isto take advantage of the dichotomyof so-called reformist and conservativecamps by acting as a journalistwith impartiality. In short, whateveris written should prove that you area strong believer in the ruling establishmentand you see eye to eye withthe supreme leader, Ayatollah AliKhamenei. When you are seen as asympathizer to the regime, you cancriticize the incumbent government.Translating Western newspaper articlescan be used as a safety valve to saywhat you mean through other stories,for example about Turk or Arab societiesor regimes.Postal costs and subsidized dailies:The cost of publishing nearly all ofIran’s daily newspapers is subsidizedby low interest loans. With monthly orweekly magazines (with the exceptionof the “yellow” press, 1 ) subscribers arediminishing in number as people loseinterest in reading what they considerto be old and outdated articles andanalysis, since many of these publicationscontain no firsthand reports. Andpostal costs have recently been almosttripled, which has only worsened thissituation—a monthly magazine thatcosts less than one dollar now costsalmost three dollars to be mailed.As one well versed journalist said,this additional cost has been the“finisher bullet” to any independentperiodicals.Lack of newspaper readership: Historically,with its low readership andcirculation of dailies, Iranians do notrely on newspapers to get information.In fact, daily reporting of news abouthuman events is not what the averagecitizen seeks. The Hamshahri (Citizen),the city of Tehran’s mouthpiece withthe highest circulation of around halfa million a day, is not sold for its newscontent but for its advertisements, realestate vacancies, and eulogies of thedead. Voice of America (VOA) andmore recently BBC Persian (on radioand TV) and the Internet throughproxies are the main sources for newsfor urban residents. To understandhow small the impact of newspapersis, I remind you that for more thantwo weeks during the New Year holidays,which started on March 21st, nonewspapers were published, and theirabsence was not felt at all.Movement toward the Internet: Censorship,low payment, and the high riskof arrest for any journalist who daresto take an investigative step, amongother reasons such as lack of individualliberty, have pushed Iranian journaliststo the virtual world of the Internet.This is happening even though theadviser to Tehran’s general prosecutorhas said that Iranian officials blockedabout five million Web sites in 2008.This has forced some of these digitaljournalists to look for jobs at Radio FreeEurope/Radio Liberty (Radio Farda),VOA and BBC Persian, or simply seeka nonjournalistic or public relationsjob to promote goods rather than actas the conscience of public opinion.Some create their own independentpress, if it is possible to do so. [Seearticles about the Web and Iran onpages 42-48.]I used to see many of my journalismcolleagues at Café Godot (named afterBeckett’s play) near the University ofTehran; now I read their bylines orhear their voices in Radio Farda, BBCPersian, or VOA. Those who are likeme—a young journalist who remainsin Iran—have to write as a sycophanticjournalist, finding some way to castigatethe United States and Westernsociety, in general, while at the sametime saying something between thelines. This is not journalism, rather itis compromising one’s principles day inand day out. However, when journalistsdare to write under pseudonymsfor any Persian news wires outside ofIran, they will face a harsh punishment,such as happened with Sohail Asefi,who escaped, Nader Karimi, who isstill in jail, Omidreza Mirsayafi, whodied in jail [more information abouthis death is on page 44], and dozensof others who still are kept in EvinPrison. 1The “yellow press” is a popular name for newspapers and periodicals of the early20th century that published news stories of a vulgarly sensational nature, a namesynonymous with gutter press.8 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of JournalistsAN ESSAY IN WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHSPeering Inside Contemporary IranBY IASON ATHANASIADISA little girl looks out from a crowd of chador-covered women during a fireritual that tens of thousands of women perform on the eve of the Shi’itefestival of Ashura in the town of Khorramabad in western Iran. Ashurais part of mainstream Shi’ite Islam but, similar to Sufism, certain of itsrituals approach a mystic plateau that has led orthodox Muslim scholarsto condemn them.An exhibit of photographs of Iran featuringthe work of Iason Athanasiadis,a 2008 Nieman Fellow, opened for athree-month show in January at theCraft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM)in Los Angeles, California. “Exploringthe Other: Contemporary Iran,”the title Athanasiadis selected for hiscollection, became the first exhibit ofpolitical photography from Iran to beshown at an American museum sincethe 1979 Islamic Revolution. NowAthanasiadis is contributing some ofthe exhibit’s photographs, along withothers he took during the years whenhe lived and worked in Iran, to thepages of Nieman Reports. His wordsthat accompany these photographswere written for CAFAM’s newsletterto introduce his show and explain howa photojournalist created an “artisticmuseum show about Iran.” On the followingpage, this introduction appearsin a reworked version.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 9


IranGiant placards of the former and current supreme leaders of theIslamic Republic tower over the 100,000 seat Azadi Stadium inwestern Tehran during a soccer game. January 2006. Photo andtext by Iason Athanasiadis.It is the most hypothetical newsstory topping the internationalnews agenda today. Is the IslamicRepublic of Iran pursuing a nuclearbomb? Is it seeking to dominate thePersian Gulf? Sometimes it gets difficultto find the fire amid all thesmoke of headlines and the heat ofrhetoric.Speculation and demonization consistentlydrown out the Middle East’smost ethnically and religiously diverseculture. They obscure landscapes ofrare variety and geological beautypulsating with color and a rare light.Iran’s mystical topography is the settingfor a struggle between traditionand modernity that has been a constantof the modern era, first duringthe Qajar and Pahlavi empires, thenthroughout the three-decade lifespanof the Islamic Republic.I come from Greece, a countryas rich in heritage and as culturallyfractious as Iran. Moving to Tehranin 2004, I was struck by our sharedexperience of forming modern identities.Old civilizations find it particularlyawkward to adapt to a rational presentwhere culture and tradition standfor little, countries where indigenousreligions—Greek polytheism and IranianZoroastrianism—are overshadowedby the doctrines of Christianityand Islam.Greece and Iran have both beencrossroads and laboratories for experimentsin social conditioning. In Iran,the most radical consequence of thiscultural struggle was the 1979 IslamicRevolution, when social, religious andeconomic agendas collided. Perhaps themost visible outcome of this battle wasthe forceful imposition of state-sanctionedfaith and the marginalizationof indigenous traditions. Whether inthe form of churches planted on top ofmarble temples or Zoroastrian shrinestransformed into imamzadehs (burialshrines for Shi’ite saints), cultural historywas whitewashed to make roomfor a new national narrative.While living in Iran, I photographedthe country from the perspective ofcharting two great civilizations’ sharednarratives and divergent fates. Thisphoto essay reflects where the Iranianexperiment at theocracy stands on theeve of its 30th anniversary. 10 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of JournalistsKurdish villagers head back to Horamane Takht in western Iranafter a Sufi ceremony in a graveyard on the outskirts of the village.Photo and text by Iason Athanasiadis.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 11


IranTraditional women in Hormozgan Province walk along the BandarAbbas-Jask route in the baking midday heat. Their peasant dressescontrast anachronistically against the heavy lorries transportingcut-price Chinese goods on the international highway west. Photoand text by Iason Athanasiadis.Iason Athanasiadis is a writer, photographer, filmmaker and TV producer whohas been reporting from the Middle East, Central Asia, and the southeast Mediterraneanfor various news organizations during the past decade. He covered the2003 invasion of Iraq from Qatar for Al Jazeera, the 2004 Athens Olympics forBBC World, and the 2006 Israeli-Hizbullah war in Lebanon as a freelancer.12 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of JournalistsDead soldiers look out of aging photographs in Golestan-eShohada, a male-only martyrs cemetery in Isfahan.Young women practice the mystical sama whirling dance in Tehran’sVelinjak district. Sufism has flourished in urban areas over the past fewyears, far beyond its traditional heartlands in Khorassan, Kerman andKordestan Provinces. Buddhism, Christianity and yoga retreats alsoare increasingly popular. Photos and text by Iason Athanasiadis. Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 13


IranWhen Eyes Get Averted: The Consequences ofMisplaced Reporting‘Poor reporting from and about Iran has kept the West in the dark. In thislightlessness, Iranians are rendered as ghosts.’BY ROYA HAKAKIANOn the day that the Iranian-American journalist RoxanaSaberi, charged with espionageby Tehran, was handed her eight-yearsentence, I received several dozenmessages asking if I planned to writesomething about the case. It is a naturalquestion for those who know me:I am Iranian. I write about Iran, andI often write what in journalism werefer to as human-interest stories. Yetas certain as I was about Saberi’s innocence,I refused to write only abouther. That would be precisely whatTehran’s ruling puppeteers wantedeveryone to do. And I am, above all,a writer, not a marionette.I am also an American. I believein our goodness and in our genuinedesire to learn the truth. I reject myIranian compatriots’ conspiratorialviews about Big Brother’s hold onour media. Yet I cannot quite explainwhy the coverage of Iran in our pressis so profoundly inadequate. Everyweek, so many hundreds of articlesare written about Iran’s nuclear programthat yellow cake now has theappeal of pastry to our palette, andits top chef, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,is watched just as avidly. Espionageis cheap in Iran, and hundreds arecharged with it every year, but few“spies” become household names. WithIran’s presidential election only weeksaway, as I write this, I hardly call ita coincidence.Events Overshadow StoriesTyrannies are born in crisis. Theythrive on crisis. Iran is no different.From its inception, the regime understoodthe value of a grand spectacle,and it has staged and exploited manyever since.On November 4, 1979, the day theAmerican embassy in Tehran wasseized, the world’s attention becamesolely focused on the fate of the 52American hostages thereafter. ThatPrime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, inprotesting the takeover, resigned andhis highly liberal cabinet collapsed wasscarcely captured by the foreign lenses.Neither were the subsequent executionof the foreign minister, SadeghGhotbzadeh, and the arrest of thegovernment spokesman, Abbas Amir-Entezam, on the charges of espionagefor the United States, a pattern that,astonishingly, still continues, as doesAmir-Entezm’s detention.The American hostages sufferedgreatly, yet were released after 444days. But Iran’s political landscapewas never the same in the aftermathof the takeover. While the world wasconsumed by the captive Americans,the hardliners in Iran, ceasing uponthe global oblivion, obliterated theopposition—exiled, imprisoned andexecuted them—and implemented therepressive laws, including the Islamicdress code for women, which theyhad not been able to pass in the earlymonths after the 1979 revolution.Then came another leviathan crisis:the war with Iraq. Four years into theordeal, when Saddam’s bombs hadreached Tehran, I was standing onqueue to receive our monthly allotmentof eggs and other staples fromthe local mosque, when a neighborcomplained of the shortages and theincessant shriek of sirens. A RevolutionaryGuard member barked at himwith a rejoinder, not unlike what theneocons used against those critical ofthe Patriotic Act: It was unpatriotic,even un-Islamic, to complain whenthe country was at war.With eyes averted to the war, drovesof political prisoners were executed,even against the advice of the country’ssecond greatest clergyman, AyatollahMontazeri. By August 1988, severalthousand prisoners, even some whohad nearly served their terms andwere on the brink of release, werekilled in the span of days. Montazerihad pleaded with the authorities to atleast wait until after the holy monthof Moharram had passed. But he wastold that too many preparations hadbeen put in place to stop the bloodshed.Because of his vehement objections,Montazeri, once in line to replaceAyatollah Khomeini as the supremeleader, has ever since been banishedto his quarters in Qom, Iran.The mass, nameless grave, wherethe relatives of the dead gather everySeptember to remember their lovedones, is called Khavaran, a corner ofTehran’s main cemetery that the officialshave dubbed “the Damnedville.”The thousands who lie there nevermade it to the headlines that Augustbecause in July, the USS Vincennesshot down an Iranian Airbus killing290 passengers and crew aboard.Oblivion reigned once more, and theexecutioners ruled.After the end of the Iran-Iraq warin late 1988, there was a new sensation.Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Versestook center stage, and the authorsingularly commanded the thousandsof headlines that the dead never did.The word “fatwa” entered the popularlexicon. It was just the kind of dramathe regime has always cherished: TheWest was riled up, and the dispossessedin the Muslim world, to whom Iran14 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of Journalistsincreasingly appeared as pioneeringtheir cause, were electrified. Ironically,it was the fair-minded Rushdiehimself who began to speak on behalfof those dead and all the other talesthat were going unreported.Absence of Good ReportingI revisit this history, in part, becauseit is ongoing but more importantlybecause it has far greater implicationsthan we realize. Poor reporting fromand about Iran has kept the West inthe dark. In this lightlessness, Iraniansare rendered as ghosts. Yet it is notfor altruism, the mere defense of apeople’s dignity, that we must changeour ways of telling the news of Iran.Rather, it is the ubiquitous encroachmentof that darkness, even upon ourleaders, that makes it an essentialmandate, a point that veteran foreignpolicymakers, such as Richard N. Haassand Martin S. Indyk, formulate inthis way: “The United States simplylacks the knowledge and the guile to[influence] Iran effectively.”Diplomats are human. They, too,must gather information in much thesame way as the rest of us, only theyhave the disadvantage of having accessto dubious sources such as the CIA.They, too, often rely on reporters. Theabsence of good reporting is one reasonwhy Iran remains an enigma for theelite and ordinary readers alike.That is not all. Our inadequate reportingis also, in part, the reason forthe inexplicable stagnation in Iran’s reformmovement. Iranians know that theoutlandish rhetoric of their unpopularleaders capture the imaginations farmore than the tales of their resistanceagainst those leaders. When Iran’sPresident Mahmoud Ahmadinejadproposes to hold a Holocaust cartoonexhibit, thousands of headlines reporthis intentions. But when the exhibitgoes on and its halls go unfrequented,scant items tell of the nation’s bottomlessdisinterest in their president’sfollies. When he speaks against Israel,the world stands at attention. Butwhen he arrests journalists, writersand intellectuals who criticize theirown government for diverting muchneeded funds at home to Hamas andHizbullah, the lede, if written at all,is buried in a footnote.In February 2006, when thereseemed to be nothing but outrageagainst the Danish cartoons comingout of the Middle East, a bus strikeas significant as Montgomery, Alabama’sbus boycott brought Tehranto a standstill. Hundreds of driversrefused to work, and idle buses linedthe terminals as far as the eye couldsee. But the only images that appearedon the evening news in the West werethose of a handful of hoodlums protestingin front of Denmark’s embassy,throwing stones and smirking for thecameras.Conscientious Americans alwaysrant about the apathy of their fellowAmericans. Iranians of all stripesalways speak of despair among theirpeople. Apathy and despair are amongthe offspring of oblivion. The hundredsof teenage girls and young womenwho stormed the Haft-e-Tir Squarein Tehran in June 2006 to demandan end to gender apartheid in theircountry in a movement that has cometo be known as the “One Million SignatureCampaign” might as well havestayed home and killed their everyhope because their presence, theirsubsequent arrests and imprisonment,went unrecorded. It was not reportedin the American media until 2009.Three years is an eternity for a20 year old to know that others arenot deaf to her, to keep herself fromwondering if she is not mute, or if herexistence matters. Roya Hakakian is the author of “JourneyFrom the Land of No: A GirlhoodCaught in Revolutionary Iran,” hermemoir of growing up as a Jewishteenager in postrevolutionary Iran,published by Crown in 2004. She receiveda 2008 Guggenheim fellowshipin nonfiction.Imprisoning Journalists Silences OthersWhile most Iranian journalists have to operate with extreme caution, foreignjournalists can be more frank on the issues they face in Iran.BY D. PARVAZSecrecy, fear and a random justicesystem are together the currencyof oppression. This is how agovernment typically attempts to buysilence and compliance. And the caseof Roxana Saberi, a journalist whowas detained in Iran in January, is aclassic example of this semisuccessfulstrategy.Arrests such as Saberi’s don’t justsilence the imprisoned party. Theycreate a freeze, a nooselike hold onIranian journalists, both domestic andinternational. It’s incredibly risky fora journalist holding an Iranian passportto speak the truth about what itmeans to work in Iran without riskinglife and liberty.Initial stories indicated that Saberiwas picked up on suspicion of purchasinga bottle of wine, which, likeall alcohol, is prohibited in Iran. Itwas later reported that she had beenworking as a journalist on an expiredor revoked permit since 2006 (an exceptionallyreckless thing for a wouldbespy to do). Saberi was ultimatelyNieman Reports | Summer 2009 15


IranIn late April, with Roxana Saberi still jailed in Iran, members of Reporters Without Bordersheld placards with her picture outside the IranAir office in Paris. Photo by MichelEuler/The Associated Press.charged with espionage in March and,after a brief, closed trial received aneight-year prison sentence. Throughher appeal, the American-born reporterwas released in May.Now, according to Iranian presslaws, reporting without a permit equalsillegally gathering news. This can leadto suspicion of spying, especially whenthe journalist in question reports forforeign media. Iranian authorities saySaberi confessed to the charges againsther, though if she confessed to anythingat all, it might have been onlyto working without a permit. Besides,confessing to crimes not committedis pretty much a national pastime.Iranians who are hauled into policestations for various alleged infractionsoften have the option of writingand signing letters of confession andapology. These letters are kept on fileand can be held against the individualon a later date, but nobody wants toescalate a situation in the presenceof police.The good news is that we haveno reason to believe that Saberi wasphysically abused (unlike photojournalistZahra Kazemi, who was arrestedand beaten to death in 2003), andSecretary of State Hillary Clintontook up her cause. The bad news isthat Iran didn’t recognize Saberi’sAmerican passport, so it dealt withher as an Iranian, which could havebeen a dead end. Prominent bloggerHossein Derakhshan—often referredto as Iran’s “Blogfather”—has beendetained since November after visitingIsrael using his Canadian passport. Hefaces a potential death penalty. [SeeMohamed Abdel Dayem’s article aboutIranian bloggers on page 42.]Another blogger, Omidreza Mirsayafi,died in Evin Prison in Marchat the age of 29. While the list ofpeople imprisoned, work ceased, andlives ended is long—and most remainanonymous to those of us in the West—Derakhshan and Saberi’s cases are highprofile because of connections they haveto the Western countries and media.In a not-so-subtle political move,President Ahmadinejad has taken theexceptional step of asking authoritiesto reconsider their cases.Of course, being a journalist inIran has always been a challenge. Theformer shah also required journaliststo have government-issued permits inorder to work. Licenses were revoked,and journalists were imprisoned forpublishing stories that were deemedunfavorable to the crown. Yes, thingswere bad even then.In “Journalism in Iran: From Missionto Profession,” Hossein Shahidichronicles the extent to which theSAVAK, the shah’s intelligence organization,controlled the press, crackeddown on dissent, and how that levelof censorship affected the relationshipbetween the public and the press.“There was such deep distrust in theIranian press in the last decade ofthe shah’s rule,” wrote Shahidi, “thatit was often said that the only truthin the papers was to be found in theirdeath notices.”While most Iranian journalists haveto operate with extreme caution, foreignjournalists can be more frank onthe issues they face in Iran. ABC NewsSenior Foreign Affairs CorrespondentMartha Raddatz, for example, wrotea piece for abcnews.com on tanglingwith Iranian authorities in September.[Raddatz’s words appear on page 34.]But then, Iran seldom arrests foreignjournalists. Once in a while an Iranian,such as Azadeh Moaveni, getsaway with the unthinkable—writingfreely outside Iran and returning tothe country without getting a privateride straight to Evin Prison.Of Moaveni’s return to Iran, theauthor and reporter writes in “Honeymoonin Tehran: Two Years of Loveand Danger in Iran”: “My ulteriormotive was to discover whether Icould return at all. In the two yearsthat had passed since my last visit,I had published a book about Iranthat was, effectively, a portrait of howthe mullahs had tyrannized Iraniansociety and given rise to a generationof rebellious young people desperatefor change.”Moaveni was lucky, it seems, butthat she is free is in a way as disconcertingas Saberi’s imprisonment:Both outcomes seem uncomfortablyarbitrary. The uncertainty here is designedto produce alarm, trepidationand silence.But what is behind the high-profilearrests of semiforeign reporters? Bothincidents are seen only as examples ofIran’s unjust, brutal regime. And that16 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of Journalistsmight well be all there is to them. Andyet—why would Iran complicate thingsjust as President Obama’s administrationis making what appears to be agenuine attempt to build a diplomaticrelationship? Some speculate thatforces in Iran that are aligned againstcreating any relationship with theUnited States are involved with theserecent arrests. Despite the denial ofIranian officials, is it possible thatSaberi was being held in exchange forthe five Iranian diplomats the UnitedStates has detained in Iraq for overtwo years? Or was locking her upyet another show of strength to theinternational community?There’s also a real sense of justifiedparanoia present in Iran. The UnitedStates has a long, embarrassing historyof meddling in internal Iranian affairs,and The New Yorker’s Seymour Hershhas reported on the clandestine U.S.military operations being carried outin Iran as well as the activities of CIAoperatives working there.In the absence of having a liberated,thriving press—one that can not onlyshine a bright light on the facts but canoperate freely and transparently—we’releft with the necessity of having to tryto understand, rather than decide tojust dismiss, the actions of a governmentthat deals its most severe blowsto its own people. D. Parvaz, a 2009 Nieman Fellow,was a columnist and editorial writerat the Seattle Post-Intelligencer untilthe paper stopped its print publicationin March.‘We Know Where You Live’Working for a Western magazine in Iran, a journalist finds that he has acquiredsome surprisingly close acquaintances—from the ministry of intelligence. Andstrangely, they are all called Mr. Mohammadi.BY MAZIAR BAHARIMaziar Bahari is an Iranian journalistand filmmaker who continues to workin Iran. This article first appeared inIndex on Censorship and was subsequentlypublished in the New Statesmanin November 2007.I’m not supposed to tell you this,but I met Mr. Mohammadi. Infact, I met three Mr. Mohammadisin four days. Mohammadi isthe nickname of choice for the agentsof Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence—thecountry’s equivalent of the CIA. Theyhave other nicknames as well, most ofwhich are variations on the names ofShi’ah imams such as Alavi, Hassaniand Hosseini. I guess the names don’tindicate a rank or anything (I haveto guess, because Mr. Mohammadidoesn’t tell you much. He asks thequestions).Mr. Mohammadi is responsible forthe security of Iran. That includesprotecting the values of its government.It’s a tough job. It’s like beingin charge of Britney Spears’s publicimage. The values change so oftenthat the officials who put former colleagueson trial today are careful notto be incarcerated by the same peopletomorrow (who may well have jailedthem in the past). Mr. Mohammadi’sjob is to keep the integrity of theregime intact and to stop those whoplan to undermine the holy system ofthe Islamic Republic.But what does undermining mean?And what if it is the government thatis doing the undermining (as it doesconstantly)? These questions seemto puzzle Mr. Mohammadi. So he ismore than a little paranoid and edgythese days. When he calls you forquestioning, you don’t know if he’sgoing to charge you with somethingor seek your advice.These days, Mr. Mohammadi’smain concern is that the Americanfifth column, disguised as civil rightsactivists, scholars and journalists, isdestabilizing the Islamic Republic.The U.S. government has, after all,allocated $75 million to promote“democracy” in Iran. It is also giving$63 billion in military aid to SaudiArabia, Egypt and Israel to “counterIran.” The United States would love tohave agents in the country to take themoney and spend it wisely. There are somany social and economic problems inIran, that if someone wanted to exploitthem to create dissent it wouldn’t bedifficult to do so. But most activists Iknow inside Iran wouldn’t touch themoney with a bargepole and resentthe American government much morethan their own. In the meantime, theIranian government tries to find foreignperpetrators and domestic accomplicesinstead of solving the root causes ofdissent, such as mismanagement of thecountry’s economy, poverty, internalmigration, and drug addiction.Hotels, Beverages andConversationIn the 1980’s and 1990’s, intelligenceagents were rough and scary, butnowadays they politely call you fortea at some fancy hotel or other toquestion you. I never understood theirfascination with hotels. Why can’t youNieman Reports | Summer 2009 17


Iranjust meet them in their offices? Orwhy don’t they come to your office?Anyway, when you enter the hotelroom you are offered a range of nonalcoholicdrinks. Mr. Mohammadi isvery generous with his beverages. Assoon as you finish your tea you areoffered Nescafé, then some kind ofjuice, then Fanta, Pepsi, etc. Buthe never offers anything solid.Why can you drink tea whilebeing asked about plots againstthe government but not have abiscuit? Does an interrogationover a kebab lunch make it lesstrustworthy?These questions pop intoyour head while you’re enjoyingthe comfort of not beingin Mr. Mohammadi’s presence.He has killed many people inthe past. And you know thathe is capable of violence againif he thinks it necessary. Mr.Mohammadi’s counterparts inthe numerous parallel securityapparatuses (intelligence units of thejudiciary, Revolutionary Guard, andthe police) still have not caught upwith his methods. Recently a numberof students and labor activists were arrested,and instead of being offered teaor Nescafé they spent days in solitaryconfinement and were beaten withelectric cables and batons. But Mr.Mohammadi’s Ministry of Intelligenceis supposed to be the main agency.It is certainly the most professionaland polite.I met the three different Mr. Mohammadiswhile on assignment forNewsweek magazine. I was writingan article about the suppression ofcivil society and civil rights activistsin Iran.Day One: I’ve set up an appointmentwith a teachers’ union leader at a café.I am supposed to meet him after anexam at the high school where heteaches. The teacher doesn’t show upon time. I wait for an hour. Even byIranian standards he is late. I call himon his mobile but it is off. Strange. Hewas so keen to talk the day before, sowhat has happened? I then get a callfrom his mobile.“Who is that?” the caller asks. It isnot the teacher.“I’m Bahari from Newsweek.”“News what?”“Week.”“So you’re a journalist. Will calllater.”Mr. Mohammadi is now targetingmy integrity as a journalist, explicitlytrying to make a connection betweenme and a dissident, suggesting thatwe both work as agents of the GreatSatan and that we are part of a biggerplot to topple the Islamic government.I learn that the teacher was arrestedduring the exam and sent to prison. Anhour later I get a call from a “privatenumber.” It is a new voice. He is muchmore pleasant. “Could you come to the… Hotel at three this afternoon?” asksMr. Mohammadi. It’s been a whilesince I’ve been summoned. NaturallyI oblige.Mr. Mohammadi has become morepolite, cordial and strangely reassuring.He sneaks a smile when I ask him,“Why am I summoned here?” He usedto give me an angry look that wouldmean he was the one in charge. Hebegins by asking simple questionsabout me and my work: Who am I?How long have I worked for Newsweek?Why did I want to meet the teacher?Have I ever met him before? What isthe angle of my story?Easy questions to answer. Mr. Mohammadiis quite relaxed. He scribblesin his notebook while I talk and everynow and then exchanges a smile withme. There’s nothing remotely amusingabout what I’m saying, but Mr. Mohammadikeeps smiling. That makesme think: What is so interesting aboutthe banality I’m spewing here? Is hereally taking notes, or is he doodlinga fish? Is it a dead fish? When is hegoing to let me out of here? Is hegoing to let me out of here?I get tired of talking after a while.Then, like Muhammad Ali in the seventhround of his fight with GeorgeForeman, Mr. Mohammadi snaps andstarts to challenge me. He keepson smiling. I wish he wouldn’t.Why do I think an Americanpublication is interested in talkingto Iranian dissidents? WasI given a list of questions byAmerican paymasters to ask thedissidents? Have I ever been toany conferences in the UnitedStates or Europe? Have I evermet any dissidents in Europeor the United States? How didI come to be chosen as Newsweek’scorrespondent in Iranand not someone else?Mr. Mohammadi is nowtargeting my integrity as ajournalist, explicitly trying tomake a connection between me anda dissident, suggesting that we bothwork as agents of the Great Satan andthat we are part of a bigger plot totopple the Islamic government.Halfhearted InterrogationIf this session had been with previousMr. Mohammadis a few years ago, Iwould be scared of a pending trialand imprisonment for something Ihad never done—a destiny that befellmany of my friends and colleagues.But what makes this Mr. Mohammaditolerable is his halfhearted approachto the whole thing. His expression isnot a grin or a smirk. He almost feelssorry for himself and asks for yoursympathy. He looks genuinely confusedand somehow out of his depth.His bosses have come up with aconspiracy theory and asked Mr. Mohammadito validate it. He is a smartman and has been down this roadmany times since the 1979 IslamicRevolution. It’s never worked in thepast, and he really doesn’t think it willwork now. Mr. Mohammadi knowsthat he’s wasting his time and mine.18 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of JournalistsHe knows that his government shouldreform itself if it wants to survive. Asthe former minister of intelligence,Ali Yunesi (who was removed fromoffice by the current president) putit the other day, “Transforming theopposition into our supporters shouldbe the main security strategy of thegovernment, but unfortunately thesedays we not only fail to do that, butchange our supporters into the opposition.”But a job is a job. And Mr. Mohammadihas to pay rent and put food onhis family’s table. He wraps up oursession with a few farewell sentencesthat all other Mohammadis use: “Ihope you don’t think it’s personal.There are people who want to takeadvantage of your good intentions.We just want to protect you.”And then he delivers the punch line:“We know where you live.”Day Two: I’m meeting a labor unionactivist. I’ve set up an appointmentwith him for 3 p.m. I’m supposedto see him after he’s found out thenature of the charges against him inan upcoming trial at the RevolutionaryCourt’s headquarters. The activistis late for our appointment. I try tocontact him, with no success. I calla friend of his: The activist has beenarrested.When I get home, a friend calls mefrom London and says that I’ve beenaccused of being an intelligence agent.Earlier this year, I made a film for theBBC about the MEK, an Iranian terroristgroup that opposes the Islamicgovernment. The film exposed thegroup’s cult-like aspects and its collaborationwith Saddam Hussein andthe Americans. In the film, we alsoshowed how the Iranian Ministry ofIntelligence deals with MEK prisonersrelatively humanely—not torturing orkilling them as they did in the 1980’s,but treating them as cult membersrather than terrorists. This progressiveapproach is converting former MEKmembers into supporters of the government.As a result, the MEK nowaccuses me of being an agent of themullahs. I should tell this story to Mr.Mohammadi if he calls me again.Day Three: Another Mr. Mohammadicalls: “The … Hotel at 11 a.m.” Mr.Mohammadi likes my MEK storybut wonders what the reasons werebehind making the film. “When youmake a film or write an article you doit because you think it’s an importantstory. I really don’t need ulterior motivesfor doing my job, sir.” He doesn’tlook convinced.“But …” and he goes on askingme the same questions as Day One’sMr. Mohammadi. And he smiles thesmile as I start answering him. I givethe same answers: “There is nothingsurreptitious about what I do, sir.I’m just a journalist doing my job. Ijust report what I see around me. Ifthere’s poverty, I report that. If thereare terrorists, I write about them. Andnow when you arrest all these people,wouldn’t it be strange if I didn’t talkabout them? Don’t you find it bizarrethat the MEK calls me an agent inyour pay and you question me as ifI’m a guerrilla fighter?”Mr. Mohammadi says that he issorry for the trouble. He then givesme a modified farewell spiel. Theconclusion remains the same: “Weknow where you live.”Day Four: I’ve been meeting feministactivists to find out why 15 of themwere sent to jail and how they weretreated in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Apparentlytheir Mr. Mohammadi was notthat different from mine. He smiledand tried to find a connection betweenthem and the U.S. government. Lessthan an hour after I leave the houseof my last interviewee, I am invited totea at a hotel. This time it’s different,more upscale. Finally, Mr. Mohammadi’ssmile is gone. “There is onething that you forget in your maturegovernment theory.” I feel that he isfinally coming out of his bureaucraticshell. “I’ve heard that you’ve studiedin Canada.”“Yes.”“Good. Now imagine if Iran has250,000 soldiers in Canada and Mexico(roughly the number of U.S. soldiersin Iraq and Afghanistan) and thenallocates a budget to help civil rightsmovements in the U.S., let’s say to theBlack Panthers or a Native Americanmovement, wouldn’t Americans beparanoid? We know our problemsmuch better than anyone, and we doour best to tell those who are responsibleabout the social maladies you justtalked about. But this is Iran. It takesages for anything to happen. In themeantime we have a vicious enemy todeal with: the U.S. It’s determined totopple our government by any meansnecessary. As Tom Clancy says, the U.S.is: ‘A Clear and Present Danger.’”The Islamic Regime ChangeI don’t know how Mr. Mohammadiwill react to my writing about theseencounters. Not too happily, I guess. Hestrongly advised me not to talk aboutthem with anyone. But it’s importantto know that Mr. Mohammadi haschanged. And if he can change, theIslamic regime can change.I’m still not convinced by his pointabout the American threat. Throughoutits history, the Islamic Republic haslooked for foreign enemies and hasusually found them in abundance.Yet on many occasions it has underminedits own legitimacy by linkinggenuine domestic opposition to itsforeign enemies. It’s time for the internationalcommunity, especially theUnited States, to accept that the IslamicRepublic is a force to be reckonedwith and deserves as much respectas any other sovereign nation. But itis equally important for the IslamicRepublic to realize its own maturityand act responsibly.Maybe instead of a conference on themyth of the Holocaust, our presidentcould organize a conference entitled“Islamic Republic of Iran: 28 Years ofTrials and Tribulations.”On a more personal note, the changecan start with the government treatingits citizens with respect. I know Mr.Mohammadi knows where I live. Hedoesn’t have to brag about it. Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 19


IranAN ESSAY IN WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHSA Visual Witness to Iran’s RevolutionBY REZAIRAN, 1980A demonstration marking the firstanniversary of the revolution.In the mid-1960’s, Reza Deghati taught himselfthe principles of photography as a 14 yearold living in Tabriz, Iran. During the early1970’s, his pictures were of rural society andarchitecture, which he then studied at theUniversity of Tehran. The Islamic Revolutionin 1979 shifted Reza’s focus to the city, wherehe covered the conflict for Agence France-Presseand Sipa Press. Reza, who uses only his firstname, then photographed events in Iran forNewsweek until 1981, when he fled Iran afterbeing forced into exile. In the nearly 30 yearssince then, Reza has traveled throughout theMiddle East and Asia, and into Africa andEurope, and had his work published primarilyin National Geographic. “I have been using mycamera as a tool to bear witness,” he writes. InAfghanistan, Reza founded a nonprofit organization,Aina, through which he has supportedthe development of independent media andfostered cultural expression. In 2008, NationalGeographic’s Focal Point published “Reza War+ Peace: A Photographer’s Journey,” and Rezahas generously contributed photographs he tookin Iran in 1979 and 1980 to our project. Hiswords accompany the photos that follow. 20 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of JournalistsIRAN, 1979Reza photographed the first massive demonstrationagainst the shah, and in his book he describes howhe came to be there with his camera.My life was turned upside down one fall day in 1978. Iwas working as an architect in Tehran at the time andwas in the architect’s office. Suddenly, I heard a strange,unfamiliar shout. Some angry protestors were screaming,“Marg bar shah!” (“Death to the shah!”). I went towatch from the window. Soldiers came and blocked thestreet from both sides.The soldiers shot blindly into the crowd. The studentscould do nothing. Some died instantly, falling to theground. Others, wounded, crawled away to protect themselves.Still others ran for shelter. Then I saw one studentwho was fleeing but taking pictures as he ran.I stayed by the window for three hours, transfixed by thechaos below and in a complete state of shock. I made adecision. That night, I gave up my job. I turned in mykeys to the architect’s office, and I took up my cameras,which I haven’t put down since. Instability ruled in Iran;unrest and demonstrations were occurring everywhere.At event after event, I met Don McCullin, Marc Riboud,Olivier Rebbot, and Michel Setboun, among many otherphotojournalists who had come to Iran from all over theworld. They showed me the ropes. After a few months,my photographs started appearing in the internationalpress.I became a correspondent for Sipa Press and for Newsweek.I covered the revolution, the riots, the war againstIraq, the war against the Kurds. Iran was boiling. Theutopian fervor of the revolution had soon given way torepression. The shah had been brought down, but themullahs who took power crushed every form of opposition,every difference of opinion. The first victims werethe former political prisoners who had fought againstthe shah. This carnage led me to a sad observation:Hasn’t history shown us that every revolution eats itsown young?In February 1981, I was wounded on the Iran-Iraq frontby a shell blast. The Iranian government was closingdown the borders. My wound served as a pretext for meto leave the country. I went overseas for medical treatment.A few days before I left, I had learned that I was awanted man, sentenced to death because of my photographs.My journey outside my country would be along one.Photo and text by Reza.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 21


IranFABRIC STORE, IRAN, 1979For months, I had watched the black chadors takeover, becoming more and more widespread in thetowns and the countryside. Yet Iran has a variety ofpeople, a multiplicity of colors and landscapes. Eventhough decades have passed since I last saw them, Ican still recall the rural women with their colorful petticoats,which contrasted with the red of their houses,made of clay. And I can still see the vividly coloredrugs and the fabrics with the elaborately workedembroidery.When I entered this fabric shop, where the only choicelay in the weave of the material, I felt stifled anddepressed. The only style available was for the chador;the only color offered was black.During those days, I often felt that, unconsciously, thepeople of Iran had agreed to go into mourning.Photo and text by Reza.22 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of JournalistsIRAN, KURDISTAN, 1980Reza met an 11-year-old boy named Peyman in Kurdistan, whose fatherhad been killed and, as they spoke, Peyman said to him, “Whatelse is there to say about my life, about our fate as a people whoare refused an identity? What about you? You say you know a littleabout us through your camera lens. You say you will tell the worldabout us. But I have a hard time understanding how you will do this.Come, I will introduce you to my grandfather.”Reza went to his house, where they had tea. As he writes, “I thoughtabout the Kurdish children I had come across, their eyes full of sadness.Peyman was watching me attentively but seemed distracted. Heappeared weighed down, as though he were dozens of years older.Despite their grief, his family welcomed me. After we finished tea,I left the sad warmth of their home. As I reached the corner of thestreet, I heard a violent blast. Then there was silence, then screams,the despair and horror of a mother whose children have just beentorn from her. I turned around. In the dust of the dirt and rockspulverized by the bomb’s impact, I saw some motionless bodies.”Peyman, his sister and his grandfather had just been murdered—bombed by the Revolutionary Guards.Photo by Reza.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 23


IranIRAN, 1980, AYATOLLAH KHOMEINIAt last, I had the opportunity to photograph Ayatollah Khomeini in anintimate, private setting. This would be my chance to try to gain someunderstanding of this man who had become such a powerful enigma.He was sitting in a bare room, which had no past or future, no historyor memory. I had time to take only three photos. Then he cut me off,saying harshly, “I’m tired.” Throughout our session, he never looked mein the eye. I had sought his gaze to silence a doubt that had lurked in mesince his return to Iran a year earlier. When he arrived, a reporter hadasked him what he felt about being back after 15 years of exile. His reply,“Nothing.”He was the symbol of hope for an entire nation. We had risen up againstthe shah in a revolution that had erupted spontaneously throughoutthe country. But after my brief encounter with Khomeini, the doubt Ifelt gave way to the certainty that a fist was about to come down on ourdreams of justice and freedom.Photo and text by Reza.A year after I took this photo, I left Iran, forced into exile. Earlier I hadbeen arrested by the shah’s secret police for being a dissident. I wasimprisoned for three years and tortured for five months. Now, becauseof my photographs showing the repression carried out by Khomeini’sregime, I was under threat from his government and had to flee. In theyears since then, I have been a nomad searching for a part of my homelandin every country I visit—a quest that is like picking up and reassemblingthe scattered pieces of a puzzle. My camera is always looking forthe truth that often hides in the shadows of events.24 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of JournalistsIRAN, KURDISTAN, 1980Kurdish house bombarded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.CEMETERY, IRAN, 1981In writing about his journey to becoming a photographer inIran and his departure from his country, Reza observes that“Iran had become a huge cemetery, where figures dressed inblack wandered among the tombs.” Photos by Reza.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 25


IranFilm in Iran: The Magazine and the Movies‘… there are two arenas—cinema and soccer—that while not completelyimpervious to the political torrents have a greater margin of immunity.’BY HOUSHANG GOLMAKANISome imagine Iran as a desert withblack mounds, caravans of camels,men with harems, and oil wells.They might be surprised to learn thatin this country we have three dailiesand two weeklies about cinema andmore than 10 film monthly magazines,almanacs, quarterly periodicals, onequarterly in English about Iraniancinema, and dozens of books on thesubject published each year.Why is so much written about film?Perhaps because each year more than100 feature-length films and 2,000short films and documentaries aremade in Iran. Hundreds of TV showsand films are produced for 10 staterunbroadcast channels. (Iran doesnot have private radio and TV.) Hundredsof students attend four publicfilm colleges, and more private filmacademies are scattered throughoutIran. A government-owned firm andprivate companies also make filmsfor release in shops and video clubs.What’s written gets consumed by manyviewers of international films, whichshow up quickly for black market saleon city sidewalks.Reporting on political matters is arisky business. Journalists have grownaccustomed to the shutting down ofpublications, having to move and startnew ones. Under such circumstances,there are two arenas—cinema andsoccer—that, while not completelyimpervious to the political torrents,have a greater margin of immunity.Film—The MagazineThe first film publication in Iran waspublished in 1930. By the time of theIslamic Revolution in 1979, there wereabout 30 publications, the majority ofwhich had very short life spans. Duringthe early years of the revolution—whenAccompanying Golmakani’s words are covers of Film.politics pervaded everything—theproduction and showing of films wasstill unorganized, there were no filmpublications, and the Iranian pressrarely paid attention to cinema.In 1981, a few friends and I decidedto start a monthly film magazine; byJune 1982, our first issue of Film waspublished with reviews of some of thebetter films being released in hundredsof video clubs in Iran. By choosing tofeature film criticism—with the approachof critiquing the better filmsand excluding the weaker ones—Filmhas deeply influenced filmmakers, governmentofficials overseeing cinema,and created a more serious generationof viewers. Many young Iranian filmmakerstell us that theylearned about cinemafrom reading Film duringtheir childhood andadolescence. At leastit can be claimed thatduring the years of war,political upheaval, socialdespair, and dearthof film showings, Filmkept love for cinemaalive.Now 27 years old,Film is Iran’s longestlastingpublicationabout cinema. Throughthe years we’ve increasedthe number ofpages, and since 1986we have published seasonalspecial editions,including “Iranian FilmYearbook,” added in1991. Two years later,we were publishing aquarterly periodical inEnglish.As happens everywhere,the biggest quarrelsthat happen with the film industryare about criticism—Film twice facedboycotts by Iran’s Film ProducersUnion. But this is not the only problem.In the 1980’s, when Film was Iran’sonly magazine about cinema, officialsin charge of cinema were opposed tothe stardom of popular actors. Theyfelt directors and screenwriters shouldbe the stars, which is contrary to thegeneral nature of cinema and the tasteof cinemagoers who identify with filmsthrough their actors. Yet, in Iran, filmpublications, until midway throughthe 1990’s, had to be cautious aboutframing issues relating to actors.In these same years, restrictions onthe showing of foreign films meant26 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Treatment of Journaliststhat discussion in our pages aboutthem was also restricted. Rarely wasa picture of a foreign film or actorshown on the cover of any filmpublication. Even though in the past10 years we’ve seen an astonishingincrease in foreign films shown onIranian public TV—the majority ofwhich are American—those who writeabout them still risk being accusedof “promoting the Western culture”for giving attention to them. Early in2003, five film critics were arrestedon this charge and were imprisonedfor one to four months.To be sure, this type of strict enforcementis not a general governmentpolicy. Rather it is the result of themultiplicity of views and actions ofgovernment bodies that at times havenothing to do with cultural matters.Film, by maintaining its emphasis oncultivating artistic taste, has continuedalong the path it carved without comingunder the influence of extremistor very conservative sentiments. Accordingto the Iranian saying, it hastaken a “slow and steady” walk. Thisaccounts for Film still publishing,while hundreds of publications haveopened and been shut down duringits lifetime.Film critique is widely read anddesired by Iranians. In the past 20years, with an increase in film publicationsand the steady presence offilm sections in the public press, thenumber of film critics has risen noticeably.They now have formed anassociation, and the 27-year-old FajrFilm Festival in February is the mostimportant film event in Iran. In itsearly years, film critics would have fitin one row of seats; now at the festivalthere is one theater with three auditoriumsfor film critics, writers andreporters. The question and answersessions after each film showing isso much in demand that sometimesa seat cannot be found.It’s a love and hate relationshipbetween film critics and the filmindustry. Ads about films are verylimited in the press; in many of Film’sissues we have not one page of filmadvertisement. And to preserve Film’sindependence, most of its ads comefrom noncinema sources. The relationshipwe have with the government, asan official supervisory apparatus, isthat of principal to student. Like thepress in Iran, making of film in Iranenjoys a minimum level of subsidy; thedegree of support within a budget canvary depending on the adherence ofthe film’s subject to state politics.I write about all of this only outof my experiences with Film, wherewriting about cinema has given mylife meaning. Along the way, I’ve discoveredmany companions and beenconnected with many more unseenfriends. Sometimes I receive touchingletters from readers, old and new, whoseletters tell of their attachment to Filmin such a way that reading their wordsbrings tears to my eyes. At 55, thesmell of ink and newsprint from eachissue that arrives from the printinghouse still overwhelms me, even thoughI’ve already read every word and knowthe details of its production. Flippingthe pages of each new issue is stillso pleasurable that I am unwillingto trade my job for any other in theworld, even if it might be easier orhigher paid. Houshang Golmakani is the founderand chief editor of Film, a monthlymagazine that has been published inIran for the past 27 years. InternationalFilm, a quarterly magazinepublished by Film Publications, canbe read in English at www.film-international.com.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 27


IRANIAN JOURNALISTS | Women Reporters, Women’s StoriesYour Eyes Say That You Have Cried‘Today’s generation of Iranian women reporters are doing big things. Their markwill be left on history.’BY MASOUD BEHNOUDMasoud Behnoud, a prominent newspapereditor in Tehran during the1970’s and 1980’s, was imprisonedas part of the Islamic Republic’scrackdown on nongovernmental andindependent newspapers. Here heremembers some difficult momentsinvolving young women reporters andthe role he played as their journalismteacher in Iran from 1988 to 2002. Henow lives in London, where he worksas a political adviser for BBC Persianand has a daily BBC TV program inFarsi about Iranian newspapers.With her small frame she wouldsit in the first row of class,squint her eyes, and listen.She never raised her voice, even atthe end of the class when she wouldcome to my office to ask something.One time, however, she did not learna particular lesson, meaning she couldnot accept it, could not believe it.When I was saying that a reporterhas to be objective, Fereshteh stoodup and asked whether she still hadto be objective in an interview withSaeed Criminal. I said, “Yes.” With apitch louder than usual she asked,“How can I be objective?”Saeed Criminal was Saeed Hanai,the same guy who had strangled 16women in northern Iran. He becamea darling of fundamentalists becausehe claimed to have killed the womenin order to purify the earth. SaeedCriminal was a monster. And Fereshtehmeans angel in Persian.I was sure she did not acceptthe notion that a reporter has to bedetached and objective. She did notaccept it even when I reasoned thatonly with detachment would her workbe effective; only when it was not inopposition to someone or to a situationright from the beginning; onlywhen she can lay out or question thesituation effectively. Only then willthe reader take a side in the end. “Itwill turn out the way you want it to,”I said.Even to influence, one has to beobjective. A report cannot take a sideand have a direction …Even when I said these things.In the next class, Roya was thesame, as she stood up and renouncedthe idea. She asked, “Are you objective?,”and she firmly questioned howanyone can be objective.In those years, Banafsheh was ayoung girl in that class. When I askedthe class to write a report of theirchoosing, she described a man whohad nice facial features, wrote well,and spoke romantically, but whoseheart was not tender, maybe made outof iron. Banafsheh was describing me.She had not accepted that one couldbe objective, either, and she had voicedher dissent in that way.Objectivity in a society in whichviolence against women has becomeinstitutionalized is a difficult task,and in vain I wanted young women todiscover this—the very ones who canbetter feel pain. Why was I adamantto dictate callously and test them onclassic journalism?The day they arrested Fereshteh, Icould not believe they would take thatdelicate girl to prison. But they did,and the newspaper picture showed herwalking toward prison with a smile,staring straight at the camera—intomy eyes. It was as if she was saying,“See professor, it’s not possible to beobjective.”The day they were trying Banafsheh,I went and sat in the back of thecourtroom. I hid myself pointlessly soshe would not be embarrassed. I wasmistaken; she was not ashamed to bestanding on the defendant’s stand.She stood tall and proud and said,“I wrote it. I gave my signature forwomen’s freedom, in order to preventoppression in a misogynist society andlegal persecution of women.”She did not even ask for mercy. Thejudge, prosecutor, guard and court wereall men; even Banafsheh’s lawyer was aman. Except for a few members of herfamily and a couple in the audience,there were no women in the room.Still, it seemed to me, even the lifelessstatue of justice with its empty scalewas crying—the consequence of thewords of a romantic young girl.Our daughters, our students, youngwomen reporters, in a traditionalsociety like Iran, take photographs,conduct interviews, and write reports.Some like Asieh exhaust their ownhealth in their effort to help younggirls facing execution; some like Massihbecome wanderers. All because theysay something their patriarchal societydeems bigger than their mouth. Theysay you talk too much. A womanshould be modest and chaste, raisekids, cook and clean the house forher man returning from work, tiredand expectant.Young women are doing in onegeneration something that in othersocieties it has taken many generationsto accomplish. So what if they cannotbe objective about Saeed Criminal whomurdered all of those women and theserial killers who murdered 10 intel-28 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Iranian Womenlectuals and dissidents.Today’s generation of Iranian womenreporters are doing big things. Theirmark will be left on history. Let theprofessor not accept their papers. Letthe heartless professor tell them thatin writing a report they have to beobjective. Objectivity only had meaningwhen Fereshteh smiled at her guardwhile being taken to prison, teachinghim that he was not her enemy and,if she had any enmity, it was with thetradition of misogyny.She had learned this lesson fromlife. Telling the Stories of Iranian Women’s Lives‘Anyone who did research on women’s issues benefitted from hundreds ofarticles, stories and interviews that were featured in Zanan.’BY SHAHLA SHERKATIwas 10 years old and every weekmy mother would buy Zan-e Rooz(Today’s Woman), Iran’s highest circulationwomen-oriented publication,from the neighborhood newsstand. Shealways said that when I read a magazineI can speak better. My sisters andI would wait for the magazine everySaturday, and I particularly enjoyedreading its illustrated stories.In those childhood days I neverimagined that I would one day becomethe chief editor of that magazine. Forme, that job seemed like a succulentfruit on an out-of-reach branch, onethat a small girl like me could notpossibly reach. So when at 21 mysister called to ask if I wanted to bea journalist, I suddenly felt that themissing piece to the puzzle of mybeing had been discovered. Withouthesitation I began to make my quietand snail-paced move into the worldof women’s press.For a decade I slowly and incessantlytraveled this road, and witheach issue of Zan-e Rooz published—despite our many limitations—wepaved a rocky road smooth, so thatthe women’s movement in Iran couldprogress along it. When accused of“promoting modernist, Westernizedand feminist tendencies,” I was firedfrom the semipublic organization thatpublished Zan-e Rooz.However, I did not step aside fromwomen-related journalism. Withouthesitating, I set out to publish Zanan(Women) magazine for which I becameThe first issue of Zanan, published in 1991.the license holder. With greater controland speed, I was moving forward.Now I was in the arena of maximumexpression of views and desires ofwomen no matter their ideology,perspective, taste and approach. Andour magazine welcomed them, notjust a minority of women who hadofficial legitimacy and whose thoughtsand needs coincided with commonlyprescribed standards.Along this road, new pathwaysopened one by one. Women, as wellas concerned and well-skilled men,warmly greeted my attempt to publisha magazine that searched for solutionsto the problems women confrontedin intellectual, social, legal, political,educational and other arenas. AtZanan, we practiced collective work,democracy and tolerance for opposingviews. Our governing principle was theelimination of sexism and the gainingof understanding of the problems facingwomen working in double shiftsin public and private spheres. Zanandid not discourage anyone whosegoal was to flourish; everyone couldgrow in accordance with her talentsand capabilities. There was no placefor hopelessness. Our answer to selfdoubtin the fulfillment of objectiveswas “nothing is impossible.”This intimate, unified and collaborativefamily worked—or, better put,lived—together for 16 years. Throughjoys and pains, opportunities andthreats, poverty and prosperity, andhighs and lows, the magazine’s resolvedid not break, and its efforts did notdiminish. It was with this blossomingsynchrony between stories we publishedand the goals of Iran’s women’smovement that had just taken a newbreath for which Zanan served as itsplatform. Anyone who did research onwomen’s issues benefitted from hundredsof articles, stories and interviewsthat were featured in Zanan. And themagazine served, too, as an indicator ofthe progress made by Iranian women,which was something authorities inIran could also take advantage of inthe international arena.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 29


IranUnfortunately, in a society that hasyet to reach political maturity andwhere democracy has not becomeinstitutionalized, political leaders seethe survival of their system in theenvelopment of a protective coveragainst criticism. They seem unawarethat tossing ash on fire only hidesits glow, and it resurfaces and burnswhen least expected. This outlookthat exists in certain sectors of Iran’sgoverning structure led them to shutZanan after accusing the magazine ofportraying the situation of women ina “dark light.” What our journalistsdid to echo the needs and problemsof women (with the intent of buildingawareness among Iranians and publicofficials so solutions could be found)was interpreted as being a darkenedportrayal. To prevent our revelationsabout women and their issues fromdisturbing the public’s consciousness,Zanan was closed.It has been two years since they havetaken from our family our 16-year-olddaughter, Zanan. I have walked up anddown many stairs and corridors tofind my lost one but have not had anysuccess. Supporters and sympathizershave gone in one or another directionand crawled into a corner. Womenprofessionals, artists, writers and criticshave lost their tribune. Most of theindividuals, whose work only Zananhad the courage to publish, no longerhave an arena for the free expressionof their thoughts and ideas.After one year of unemployment,and for economic reasons, I accepteda management position in an artsand cultural institute; but my heartis somewhere else. Every day I arriveat work, but a piece of the puzzle ofmy being has been lost. Shahla Sherkat, founder and editor inchief of Zanan magazine, received theLouis M. Lyons Award for Conscienceand Integrity in Journalism from the2005 class of Nieman Fellows and theCourage in Journalism Award by theInternational Women’s Media Foundation(IWMF). In 2007, the Associationof Iranian Journalists named heras one of the five prominent journalistsof the year.Iranian Journalist: A Job With Few OptionsAfter working for more than a decade at the now banned Iranian magazineZanan, a journalist now in the United States describes her feelings of identity,location and loss.BY ROZA EFTEKHARIIranian journalists, like their peerseverywhere, make choices and decisionsreflecting their individualidentities, exigencies of time and place,and available options. How each answersthe question, “What made youa journalist?” will vary as much as thelives do of those asked to respond. Yetthey reach common ground with therecognition of how few options anyof them have.I became a journalist by coincidence,when a college professor asked meto assist the founder and editor ofa newly published magazine in needof help putting together an editorialstaff. The magazine, Zanan (Women),was postrevolution Iran’s first feministpublication, launched with limitedresources in a small room inside anoffice building. It was founded byShahla Sherkat, a professional journalistand a feminist with religiousbeliefs. 1 [Sherkat’s article can be readon page 29.] I was going to work temporarilyuntil she hired her editorialteam; however, when new staff wasassembled, I stayed.In spite of Iran’s political constraintsand male-dominated media environment,Zanan grew rapidly. In a spanof a decade, it attracted 20 journaliststo its staff; many of these youngjournalists were turned into seasonedprofessionals trained in women’s issues.Domestically, Zanan became anexample of the successful merging ofjournalism and women’s advocacy. Internationally,it turned into one of themore reliable sources of informationregarding Iranian women’s issues.While independent publicationsgenerally have a short life in Iran,Zanan enjoyed a longer run, largelybecause of Sherkat’s acumen in dealingwith sociocultural and politicaltaboos. On several occasions, Zananwas summoned to Iran’s press court,and the magazine was almost shutdown three times. Some of its writerswere banned from writing; others wereimprisoned. Still, Zanan continued itsremarkable journey.In spite of all the difficulties andvolatilities that characterized myprofessional life, I’ve never regrettedbecoming a journalist and working1Shahla Sherkat received from the 2005 class of Nieman Fellows the Louis M. LyonsAward for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism for covering politics and domesticabuse of Iranian women.30 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Iranian Womenfor Zanan. It’s where I grew up—as ajournalist and as a person. My workwith Zanan had taken me insidepeople’s homes and family courts, tothe coroner’s office, police stationsand mortuaries, where I came faceto face with the hidden and blatantinequalities of Iranian women’s dailylives. I also became familiar with Iran’sConstitution and civil code in thesearch for sources of violence againstwomen. And with Zanan, I sat in meetings,roundtables and interviews withexperts looking for solutions.Leaving Iran, Exploring theWorldThe day I joined the magazine, I wasa young, inexperienced college studentmajoring in English with barely anyknowledge of journalism. Twelve yearslater, when in 2004 I left to experiencea new world, I was a feministand a journalist on my way to begina challenging and rewarding year asa Nieman Fellow.Though I didn’t feel less capablethan the other fellows, I was less vocaland more reserved. Looking back, Irealize that I was in a state of shock,perhaps the shared experience of thosewho have lived in isolated societies forso long. I know I should have traveledmore during that time, but workingin Iran’s independent press did notprovide me with enough savings to doso. Even if I had the money, gettingthe required traveling visas was anordeal. (To come to the United States,even with a proper invitation from theNieman Foundation, my visa was deniedwhen I applied first through theAmerican Consulate in Dubai. I had topostpone my fellowship for one year tosecure a visa with the help of variouschannels.) There were also times thatI had to forgo trips to professionalconferences or workshops because Iwas afraid of political repercussionsfor the magazine or myself.Communicating in another languagecan be painful, especially for a journalistwhose main skill is connecting withothers. So mostly as a fellow I becamea listener. As soon as I had pulled mythoughts together and was ready toA Zanan cover story: “Women’s PoliticalRights in Iran After the Islamic Revolution.”1979.utter a sentence, the topic had movedin a different direction. How lucky Ifelt my Pakistani or South Africancolleagues were as they arrived speakingEnglish well, while here I was, assomeone who had majored in Englishand been a fairly good translator. I hadno difficulty understanding people but,without having had a prior arena forpractice at home or at work, speakingEnglish was a chore.The volume of one-sided newsabout Iran frightened me as well. Ithad never occurred to me that I alsohad to censor myself in the land offree press, lest I unwittingly reproducethe false and widely held clichés aboutmy country. I read the news, listenedto radio and television, and though Iwanted to share my responses to it,instead I bristled.More than classes at Harvard ordiscussions at the foundation, I benefittedfrom the companionship of otherjournalists from around the world. Wegot to know each other; as we listenedto each other’s life stories, we foundsimilarities, but differences, too. Suchfamiliarity replaced my homesicknessand awkwardness. Through our conversations,we were escorting eachother to France, the United Kingdom,South Africa, places in the UnitedStates, Mexico—and Iran. My years ofisolation were compensated, and myvision moved from the geography ofIran to that of the world.It is now five years since I left Iran.I had several reasons for lengtheningmy stay. But the most important wasunabashedly selfish; to take even moreadvantage of the opportunity affordedme. I knew once I went back, therewould be almost no chance for yetanother extended experience. Workingconditions for the press were alsobecoming more and more difficult,including at Zanan. In 2008, after16 years of existence, my professionalhome was banned by the Press SupervisoryBoard without any clear reasongiven. All efforts to lift the ban werefruitless. Even before that happened, Iworried that no journalism jobs wouldbe available for me if I returned.By staying in the United States, Iknew my life as a journalist wouldenter a lull. The loss of audience canbe as much a threat to a journalist aslack of press freedom. I could havewritten for the Iranian exile press orU.S. government-owned news mediathat targets an Iranian audience. Tonot do this was a very difficult decision,but that’s what I chose. As Iwrite now, I think of my colleaguesin Iran and how the closure of Zananchanged their lives in ways that cutto the core of who they are and whatthey believe in.Undoubtedly, these are wretcheddays for Iranian journalists. Some havechosen to live outside of the country,they hope temporarily; others had nochoice but exile. Among those journalistswho have stayed, a few havegone to prison, and some of thosewho are now free have no publicationsfor which to work. I realize nowthat location has not made much of adifference for me. A reporter who haslost her audience or her publication,no matter how skilled and adaptiveshe might be, is still an unemployedjournalist. Roza Eftekhari, a 2005 NiemanFellow, is a program assistant at theEurasia Foundation in Washington,D.C..Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 31


IRAN | VIEW FROM THE WESTSeven Visas = Continuity of Reporting From Iran‘The Iranian government sometimes appears to favor U.S. reporters with littleknowledge of the country who might be more amenable to spin, although thathas not happened in my case.’BY BARBARA SLAVINOne of my favorite trips to Iranwas in December 2001. A post-9/11 glow mellowed Iranianattitudes toward the United States,and politicians who previously wouldnot have openly advocated normal tiessaid the time had come for the UnitedStates and Iran to end three decadesof hostility.Iranians, accustomed to being on thereceiving end of terrible violence duringthe Iran-Iraq war, deeply sympathizedwith Americans, who had also been thevictims of an attack by Arabs. Therewere spontaneous candlelit demonstrationson the streets of Tehran. TheIslamic government suspended theritual chants of “death of America”at Friday prayers and went so far asto provide tacit cooperation with theUnited States against what was, for achange, a mutual enemy: the Talibanregime in Afghanistan.I returned to Washington andwrote a cover story for USA Today,in my role then as the paper’s seniordiplomatic reporter, about the newmood in Tehran. It was symbolized, Ithought, by the fact that Tehranis atrestaurants all over the capital wereguzzling Coca Cola—the real thing,not some Persian knockoff. Coca Colahad just opened a bottling plant in theeastern city of Mashhad, a harbinger,it seemed, of reconciliation with theUnited States.I felt certain that I would be backin Iran within a year. But I couldn’tget a visa for more than three years.It is possible that I was a casualty ofthe downturn in relations that followedPresident George W. Bush’s decisionin 2002 to put Iran on a so-called“axis of evil” with Saddam Hussein’sIraq and North Korea. Or perhaps theSo far, non-IranianAmerican journalists havehad an easier time—perhaps because theregime doesn’t considerus so much of a threat.reason was personal. Among the halfdozen stories I had written off the 2001trip was one about Reza Pahlavi, theson of the late shah. Even though Ireported that many Iranians thoughtthe “baby shah,” as they called him,was no solution for Iran’s politicalproblems, the mere fact that I haddevoted an entire story to the topichad apparently rubbed some Iraniansecurity types the wrong way.The challenges of writing aboutIran for a U.S. reporter are myriad.In some respects, Iranian Americansface greater danger because they mustgo to Iran on Iranian passports sincethe regime refuses to let them enteras Americans. That opens them to theprospect of de facto house arrest—should the government decide toconfiscate their passports—or outrightimprisonment as alleged subversivesseeking the “soft overthrow” of theIranian government. This happenedearlier this year to Roxana Saberi, afreelance reporter for National PublicRadio. Even those who escape suchpunishment are obliged to reportregularly to Iranian “minders,” as hasbeen documented by Azadeh Moaveni,a former reporter in Iran for Timemagazine. 1 That can lead to a certainamount of self-censorship.So far, non-Iranian Americanjournalists have had an easier time—perhaps because the regime doesn’tconsider us so much of a threat. Butchallenges remain, the first being thatof access to a country that has had nodiplomatic ties with the United Statesfor nearly three decades.I have been fortunate to obtain sevenvisas in the past 13 years but learnedwith my Reza Pahlavi story that thereare no guarantees. Gatekeepers changeand new fixers can be required tosmooth one’s path. The Iranian governmentsometimes appears to favorU.S. reporters with little knowledgeof the country who might be moreamenable to spin, although that hasnot happened in my case. In fact, itseems as though my access to officialshas improved over time. It was on myfifth trip to Iran that I got my first1Azadeh Moaveni wrote about this in her 2009 book, “Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Yearsof Love and Danger in Iran.”32 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


The Western Viewbig interviews—with then nationalsecurity adviser Hassan Rowhani andformer president Ali Akbar HashemiRafsanjani. These interviews tooka lot of preparation and vetting bypeople close to these top officials. Toget the Rafsanjani interview, I firsthad to meet a diplomat closeto the former president, oneof Rafsanjani’s sons, and abrother. I was also asked toextend my visit by severaldays. Top-level interviews inIran invariably come at thelast possible minute, oftenliterally hours before gettingon the plane to go home. So itwas when I interviewed PresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejadin 2006.These interviews have providedfascinating glimpses intoIranian politics and decisionmaking.What keeps me goingback to Iran, however, arethe encounters with ordinaryIranians, from shopkeepersin south Tehran, to journalists,human rights activists,economists and young people out for awalk in the Alborz Mountains. Iraniansare usually welcoming to Americansand surprisingly candid about theirviews. People make appointments andkeep them—unlike their neighbors insome Arab countries—and there is ahunger to show that Iran and Iraniansare better than their government andworthy of U.S. respect.While I have not had a formalminder on trips to Iran, I assume thatmy driver and translator are obligedto report on what I do and whom Isee. So I act in a way that is openand above board to cause the fewestproblems possible for my Iranian employeesas well as those I interview. Itry to conduct myself with dignity andhumility and to never lose my temperwith Iranians, especially not aboutthings that they cannot control.The result so far has been reportingthat keeps adding depth to my knowledgeof a country that is increasinglyinfluential in its region but deeplyconflicted at home. The Iran I havecome to know has the most complicatedand interesting politics in theMiddle East, the best educated youngpeople outside Israel, and a surprisinglysophisticated understanding of theWestern world. It is a place where theodds of someone shooting at you arerelatively small, the food is delicious,What keeps me going back to Iran,however, are the encounters withordinary Iranians, from shopkeepersin south Tehran, to journalists,human rights activists, economistsand young people out for a walk inthe Alborz Mountains. Iranians areusually welcoming to Americans andsurprisingly candid about their views.and hotel rooms have wireless Internetand satellite TV. The downside, as awoman, of having to wear a headscarfand modest clothing is a small burdento bear in return for the chance toreport on this dynamic nation.When I decided in 2006 to turnsome of my experiences into a book, Idiscovered in my notebooks from priortrips to Iran a significant amount ofdetail and color that had not found itsway into my articles for USA Todayor had appeared in truncated form.I was also fortunate to obtain a fellowshipfrom the Woodrow WilsonInternational Center for Scholars thatgave me time to write and to fill inthe blanks in my narrative. In writing“Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran,the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation,”I welcomed the opportunityto flesh out this material and producesomething of more lasting value thana newspaper story. I wanted to educateAmericans about Iran and the missedopportunities for improved relationsduring the past decade.Delving deeper into the complexhistory of Iranian-American relations,I tried to break through the misperceptionslong held by people in bothnations; I did this, in part, by showingthat even supposedly hard-line groupsin Iran, such as the RevolutionaryGuards, are not monolithic, with someinfluential members and veteransadvocating ties with theUnited States. I also showedthat a substantial number ofIranian clerics oppose thesystem of theocratic rule. Atthe same time, I portrayedthe success of governmentsecurity forces in repressingpopular dissent and suggestedthat those in Washington whothought they could bring aboutregime change in the nearfuture were not being terriblyrealistic. In explaining Iranand the failure of previous U.S.efforts to improve relations, Ihoped to inform Americans sothat policymakers could avoidmistakes and citizens couldbetter evaluate U.S. policygoing forward.In my new role, as an assistantmanaging editor at The WashingtonTimes, I have sought to cover Iran andU.S. policy both directly and indirectly.I’m invited to meetings with Iranianleaders when they visit the UnitedStates, have recruited stringers in Iran,and also try to augment the work ofmy staff reporters by maintainingcontacts with U.S. policymakers andother experts. I also hope to be ableto return to Iran, perhaps after theirpresidential election in June. Giventhe Obama administration’s statedgoal of resolving the conflict with Iranthrough diplomacy, while not rulingout coercive measures, this topic islikely to—and should—remain on thefront pages of U.S. newspapers forsome time to come. Barbara Slavin is assistant managingeditor for world and national securityof The Washington Times and theauthor of “Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies:Iran, the U.S., and the TwistedPath to Confrontation,” published bySt. Martin’s Press, 2007.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 33


IranNo Man’s Land Inside an Iranian Police StationWhen Iran held a U.S. reporter, an American television correspondent recalledher own brief arrest by Iranian police.BY MARTHA RADDATZIn March, Martha Raddatz, who isABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent,wrote a Reporter’s Notebookentry describing what happened to herand her colleagues on a reporting tripto Iran. She wrote about this in thewake of Iran’s arrest and jailing ofAmerican freelance reporter RoxanaSaberi on charges of “gathering newsillegally.” In April, Saberi was chargedwith spying. Raddatz’s words appearedon the ABC News Web site, and excerptsare reprinted here with permission ofABC News.Ihave direct experience with theIranian government’s attitudesabout “gathering news illegally.”Last September, while on a trip toTehran with my producer, Ely Brown,and my cameraman, Bartley Price, wewere arrested by Iranian police forvideotaping officers who were lookingfor women whose heads were not“properly” covered. Ely and I were bothwearing a hijab, and we all had officialIranian press credentials. (I had sentin a picture of myself from a passportshop in the United States. When Ipicked up my press card in Tehran,the Iranians had Photoshopped in ahead covering on my press card.)The police loaded us into a van andhad two other police vans escortingus through the city. They took Bart’scamera, our press cards and, mostdisturbing, they took our passports.We had no idea where we wereheaded and neither did our interpreters.When I tried to lighten up themood in the van by joking with Elyand Bart about all of us being used tobeing in motorcades, the interpreterwarned me not to laugh around thepolice, or they would think I wasmaking jokes about them.We drove for close to 45 minutesbefore we pulled into a police station,and that is when we became worried.A busload of prisoners was justpulling out, faces pressed against themetal-meshed windows shouting forfood and cigarettes. Worse yet, thepolice station we were taken to was“the Anti-Narcotics Division.” Ely, Bartand I all had the same thought: “Whathave they hidden in our bags?”Good Cop, Bad CopWe sat for hours outside the officeof a police official, and then we werebrought in one by one to be questioned.“Why were you arrested?” the officersaid to me. I asked him the samequestion.I explained that we were downtowntaping people in a shopping districtand noticed that the police came. Ourcameraman started filming the policeon patrol. He wrote all of this down,and then made me sign it, which I didnot do until the interpreter assuredme that was what it said.At that point the classic “good cop,bad cop” scenario started playing out.The “good cop” said his boss wouldhave to see the tape, and then wewould be freed. But the “bad cop,”who was clearly senior, kept tellingus we shouldn’t have been taping thepolice, and it was “a problem.”As we sat for hours on a row ofhard chairs against a wall, we sawtwo boys dressed in athletic suits whocouldn’t have been more than 12 or 13years old handcuffed together lookingfrightened. They were taken away. Wewatched a crazy scene where two ofthe police officers were shouting at oneanother and almost came to blows infront of us, shoving each other hard inthe chest. We had no idea what theywere arguing about.Every once in awhile, we wouldget pulled in again and someone elsewanted to see the tape and ask morequestions. There were frowns whenthey saw the images of the police onthe tape, although the good cop said“no problem.”By early evening, still not knowingwhat was going on and now startingto demand information, one of thecops told us that the senior officerwho needed to see the tape was notcoming in until the morning. At everyturn, there seemed to be one moreperson who had to see it before theywould decide what to do with us. Theyall seemed scared to make a decisionon their own, fearing it would be thewrong decision.The police said they would allow usto leave (they knew exactly what hotelwe were in), but they would hold ontothe passports, and we could come andget them first thing in the morning. Isaid I wasn’t leaving without my passport,but they just shook their heads.We were assured that if we arrived ateight the next morning and showed thetape to the senior officer, we would befree to leave the country.That didn’t happen.Ringing the State DepartmentWhen we arrived at the police stationthe next morning, there was no seniorofficer, and those who were thereseemed angrier about the tape thanthe night before. I started demandingour passports and threatened to callthe U.S. State Department. Talk aboutan empty threat!When I finally did call, I got anoperations officer on the all-night desk.I told him that I was an ABC Newscorrespondent and that I was being34 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


The Western Viewdetained along with my crew and thatour passports had been confiscated.The state department representativesaid there was really nothing he coulddo because we don’t have diplomaticrelations, and said, “You know it isfive in the morning here?” Gee—sorry to bother you. I did ask him toplease make sure that he took downmy name and make a note that Iwas being held along with my crew(in case we were never heard fromagain!). He said, “OK.” I later askeda senior state department official whosaw all the daily cables and traffic ifhe every saw that mentioned, and hesaid, “No, nothing.”By the end of day two, we werebeing told the situation was seriousand we had been taping illegally andthat the situation would have to belooked at by yet another official. Wewere told that we would again haveto come back the next day for ourpassports.At this point, I took a chance—a bigchance since I am a woman and didn’treally know how it would play. In mybest voice of indignation, I called theofficer a liar. I told him that they hadnot been honest, that we had beentold for two days that we would begiven our passports and allowed toleave, and they had continually liedto us. I told him that we had to leavethe country.That little tirade at least madethem stay later to deal with the bureaucracyof finding the right man tosee the tape. To be honest, I am notsure what happened behind the scenesafter that, but I know that two hourslater, passport in hands, tape foreverin Iranian hands, we left Tehran onthe next flight out, and were veryhappy we did.While the situation was uncomfortableat the time, I had nearly forgottenit until I read about Roxana Saberi,whose situation is clearly far moreserious. I hope she will get more helpfrom the state department (through theSwiss, I expect) than we did. I happento be traveling with Secretary of StateHillary Clinton in the Mideast now.Her spokesman said, “We’re lookinginto it.” The Human Lessons: They Lie at the Core ofReporting in Iran‘When we work in countries without press freedoms, we scarcely know thepressures on the people we encounter, the complexities of their motivations, thedimensions of their fears.’BY LAURA SECORBefore I left for Tehran in June2005, Alireza Haghighi, a formerIranian official in exile in Canada,told me he was sure a conservativehard liner would win that month’spresidential election. Haghighi wasalmost entirely alone in that opinion.The outgoing president, MohammadKhatami, was a mild-mannered reformist.Former President Ali AkbarHashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic insiderrunning on a reformist platform,was far and away the favorite in theAmerican press, which confidentlyoffered up interviews with Rafsanjaniabout his future administration.What made Haghighi think that Iranwas moving in a more conservativedirection?“Go to a mosque in south Tehran,”he implored me. “Talk to young peoplethere. You’ll see.”American reporters are typicallygranted only short visas to workin Iran, with limited access to thecountry outside the capital. There isa lot we miss for lack of contact withrural Iranians, and even in Tehran, asprawling city of 14 million, there isalways the danger of sequestering oneselfin too familiar a world. Haghighi,who grew up in a poor neighborhoodin the south of Shiraz, complainedthat American reporters gravitatedtoward the glitz of the capital city’snorthern heights, where they foundIranians who resembled themselvesand expressed the political views theywanted to hear.Seeking New ConversationsTo the city’s south, the urban workingclass, hard hit by the country’seconomic troubles, shares crowdedquarters with recent migrants from thevillages. This population is culturallyconservative and religiously devout.In every way, the young people herehave less freedom and privacy thantheir peers in the city’s north: Theyshare cramped apartments with theirparents, they don’t have cars, and theirdress code and sexual behavior areheavily policed, both by their familiesand by the state.As a woman, I could not mix easilyat a mosque in this part of town,but my translator had another idea.We would go to the Bahman CulturalCenter, a complex in south Tehran thatprovided a library, swimming pool, artmuseum, park and other amenities topoor urban youth. Under the shah, theneighborhood had been a squalid anddangerous wasteland of brothels andNieman Reports | Summer 2009 35


IranA young girl wore a headband and waved an Iranian flag in support of then reformistpresidential candidate Mostafa Moein at a pre-election rally. May 2005. Photo by IasonAthanasiadis.shanties. The Islamic Republic hadmade the renewal of this area oneof its signal accomplishments, buildingthe cultural center where a vastslaughterhouse once stood. Not onlywere there parks and museums herenow, but there were also police, so thatwomen could walk safely at night.My translator had a cousin whoworked at the cultural center andwelcomed us onto the premises. Nonetheless,we were told to report to thecenter’s director, a woman in a blueflowered chador. She did not objectwhen I told her I was there to interviewyoung people, but she did press a tourguide on us. That young woman ledus across the grounds, delivering rotedescriptions of the facilities, which werewell tended, linked by manicured lawnsand paved walkways. On the outerwalls of buildings, there were muralsof militiamen with red headbands,and of martyrs from the war withIraq, set against the ghosted image ofAyatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Therewas also a mural of Charlie Chaplin,looking strangely sinister as he helda statue of himself in an improbablyrotated, raised palm. Someone hadaffixed one of Rafsanjani’s campaignbumper stickers to the mural, acrossthe base of the statue.As we left the library, I saw a lawnwhere young women sat studyingon the grass. I told the guide that Iwanted to talk to them. She left usthere. At the edge of the lawn, twoRevolutionary Guards stood watch.One was a man in olive fatigues, theother an angular-faced woman in ablack chador. With my translator, Iapproached them and informed themthat I would be interviewing the youngwomen on the lawn. They told me togo ahead.The first woman I approached gaveher name as Leila Mehrzad. She was18 years old and studying for theuniversity entrance exam. She hadnot yet decided if she would vote forRafsanjani, for Baqer Qalibaf, whowas a hard-line former commanderof the Revolutionary Guards, or forMahmoud Ahmadinejad, the conservativemayor of Tehran, who was thenthe most obscure and least favoredcandidate on the roster of seven. Themost important issues, Leila told me,were unemployment, the overcrowdingof the universities, and inflation.“We should be able to have a freepress and human rights,” she told me.“Freedom is not just about headscarfs.We should have freedom of speech;we should be able to speak from ourhearts. But there are big differencesbetween rich and poor.”Another young woman, who wasreading under a tree a few feet away,told me she would vote for Ahmadinejad.“In all the interviews on television,he seemed trustworthy,” she explained.“He talked about the economy.” A youngwoman of 20 who had been readingnearby shyly approached us. Introducingherself as Zahra, she volunteered,“I’ll vote for Ahmadinejad. He’ll giveus the things we want, like securityand comfort, a place in society. Hedemonstrated this as mayor. He wasso good—he did many things for thesouth of Tehran.”Before I knew it, I was surrounded bya widening circle of young women. Mytranslator told me that some of themhad thought that I was a fortuneteller,sitting there with a notebook talkingto their friends. When they heard thatI was an American journalist reportingon the election, they all startedtalking at once.“I’m not going to vote,” said one.“I’ll vote for Qalibaf,” said another,“but I know Rafsanjani will be elected.There’s no need for our vote. Rafsanjanihas been elected already by theleaders.”Another girl interjected, “Rafsanjaniis disgusting.”“At least Qalibaf is better lookingthan Ahmadinejad.”“Your brain is in your eyes, andthat’s not good.”The young women egged each otheron in spirited argument, laughingand interrupting one another. I askedhow many would vote, and very fewraised their hands. “I won’t vote,” saidone, “but I just want to appear in thestreet to show that we are backing theIslamic Republic. We don’t want to beanother Iraq.”A girl who had been quiet until thenannounced, “I’ll vote for Qalibaf.”Another retorted, “That’s terrible.”A third said, “You should respecteveryone’s opinion.”Another, referring to the populistreformist candidate, Mehdi Karroubi,who had promised every Iranian family60,000 toumans if he were elected,said, “All the candidates sound the36 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


The Western Viewsame except Karroubi. He says nothing,just, ‘60,000 toumans is my finaloffer.’” The whole group erupted inlaughter.Experiencing a ConfrontationSuddenly there was a hand on mynotebook, pulling it urgently away. Itwas the woman in the blue floweredchador, flanked by the male and femaleRevolutionary Guards. I mustgive them my notes, the woman toldme. I would not be permitted to leavethe cultural center with that notebook.She pulled one end of my notebook,and I pulled the other.At times, far less enraging encounterswith the limits of the possible inIran had left me passive, enervated,excessively cautious. At other times,like this one, I felt somehow convincedI faced a paper tiger. The notes werenot extremely important; they mightnot even make it into the article I waswriting. But where I came from, noone had the right to take them fromme. Besides, there were days of workin that notebook.“This is my work,” I told the womanin the blue flowered chador, somewhatnonsensically. I reminded her that I’dbeen granted permission every step ofthe way, by the cousin of my translator,the guard at the gate, the directorherself, the guide, the RevolutionaryGuards right here on the lawn. I wasn’tdoing anything illegal, and she couldnot have my notes. “Just the notes youtook here at the cultural center,” sheinsisted, through my translator. “Youhave to give them up.”Some of the girls had vanished, buta tight knot of them remained, talkingagitatedly. “We came to her,” they toldthe center’s director and the RevolutionaryGuards. “She didn’t approachus.” I felt my stomach tighten as Ilooked at them. The girls had talkedto me frankly, humorously, irreverently,about politics. My notes were an illegiblescrawl, with almost no namesattached, but they didn’t know that.If these girls saw me give the notesover, what would they think?The argument seemed to last forever,with the center’s director tugging onmy notebook as I held it fast. Andthen I saw my translator’s face, whichhad turned a shade of white. She wasworried, I realized, not just for mebut also for herself. I felt a shock ofshame.“Please do what she says,” she toldme in a strained monotone, “unlessyou want your trip to Iran to end veryThe girls had talked tome frankly, humorously,irreverently, aboutpolitics. My notes werean illegible scrawl,with almost no namesattached, but they didn’tknow that. If these girlssaw me give the notesover, what would theythink?badly.” And then, because the director,who still stood between us, did notappear to understand English, mytranslator suggested, “Why don’t youjust tear out a couple of pages withoutany names on them, and tell her thoseare all the notes you took here?”That’s what I did. And immediately,I regretted it: The girls who haddefended me didn’t know there wasnothing on those pages.The Revolutionary Guards, and thewoman in the blue flowered chador,escorted us out of the cultural center.We were conspicuous. There was mytranslator, my photographer, my driver,the cousin, the director, the Guards,and a few of the girls who had notabandoned us. I muttered to my driver,“I wish I had torn up those pagesinstead of giving them to her.”My driver told the director whatI had said. Through a translator, shereplied, “You can have them back, ifyou promise to tear them up.”To my astonishment, she passed thepages back into my hands. I slippedthem into my bag. As we exited thegate, the Guards stayed inside, butthe director of the center slipped outwith us, into the parking lot. For amoment I thought I would never befree of this woman in the blue floweredchador.But she had not come to demand tosee me shred the notes or to showerme with invective. Rather, she seizedmy hand in both of hers and lookedinto my eyes. For the first time, shespoke to me in English.She said, “I hope you can forgiveme.”In the past four years that I havespent thinking and writing about Iran,I have returned to that moment manytimes in my mind. The decision to expelme and confiscate my notes had clearlycome from the Revolutionary Guards.The director was at their mercy to adegree I had not fathomed.When we work in countries withoutpress freedoms, we scarcely know thepressures on the people we encounter,the complexities of their motivations,the dimensions of their fears. We donot float above the tensions and restrictionsof their lives; we are embroiledin them, often in ways we cannot see.And we must constantly balance ourcommitment to our work with theadmonition to do no harm—to ourtranslators, our sources, even, sometimes,to the people who appear tobe blocking our way. The conclusionswe reach, we draw from an occludedview of a vast and diverse country. Itis for us to find ways of seeing throughwalls, of learning about the people andplaces we cannot visit, and about thehidden layers of those we do. Laura Secor completed in May afellowship at The New York PublicLibrary’s Dorothy and Lewis B. CullmanCenter for Scholars and Writers,where she was working on a forthcomingbook, “Fugitives from Paradise: ABiography of Iran’s Movement for Democracy.”She has written on Iran forThe New Yorker, The New York TimesMagazine, and The New Republic.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 37


IranIran: News Happens, But Fewer Journalists AreThere to Report ItIn a time of global engagement—economic, political, environmental, energyand health, to name a few—budget cuts at news organizations severely limitforeign news coverage.BY MARK SEIBELWhen Iranians go to the pollsin June, McClatchy’s WarrenP. Strobel will be there. Butwe almost didn’t send him. After all,we hadn’t gone to Mumbai for lastyear’s terrorist attack, nor had we sentanyone to Mexico for the emergenceof this year’s flu outbreak. Wedebated long and hard aboutwhether to send someone withPresident Obama to the Summitof the Americas before agreeingthat we would let The MiamiHerald provide coverage for ournewspapers—without the expertiseof either of McClatchy’s WhiteHouse correspondents.We did send Steven Thomma, aMcClatchy White House reporter,to Europe to cover Obama’s tourthere. He didn’t travel to andfrom Europe with the WhiteHouse press corps, however. Itwas cheaper for him to get thereon his own and then begin hisreporting with the President inLondon.Tired of reading about newspapereconomics and what they’ve done tonewsgathering? Maybe you should juststop here. There’s no mistaking thatthe country’s economic malaise—andthe news industry’s inability to comeup with a surefire way to make moneyon the Internet—has taken a huge tollon the American news media’s abilityto track what goes on in the world.It’s enough to make one long for thegood old days when we could lay offreporters and insist with a straight facethat there would be no change in ourability to cover the news. No more.The last year of layoffs, cutbacks andconsolidations have hurt. Bad.The broadcast networks have all butshuttered their overseas bureaus. Thelist of newspapers that have abandonedthe international playing field is a longone. Cox, Newsday, The (Baltimore)Sun, and The Boston Globe haveThere’s no mistaking that the country’seconomic malaise—and the newsindustry’s inability to come up with asurefire way to make money on theInternet—has taken a huge toll on theAmerican news media’s ability to trackwhat goes on in the world.eliminated their international newsbureaus entirely. The Dallas MorningNews has cut back to just coverage ofMexico, as has the Houston Chronicle.The Miami Herald, once the newspaperof Latin America, pretty much nowstaffs stories only in Cuba and theCaribbean. The Chicago Tribune andthe Los Angeles Times are workingthrough a painful consolidation thatwill cut the total number of TribuneCompany correspondents in the fieldby half; they’ve already made a similarconsolidation of their Washingtonbureaus. The New York Times chargesgamely ahead, mortgaging its headquarters,borrowing at usurious ratesfrom someone it should be investigating,refusing to slash its newsroom staff,and chalking up losses in the scoresof millions of dollars. Let’s hope therereally is a better day ahead.Cuts and CompromiseBy comparison, maybe the newsfrom McClatchy isn’t so bad. Despitean agonizing series of cuts,we’ve kept our foreign bureaus.We still have operations in China,Israel, Iraq, Egypt, Russia, Kenya,Mexico and Venezuela. We’ve hadthree reporters in Afghanistanrecently for extended stays—our Pentagon correspondent,another member of the nationalsecurity team, and our Moscowbureau chief. We have a veryproductive stringer in Pakistan,and Jonathan S. Landay, one ofthe team that won accolades fordebunking the Bush administration’sIraq WMD myth, will soonspend time there.But we are not running at full steamin a world that deserves it. We’ve hada South Asia bureau in our budgetfor the past three years; I’m certainit will never open. The persistent hiringfreeze has kept us from filling theMexico City bureau with a full-timecorrespondent, even as drug crimeexplodes. When Hannah Allam tookher leave to join the 2009 class ofNieman Fellows, we couldn’t replaceher, and Egypt remained vacant. HerCambridge time ends just as our Baghdadbureau chief, Leila Fadel, rotateshome, and she won’t be replaced; we’llcover Iraq with reporters rotated in38 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


The Western Viewfrom the United States, and Hannahknows that she’ll be spending muchof her time there, too. China, too, liesfallow; Tim Johnson has gone off towrite a book. We’ll rotate people infor six weeks at a stretch, but a lotof expertise will go missing.I know, if I worked for the RockyMountain News or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I’d think this soundedlike heaven. At least we’re still doingthe work we love. And we’ve gottencreative to stretch our dollars. We’renow exchanging copy with The ChristianScience Monitor; McClatchy takestheir work from Mexico and Indiaand we give them our stories fromSouth America and Africa. It’s howwe covered Mumbai and the flu. Thebarter system lives.McClatchy also is dedicated tokeeping its Washington and foreignoperation; corporate has made thatclear. But the economic situation ishardly predictable. When I went awayfor a few weeks of vacation in February,I was assured that while cutbackswere likely throughout the chain, theWashington bureau wasn’t expectedto take a big hit. When I returned,the message was different: We cutexpenses by more than 20 percent,everyone took a pay cut, and twopeople lost their jobs—a big blow ina small bureau.When the State Department recentlyasked the news organizations thatregularly cover it to agree on a newrotation system to decide who wouldtravel with Hillary Clinton, we puzzled:Was it better to pick the system thatwould give us the most opportunitiesto travel or the one that would makeit so we wouldn’t have to say “no” asoften? The problem with those rotationsis that if you decline too often,you’re disinvited. Still, any invitationto travel with the secretary now getsweighed carefully: Is she going to someplace we already have someone near?Is she likely to make big news? Arethe editors of our local papers likely tocare? It’s a pretty high threshold at atime when we are trying to hold ontoas many of our diminishing dollarsas possible for coverage of America’sThe Iran news page of McClatchy’s Web site.shooting wars. This year, we haven’tgone on any trips.Which brings us back around toIran. We’ve gotten great stories out ofIran before, and Hannah’s done somewonderful work there, and Warren,too. We even have a section on ourWeb site devoted to the topic, www.mcclatchydc.com/iran/, and U.S.-Iranrelations are in flux. Obama supposedlyis trying to reach out, Ahmadinejadcould well lose, and the future of thewhole nuclear program could be inthe balance.Most important of all, journalistvisas have been hard to come by, andIran is making them available forthe election. In the end, that madethe decision for us. But not withoutcost: Our Pentagon correspondentslong-planned trip to Afghanistan wascancelled. That’s the sort of balancingact today’s economy forces us tomake. Mark Seibel, a 1992 Nieman Fellow,is managing editor for online news inMcClatchy’s Washington, D.C. bureau.In 1984 he joined The Miami Heraldas its foreign editor, where for nearly20 years he directed that newspaper’sextensive international coverage, includingthe expansion in the reach ofits International Edition. He becameMcClatchy’s editor in charge of internationaland national security coveragein 2003, a position he held untilassuming his current role in 2008.During the Gulf War in 1991 and theMarch 2003 invasion of Iraq, he wasassigned to Knight Ridder’s Washingtonbureau (then, the parent companyof The Miami Herald) to oversee coverageof those stories.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 39


IranWhen the Predictable Overtakes the Real NewsAbout Iran‘What makes news in the West are Iran’s “menacing” actions in Iraq or wordsagainst Israel, with such stories told in a similar narrative, encased in littlecontext and with a shortage of evidence.’BY SCHEHEREZADE FARAMARZIThere’s plenty of news on Iran.But is it real news? Or doesnews reporting aimed at Westernersoften confirm what they wantto believe—and think they alreadyknow—about this foreign foe? Anddoesn’t the churning of news from theUnited States only serve to reinforceperceived and orchestrated fears thatmost Westerners have of the Islamicregime? With all too much of the coverage,the answer, at least to the lasttwo questions, regretfully is yes.In the context of the worldview thatmost Americans have, the Iranians arethe bad guys, while the good guys are,always, themselves, followed by othersin the West. Because of this narrowfocus, the Iranian government is ableto successfully exploit tensions withthe United States and internally crackdown on dissent by accusing its opponentsof working for the Americangovernment.Consequently, real news fromIran—along with much coming outof the Middle East—gets lost and isdistorted and spun beyond repair. Iranis portrayed as a threat, especiallynow that it is said to be on its wayto acquiring nuclear weapons. And itsleaders provide plenty of provocativeand sensational sound bites to illustratethis image, while at the same timeinsisting that the intent of its nuclearprogram is peaceful. So, of course,do Western leaders issue provocativestatements, but their words are rarelychallenged even though some of theirmore sensational sound bites haveturned out to be lies they’ve told theirown people.Accepted by the press, for example,without essential skepticism, wereclaims of Western officials when theyinsisted in 2007 that the 15 Britishsailors and Marines were seized byIranian Revolutionary Guards in Iraqiwaters. At the time, Iran’s assertion thatthe seizure took place in its territorialwaters was considerably downplayed.Nor was much, if any, attention paida year later when British Ministryof Defence documents revealed thatthe Britons were actually seized ininternationally disputed waters. Turnsout the incident had occurred becausethe U.S.-led coalition designated a seaboundary for Iran’s territorial waterswithout telling the Iranians whereit was.More recently, the press coverage ofPresident Obama’s overture about thepossibility of the two nations havingsome level of engagement—deliveredon the occasion of Norouz in March—and Tehran’s response to it demonstratehow the Western news media are stilltrapped in their old mindset. Accordingto most of the reporting aboutthis exchange, the Iranians “rebuffed”or “dismissed” Obama’s message. Butthis is not the real news. Westernnews accounts failed to challengethe legitimacy of any of the demandsthat President Obama made of Iran;nor were there news stories of whatKhamenei said in a speech he gavesoon after the Obama message whenhe listed major complaints Iranianshave with U.S. policies.Nor do Western news media miss anopportunity to pick up every warningU.S. officials give of Iran’s advancingnuclear program. Yet these samenews organizations give little weightto reports by experts in the field suchas the International Atomic EnergyAgency (IAEA) or even to findingsby the U.S. intelligence that downplaythe imminence of this threat. Rarely,if ever, is Iran’s plausible desire to obtainnuclear arms out of a belief thatit needs them as a deterrent againstcontinuous U.S. threats for regimechange ever well explained. Nor iscoverage given to the possibility thatIran’s nuclear strategy might be dueto its geopolitical location: Its neighborsinclude nuclear Pakistan (andIndia is not too far away), and it issurrounded by U.S. military bases inTurkey, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Afghanistanand, of course, Iraq. The PersianGulf is controlled by the U.S. fleet.Iran’s interest in being recognized asa regional power is also another keyfactor that receives scant attention inthe Western press.Iranian leaders don’t seem to bebothered by the negative portrayalin the Western media. In fact, theywant to be seen in the Muslim worldas defying the United States and thususe this as a badge of honor. And it’sa diversion that can be helpful domestically.Iranian officials must begrateful, for example, that PresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejad’s incessantdenial of the Holocaust has served toovershadow any reporting about themysterious death of 25-year-old bloggerOmidreza Mirsayafi in an Iranianjail in March. So it was, too, with thedeath of 49-year-old political activistAmir-Hossein Heshmat Saran, also inMarch, after five years in detention.The lengthy list of political prisonerswho’ve died—Valiollah Faiz-Mahdavi40 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


The Western Viewand Abdolreza Rajabi, among them—has been lost as well in the blur ofthe West’s all-too-predictable coverageof Iran.The government’s brutal crackdownof women’s rights groups, students,journalists, scholars and even teachersand other laborers who strike forbetter pay hardly registers a headlinein Western publications. Attention isroused slightly in the United Stateswhen Iranian-Americans are detainedin Iran, but unfortunately these situationsare presented, for the most part,in the context of Iran’s hostility towardAmerica. “They hate our civilization”is what seems to anger Westerners,not the Iranian government’s inhumanetreatment of thousands of itscitizens, including those who holddual citizenship.What makes news in the West areIran’s “menacing” actions in Iraq orwords against Israel, with such storiestold in a similar narrative, encased inlittle context and with a shortage ofevidence. Every time President Ahmadinejadcalls for Israel to be wipedoff the map, the story is repeated asif it is new news, even though reporters(and policymakers) recognize thethreat as rhetoric for the consumptionof domestic and regional audiences.Seasoned journalists, at least, shouldknow that such remarks are primarilytargeted at the Muslim world, wherethey have a huge appeal. Do crediblepeople truly believe that Iran will orcan destroy Israel? To ordinary Iranians,including those who opposethe regime, support for its nuclearprogram emerges out of a sense ofpride and because of how it bespeaksthe defiance they want to express inthe face of American bullying.Journalists who have a deep understandingof Iran know that despiteits ideological nature—and its leaders’rhetoric—the Islamic Republic is, atits core, a pragmatic state. AttackingIsrael would be strategically unwise,and Iranians know this. Yes, Hizbullahin Lebanon receives help in its fightagainst Israel, but Americans providestrong financial, military and politicalsupport for the Israelis. And the extentof Iran’s support for Hamas is routinelyexaggerated as the reporting too oftenrelies on Israeli and American sourcesand thus conveys their viewpoints.By giving too much credit to Iran’smilitarism and threats—with an implicitfocus on misplaced fears—Westernnews reporters serve to strengthen theregime’s position in the Muslim worldand hamper democratic strides beingmade inside the country. Reporting from the BBC’s Web site about the release of British sailors by Iran.Scheherezade Faramarzi, a 2009 NiemanFellow, is a longtime correspondentwith The Associated Press basedin Beirut, Lebanon. Born in Iran andeducated in the West, she has reportedon the 1979 Islamic Revolution and itsaftermath, the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S.Embassy hostage crisis in Iran, andmore recent events involving Iran andMiddle East conflicts.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 41


THE WEB AND IRAN | Digital DialogueAttempting to Silence Iran’s ‘Weblogistan’‘Iran’s filtering and blocking regime has been described by various experts assecond only to China’s.’BY MOHAMED ABDEL DAYEMHardly a week goes by withoutIran being featured prominentlyin the news. Usually thenews is about the country’s PresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejad’s inflammatoryrhetoric or its nascent nuclearprogram. But Iran is not the monolithicentity it is often portrayed to be inWestern, and especially U.S., media.While the Iranian governmentretains a monopoly on all televisionand radio broadcasting, the countrycontinues to have an independent,though reduced in size and severelybattered, print media. Although manyindependent and reformist newspaperswere launched during the years ofthe Khatami presidency (1997-2005),hardliners in Iran have shut downmore than 100 of those publicationsand jailed dozens of journalists inthe process.It is perhaps no surprise then thatduring those years Iranians began takingto the Internet in droves. Between20 and 25 million Iranians have regulardigital access, giving the countrythe highest Internet penetration ratein the region. According to researchby the Berkman Center for Internet& Society, the Iranian blogospherecurrently boasts some 60,000 regularlyupdated blogs of virtually everypolitical stripe. Others estimate thatthe number is closer to 100,000. EvenIran’s president and supreme leadermaintain blogs. “Weblogistan,” asIranians casually refer to the teemingand diverse world of Farsi blogging,Blogging in IranSeptember 2001—First Iranian blogappears on the Internet.November 2001—Blogger HosseinDerakhshan develops a step-by-stepguide to blogging in Farsi.April 2003—Journalist Sina Motalebibecomes first Iranian blogger to beimprisoned. After more than threeweeks in solitary confinement, Motalebiwas released on bail. By year’send he sought asylum in Europe.August-November 2004—Iranian authoritiesdetain upward of 20 bloggersand online journalists. After beingreleased, many of the imprisonedbloggers provided detailed accountsof mistreatment and torture while incustody.January 2005—Government ordersInternet service providers to filter anumber of the most popular Persianblog-hosting platforms.August 2006—President MahmoudAhmadinejad launches a personalblog.October 2006—Farsi becomes one ofthe 10 most used blogging languages,according to blog indexing serviceTechnorati.July 2008—Draft law being discussedin parliament adds the creation of Websites and blogs that promote “corruption,prostitution and apostasy” to alist of criminal offenses punishable bythe death sentence.November 2008—Hossein Derakhshanis detained, allegedly in connectionwith comments he made about religiousfigures. No official charges have beenfiled against the blogger. Authoritiesdenied holding Derakhshan untilDecember 30, 2008.February 2009—Bloggers and onlinewriters Roozbeh Mirebrahimi, OmidMemarian, Javad Gholamtamimi, andShahram Rafizadeh, all of whom weremistreated while in custody in 2004,are sentenced to multiyear prisonterms, flogging and monetary fines.This happens in spite of a pledgeby the chief of Iran’s judiciary thattheir abuse would be investigated andpunished.March 2009—Blogger OmidrezaMirsayafi, who was sentenced to a30-month prison sentence in December2008 for insulting religious andpolitical figures, dies in prison undersuspicious circumstances. He had justbegun serving his sentence a monthearlier. 42 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Digital Dialogueis alive and well despite a seeminglyendless barrage of legal (and at timesextralegal) persecutions.The rate at which the Iranian blogospherehas grown can be attributed toa host of factors, but two stand out.1. The ability of women, ethnic minorities,and other otherwisemarginalized groups—notto mention print journalistswho have lost their jobs dueto newspaper closures—to expressthemselves with relativefreedom cannot be overstated.There is also a growing numberof mainstream journalists whowrite online what they knowwill not be tolerated by thecensors in traditional media.Additionally, the anonymityof writing online has largelyeliminated a number of religious,social, and class-centereddistinctions that have traditionallysegregated society into segmentsthat rarely interacted inthe past.2. High rates of Internet penetrationcoupled with a highly literate andvery young population (70 percentof Iran’s population is under 30 yearsof age) have also contributed to theburgeoning of blogging.Government Clamps DownInitially, the government did notimplement any systematic measuresto regulate the Iranian blogosphere.That soon changed when bloggers whodiscussed political, social, religious andcultural affairs—frequently in waysthat were unimaginable in the traditionalmediums of print or broadcastjournalism—began to proliferate atbreakneck speed.In 2003, the government createda committee whose membership isdrawn from various law enforcement,intelligence and legislative bodies andtasked it with designating and filtering“illegal” Web sites, which include butare not limited to Iranian blogs. Iran’sfiltering and blocking regime has beendescribed by various experts as secondonly to China’s. In late 2008, the governmentboasted that this committeehad filtered upward of five million sites,though most independent observersbelieve that this number is inflated.A cybercrimes law introduced by thegovernment in 2006 effectively put allforms of expression on the Interneton the same footing as other formsSince the turn of the century, whenblogging started taking a footholdin Iranian society, Tehran hasdetained dozens—and possiblyhundreds—of bloggers. Somewere held for months before beingacquitted, but others have had toserve lengthy prison terms.of journalism, which are governed byIran’s restrictive and highly punitivepress law of 2000.Since the turn of the century, whenblogging started taking a foothold inIranian society, Tehran has detaineddozens—and possibly hundreds—ofbloggers. [A timeline of blogging is onpage 42.] Some were held for monthsbefore being acquitted, but others havehad to serve lengthy prison terms.What is most peculiar is that thosewho feel the wrath of the state oftendon’t fit the mold of the pro-Western,anticlerical youth. For instance, theologystudent and blogger MojtabaLotfi was sentenced to a multiyearprison term after he posted a sermonby renowned theologian Hossein AliMontazeri in 2004.The Fate of Two BloggersThe cases of bloggers Hossein Derakhshanand Omidreza Mirsayafi (detailedbelow) illustrate that what the stateperceives as subversive is constantlychanging. Both men found themselvesin the government’s crosshairs, and inboth cases the reasons for their detentionremain nebulous at best.Hossein Derakhshan: In 1999, HosseinDerakhshan was a print journalist atthe reformist newspaper Asr-e Azadegan(Age of the Free People). Whenthe popular publication was shut downin 2000, Derakhshan turned tothe Web. He began to regularlywrite online in 2001, becomingone of Iran’s first bloggers. Whatpropelled him to fame, however,was his development of a guideand a piece of software thatenabled Farsi speakers to blogin their native tongue withouthaving to resort to transliterationin the Roman alphabet. To thisday many Farsi-language bloggerspay him homage by referringto him as the “blogfather.”Derakhshan’s blog—written formany years from Canada—cannotbe accessed inside Iran. Hisarticles have been published bymany international publications,including The Guardian and TheNew York Times.The Iranian judiciary confirmedin a December 30th press conferencein Tehran that Derakhshan had beenarrested and is in the investigativecustody of a Revolutionary Court.The reason given for his detentionis remarks he allegedly made on hisblog about a key Shi’a cleric and thethird infallible Imam of Shi’ism. Theexact date of his arrest remains unknown,but Derakhshan’s last post onhis blog is dated October 30, 2008.News of his detention first appearedon November 17th on Jahan News, anews Web site that is reportedly closeto the Iranian intelligence apparatus.Until December 30th, authorities haddenied that Derakhshan was in theircustody; his whereabouts remainsunknown to date.Derakhshan rarely got into troublewith the authorities despite adoptinga reformist editorial line for years.More recently, however, Derakhshanhad written an increasing numberof articles praising certain policiesby President Ahmadinejad. Why thegovernment arrested DerakhshanNieman Reports | Summer 2009 43


Iranafter he had softened his positionvis-à-vis some hardliners within thegovernment remains a mystery and afrequent topic of discussion on manyIranian blogs.A screen grab from an Iranian.com article featuring a translated excerpt from the Voice ofAmerica Persian interview with Amir-Parviz Mirsayafi on March 28, 2009.Omidreza Mirsayafi: On March 18th,Omidreza Mirsayafi, who wrote onthe now defunct cultural news blogRooznegar, died under mysteriouscircumstances in Tehran’s notoriousEvin Prison, where he was serving a30-month term after being convictedof insulting Supreme Leader AyatollahAli Khamenei and Ayatollah RuhollahKhomeini, leader of Iran’s 1979 IslamicRevolution. Mirsayafi had just begunserving his prison term in February.Mirsayafi’s lawyer said that the sentencewas rushed without the proper judicialprocedures and that Mirsayafi had notbeen officially notified of the sentencebefore its implementation. Mirsayafi,in an interview after being sentenced,said he had been coerced into makinga false confession. He also said thatthe court never specified which blogentries had been deemed offensive bythe government.The prison authorities claimedthat Mirsayafi had committed suicide.But the journalist’s attorney told TheTimes of London that Mirsayafi hadrepeatedly expressed concerns abouthis physical well-being, “but the doctorsthere didn’t take this seriouslyand said he was faking it.” HissamFairoozy, an inmate at Evin, told theorganization Human Rights Activistsin Iran that Mirsayafi was sufferingfrom depression and had been takingantidepressants. Fairoozy, a physicianwho has been repeatedly imprisonedand has in the past treated jailed politicaldissidents and journalists at Evinincluding renowned pro-democracyjournalist Akbar Ganji, said that he wasconcerned about Mirsayafi’s conditionand had unsuccessfully attempted tohave prison doctors hospitalize theyoung blogger. (Dr. Fairoozy, aftera previous stint in prison, wrote adetailed firsthand account of medicalnegligence in Iran’s correctionalfacilities on his blog. 1 )Mirsayafi’s brother, Amir-Parviz,also disputes the government’s renditionof events. He told Voice of America(VOA) on March 28th that his brotherhad no history of taking antidepressantmedication and that his body showedsigns of abuse, including a left ear that“was covered with blood.” VOA’s Website posted a photo of Mirsayafi’s facethat showed significant facial bruising.The government would not discloseany details about the events that ledto Mirsayafi’s death and rushed tobury him within 24 hours of his deathwithout conducting an autopsy.Weblogistan LivesThe Iranian blogosphere continuesto grow in number and impact evenas the government introduces newlaws and technologies to regulate it.Most observers of Iran concur thatthe government is not trying to endor disrupt blogging per se; rather itis involved in a constantly evolvingengagement with bloggers to definethe boundaries of what can be saidin Iran. Weblogistan remains a placewhere a vigorous exchange of ideasdoes occur—yet it is the place wherethe limits of free expression in Iranare being tested. Mohamed Abdel Dayem is programcoordinator for the Middle East &North Africa Program at the Committeeto Protect Journalists.1This blog entry, written in Farsi, can be read at www.hesamfiroozi.blogfa.com/post-17.aspx.44 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Digital DialoguePublishing and Mapping Iran’s WeblogistanHarvard University’s BerkmanCenter for Internet & Society hasbeen home to two unique effortsthat make more visible to Westernaudiences what Iranian bloggers arewriting. One of the center’s projectsinvolves mapping and analyzing thesocial networks formed by Iranianbloggers; 1 the other, Global Voices, 2began as a blog at Berkman and isnow a global community of freelanceand volunteer editors, authors andtranslators who bring newsworthyblogs from many parts of the world,including Iran, to the attention ofWestern audiences by translatingthem and posting them on theWeb site.In “Mapping Iran’s Online Public:Politics and Culture in the PersianBlogosphere,” Bruce Etling, theBerkman Center’s Internet & Democracyproject director and JohnKelly, who is founder and chiefscientist at Morningside Analytics,use a combination of computationalsocial network analysis and humanand automated analysis to discoverIran’s wide variety of blogging voicesand to see how these bloggers tendto cluster themselves. Their analysisrevealed four major networks (whatthey call “poles”), with subclusters ofbloggers within each one. The polesthey identify are:1. Secular/Reformist: Contains expatriatesand Iranians involved in adialogue about Iranian politics andother issues.2. Conservative/Religious: Twosubclusters are focused primarilyon religious issues; the other subclusteris on politics and currentaffairs.3. Persian Poetry and Literature4. Mixed NetworksIran’s home page on the Global Voices Web site.An interesting—and perhapssurprising—finding this analysis revealedis the existence of a subclusterwithin the Secular/Reformist polecomprised of bloggers living in Iranwho write intensively about politicsand current affairs and are linkedin a contentious dialogue with theconservative political subcluster. Itis also more common for bloggersin the conservative/religious pole toblog anonymously than for secular/reformist ones. The most frequentlyblocked blogs are those in the secular/reformist pole. As Kelly wrote on theBerkman Web site about his project,“Given the media environment inIran today, blogs may represent themost open public communicationsplatform for political discourse.”For those interested in whatbloggers in Iran are saying, GlobalVoices aggregates, curates, translatesand amplifies their conversations.Its team of regional blogger-editorsbecomes guides to Iran’s blogosphere.In Iran, where blogging happensin Farsi, what’s being written isinaccessible to Western audiences.So Global Voices translates itsselected blogs into English to beread by the site’s English-speakingaudience. Also, other relevant piecesare translated from English intoFarsi so that conversations going onoutside of the Iranian blogospherebecome accessible to Iranians.—Melissa Ludtke1http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2008/Mapping_Irans_Online_Public/interactive_blogosphere_map2http://globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/middle-east-north-africa/iran/Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 45


IranThe Virtual Iran Beat‘Speaking Farsi helps expand our ability to gather news. It means we can tapinto a more extensive network and speak to more Iranians, even if we’re notbased in Tehran.’BY KELLY GOLNOUSH NIKNEJADThe Pakistani taxi driver I havedirected to the Iranian Embassypumps his brakes as we approachthe U.S. Embassy, a seven-storybuilding that resembles the hull of abattleship. Tall and arrogant, it loomslarge over the Abu Dhabi Desert. I hadrecently started a job in the capital ofthe United Arab Emirates (UAE) as thediplomatic affairs correspondent for anew English-language newspaper. TheAmerican Embassy is down the roadfrom the Iranian one—close enoughthat the Iranians refer to it when givingdirections to their own.“Here?” the driver asks, turningaround for another quick look. Ihave olive skin and my dark hair isdutifully covered for the occasion.But the accent behind the hijab isunmistakably American. “No, theIranian Embassy,” I repeat, this timewith more emphasis.As he pulls away from the curb, Ifeel a deep pang of separation, coupledwith excitement: This is the closest I’vebeen to Iran in more than 20 years.The embassy’s turquoise-tiled walls,evoking something in my childhood,shimmer in the distance. What looklike thick black scribbles give way tofancy calligraphy—Qur’anic verses, Iassume—as we get closer.Like many Iranian Americans, I feelas if I’m from a broken home: Theparents are divorced but still feudingafter three decades. As a journalist, myposition is more precarious.In what has been called a cold warbetween Iran and the United States,the UAE has emerged as a Vienna ofsorts—a place where America’s Iranwatcherscan mingle with thousandsof Iranians. One hub for this is theexpanded Iran Desk at the U.S. consulatein Dubai, the more cosmopolitanUAE city-state up the coast from thecapital. If Iranians are suspicious ofjournalists, it’s partly because our reportingjobs can seem like the perfectcover to gather intelligence.Iranians have a deep-seated paranoiaabout spies and conspiracies.There is a long history of politicalintrigue to explain such suspicions. In1953, a CIA-engineered coup oustedthe democratically elected governmentof Prime Minister MohammadMossadegh and reinstalled the shah,under whose reign American agentsroamed the land. CIA and Israel’sMossad reportedly trained Iran’s secretpolice. More intriguingly, CIA directorRichard Helms was appointed U.S.Ambassador to Iran after he left theagency in 1973. (Incidentally, Helmsstarted his career as a journalist.) Whenmilitants seized the U.S. Embassy inTehran in 1979, they dubbed it “theden of spies.”The 1980’s were particularly bleak.Soon after the Islamic Republic wasestablished, the regime consolidatedpower in the brutal ways a state does.While it fought an eight-year warthat its neighbor Iraq started, it alsowaged internal battles with domesticfoes—the Kurds, the communist TudehParty, and especially the IranianMojahedin, a quasi-Marxist cult onthe U.S. terrorist list.Much has changed in Iran sincethat decade in which I left Iran, butsome important progress made in the1990’s has been stymied by those whothink the way forward is to revert topractices they themselves deploredunder the shah—and ones that led toa revolution. Economic and culturalreforms slowly put in place after thewar were effectively rolled back inthis decade, especially since MahmoudAhmadinejad took office in 2005.Things got worse the following year,when the Bush administration askedCongress for tens of millions of dollarsto secretly fund NGOs and activists todestabilize the Iranian government.It stoked government paranoia andbecame an effective tool in the handsof officials who have used it to stifledissent and spread fear.If the Iranians believe this is vitalto their survival, the fear may bemisplaced. As Ervand Abrahamian,a U.S.-based Iran scholar, argues ina recent paper, it was not a reign ofterror, the eight-year war, oil revenue,or even the strength of Shi’ism thatsustained the Iranian regime—butpopulism. The challenge the regimenow faces, according to Abrahamian,is to “juggle the competing demands ofthese populist programs with those ofthe educated middle class—especiallythe ever-expanding army of universitygraduates produced, ironically, by oneof the revolution’s main achievements.This new stratum needs not only jobsand a decent standard of living butalso greater social mobility and accessto the outside world—with all itsdangers, especially to well-protectedhome industries—and, concomitantly,the creation of a viable civil society.”The Iranian PressThe press is one place to start. Themedia in Iran is often state ownedand always closely supervised. Thosenewspapers not run directly by thestate are associated with politicalparties and prominent figures whosefactional rivalries sometimes spill over46 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Digital Dialogueinto the papers. Those in power oftenassert it by shutting down a rival’smouthpiece.There’s another reason to reform thepress in Iran. Since a systematic crackdown,which has included journalists,bloggers, academics and researchers,journalism there has become synonymouswith jail and tyranny. Adoptingmore liberal press practices is likelyto do Iran far more good than harm,and here’s four reasons why:1. The work of any journalist or propagandistpale in comparison to thefar-fetched scenarios swirling inIranian living rooms, taxi cabs—and,above all, in the Iranian imagination.I’ve heard them all and, believe me,reality is not always stranger thanfiction.2. Satellite dishes are illegal but on theascent in Iran. They crop up fasterthan officials can take them down.Most of the programs they watchstream in from Los Angeles, wherethere is a lot of singing and dancing,but from where dissidents have beenunsuccessfully trying to topple theregime for 30 years. Both the BritishfundedBBC Persian service and theU.S. government-backed Voice ofAmerica have expanded their radiobroadcasts to include television. Sogreat is the audience, that essentiallythe government is not shielding anyonefrom anything.3. Foreign journalists have a difficulttime obtaining permission to reportfrom Iran or to set up bureaus there.Visiting reporters are obliged to employ“minders” from the Ministry ofCulture and Islamic Guidance, somethingthey fail to tell their viewers andreaders. This might help authoritiesfeel in greater control of the informationthat trickles out. But the newsvacuum about Iran is filled not byThe New York Times or ABC Newsbut by information disseminated byinterest groups, dissidents and othermuch more biased parties.4. What do the arrests and jailing ofjournalists and bloggers accomplish?If anything, it attracts more attentionto their work. And it reinforces theworst stereotypes everyone alreadyTehran Bureau’s home page.has about Iran. Why not breakthem?Tehran Bureau: An OnlineNews HubThe decision to create TehranBureau.com, an online news magazine towhich journalists familiar with Irancontribute stories, emerged out ofmany conversations and e-mails witha classmate from Columbia JournalismSchool. Each of us wanted to reportnews about Iran, but not in the simplisticway that country is too oftencovered by the Western mainstreammedia. As much to avoid the dangersof Iran’s factional politics as to escapethe Western news media’s bias againstIran and Iranians, we decided to takeadvantage of the Internet and set upa virtual bureau. In part, our thinkingwas guided by us knowing thatIranians are as much plugged in asany developed society.At a time when world news shouldbe more important than ever, newsorganizations continue their contraction,and to do this they’ve shutteredor scaled back foreign bureaus. Thoughthe trend in journalism is specialization,news organizations appear tobe investing fewer resources in thecultivation of editorial and reportingstaffs who can become, in effect, areaexperts.This reduction in reporting knowledgeand resources has consequences,as information slips through as newsthat shapes Western perceptions andpolicy. Four years ago, soon after thelast presidential election—the oneAhmadinejad won—a black-and-whitephotograph purporting to show thenew president as a hostage-taker inthe 1979 embassy takeover circulatedwidely in the media. To an Iranian,certainly, the person in the picturelooks nothing like him. I e-maileda professor who was working on abook about the hostage crisis to gethis perspective.“That was first sent out by an MEKaffiliatedWeb site,” he wrote back,referring to the Iranian Mojahedin, anIranian opposition group living in exile.“The two individuals in the photo havelong since been identified as a MEKpartisan who was later executed andanother student who was killed in theIraq War.” More interestingly, in theeight years Ahmadinejad’s predecessorNieman Reports | Summer 2009 47


Iranwas president, the media remainedquiet or ignorant about the leading roleof many reformists close to PresidentMohammad Khatami in the embassyseizure, including his brother.One of my primary motivations insetting up Tehran Bureau in 2008 wasto assemble a staff in which reportersand editors speak the language—andcan tell people apart. Speaking Farsihelps expand our ability to gathernews. It means we can tap into amore extensive network and speakto more Iranians, even if we’re notbased in Tehran. We can read Iranianbloggers—those who write in Iran andthose who live in exile—and scan theIranian press and, by reading betweenthe lines, we can ultimately deliver amore reliable product, even if we doso with barely any financial support.(We refuse to take money from anygovernment agency, religious or interestgroup.)Here are two examples of coverageof Iran by Tehran Bureau:• In March, Gareth Smyth, who reportedfrom Iran for the FinancialTimes, wrote “Hot times and coolheads,” 1 about political dynamicsinside of Iran and the United Statesthat might result in the two countriesengaging in dialogue.• The impact of Mohammad Khatami’swithdrawal as a presidentialcandidate has been written aboutfrom several angles in blog posts aspart of Tehran Bureau’s reporting onthe Iranian election in June.Surprises Along the WayThe Iranian ambassador I had ameeting with that day had been theforeign ministry spokesman for a longtime. He was sophisticated and mediasavvy. At that time, the circumstancesin the UAE were stacked against me.The paper I was writing for had noname and was still months away frombeing published. As we started dryruns, I wrote stories on deadline for apaper with no name that no one outsidethe newsroomsaw. Plus, as anIranian American,I knew the Iranianauthorities wouldnever trust me.But in the courseof my work, theygave me the benefitof the doubt andaccess and treatedme with respectand my Americancolleagues, evenmore so.My experiencewasn’t limited tothe foreign ministry.The first timeI spoke to one ofTehran’s hard liners,I was basedin London andworking as an associateproducerfor “Frontline.” Aftermany monthshad passed and itwas pretty apparentmy colleagues’visas weren’t goingto come through,I picked up thephone and dialed anumber that wasn’t all that difficult tofind. “Salaam,” I said, introducing myself.“I’m calling from London,” I said.Strike one. (Many Iranians believe theBritish are worse than Americans whenit comes to plotting against Iranians.The 1953 coup was initially hatchedby the British, after all.) I continued,“I work for an American televisionstation.” Strike two. “We’re making adocumentary about U.S.-Iran relationssince 9/11,” I, an Iranian American,said. Strike three. I took a deep breathand braced for the worst.“Can I see your programs on satellitetelevision?” this official with a provincialaccent asked after a pause.“No,” I replied, but I sent him alink to “Frontline’s” online archives.And I was impressed by his gmailAs part of Tehran Bureau’s pre-election coverage, Gareth Smythwrote about U.S.-Iran politics.address.After a couple of days, he calledme. “It’s a good program,” he said. “It’scertainly better than the other televisionprograms there, anyway.”Not long after this conversation,we were in. Kelly Golnoush Niknejad foundedTehran Bureau in November 2008,initially as a blog. She serves as managingeditor as well as one of its reporters.Tehran Bureau can be foundat www.tehranbureau.com. Informationabout the “Frontline” documentary,“Showdown With Iran,” is atwww.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/showdown/.1http://tehranbureau.com/2009/03/24/hot-times-and-cool-heads48 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


21st Century MuckrakersFatima Tlisova witnessed the injustice of villagers being poisoned by pollutionfrom a nuclear lab nearby; she reported their story in a place where journalistsrisk their lives for sharing truths considered harmful to those in power. When shelearned about displaced people confined to a camp for 14 years, she took photographsof their Russian passports to display the empty space where official stampsshould be.As an investigative journalist in the North Caucasus region of Russia, Tlisova’sseries of reports about poisoned villagers, in time, persuaded the government toThe Lyons Award plaque for Tlisova is inscribedwith the words: “Fatima Tlisova,Independent Journalist, For bearing witness tothe hidden truths of a violent place.” Photo byKane Hsieh.bring medical care. In letters writtento her, Tlisova found out that stampsrefused for 14 years now had beengiven, and these people were homelessno longer.“Tonight we bear witness to thewidowed mother of two who throughsheer excellence of her craft shed lighton this place,” said David Jackson, aChicago Tribune investigative reporterand 2009 Nieman Fellow, in bestowingthe Nieman Foundation’s 29thLouis M. Lyons Award for Conscienceand Integrity in Journalism honorson Nieman classmate Fatima Tlisova.He described Tlisova as a reporter“who packed her crisp, dispassionateAP reports with irrefutable detail. Whose hand-held video camera cast its ghostlylight across a truckload of entwined corpses. Who reported being abducted bylocal officers of the Federal Security Service, dragged by her hair into the woods.Had her fingertips burned with cigarettes ‘so that you can write better.’ Who, onepanicked day, finally located her 16-year-old son in the custody of local police—drunken thugs in uniforms, men with guns and secret lists.”As Niemans, Tlisova observed, “We had many conversations on journalism andits future. Is it really worth all the sacrifices we have to make? Do people reallyneed what we do?” In response, she gave examples of what happened becauseshe’d borne witness, a few described above. “Fifty-eight prisoners in Nalchik [acity in the Caucasus region] told their lawyers that the torture ended after I publishedphotos that were taken soon after the arrest with all the horrible signs ofelectrocution and other types of torture.” There were others who, she said, “decidedthe situation is too dangerous or too hopeless. We have to try anyway. Myanswer to all those journalistic questions is—yes.”As the myriad of stories in this section will reveal, “yes” is still the journalisticanswer for many reporters today. —Melissa LudtkeNieman Reports | Summer 2009 49


21st Century MuckrakersThe Challenges and Opportunities of 21st CenturyMuckraking‘… investigative reporters are a hardy breed who will tenaciously uphold theirwatchdog mission in bad times as well as good.’BY MARK FELDSTEINSince spring of last year, NiemanReports has focused on 21st CenturyMuckrakers, a collection ofarticles about investigative reporting.What have we learned to take with usas we move forward?For starters, watchdog reportingfaces extraordinary challenges:Profits in news organizations areplummeting as advertisers abandonnewspapers and magazines, destroyingthe economic foundation on whichprint journalism has depended forthe past century and a half. In turn,beleaguered news outlets, includingtelevision and radio, slash budgets,close bureaus, and lay off employees—especially expensive investigative reporterswhose time-consuming workrequires high-priced legal vetting andoften antagonizes advertisers andgovernment authorities.Legal protections for anonymoussources have eroded in the wake ofthe Valerie Plame case, when reporterswere driven to betray their vowsof confidentiality. Worse, the government’sskillful use of source waiversnow threatens to become a routinetactic to chill future whistleblowing.The federal government has erected awall of secrecy since 9/11, classifyingdocuments that should be public andwithholding information that oncewas routinely provided to the press.While the Obama administration appearsto be loosening this stranglehold,transparency seems destined to giveway to secrecy in the future wheneverthe government invokes nationalsecurity.Authorities around the world are covertlymonitoring journalists and theirsources with satellites, spyware andother technology. In turns, dozens ofinvestigative reporters across the globeare censored, harassed, jailed, beatenup, and even murdered every year.Pushback by multinational corporations,now more powerful than manygovernments, obstructs reporters byemploying batteries of lawyers toscare off potential sources and mediaexecutives. Even at the local level, aproliferation of public relations spindoctors makes it harder for journaliststo get access to information.Finally, a cacophony of tabloid infotainmentmasquerading as journalismroutinely drowns out whatever highqualitywatchdog reporting is able tosurvive these other obstacles.Still, despite these economic, political,legal and cultural threats, embattledmuckrakers also have important newweapons at their disposal:Computer-assisted reporting offers sophisticatedmethods of social scientiststo unearth information from databasesand enable reporters to find misconductthat otherwise remains hidden.Google, online chat rooms, and otheremerging tools of social media—notto mention lowly e-mail—also makeit easier for investigative reporters totrack down and interview hard-toreachvictims and whistleblowers.Citizen journalism, while imperfect,helps the public expose misconductthat otherwise might not come to light.Likewise, online crowdsourcing letsreporters canvass citizens for assistanceon investigative stories. In addition,inexpensive video technology nowhelps journalists and the public collectvisual evidence of wrongdoing.Nonprofit investigative reporting is onthe rise, producing important exposésby The Center for Public Integrity,ProPublica, Talking Points Memo, theCenter for Investigative Reporting,and other noncommercial outlets. TheHuffington Post recently launched aproject to fund investigative reporting,and online sites focusing on localwatchdog journalism have sproutedin San Diego, Minneapolis andother cities. Meanwhile, a nonprofitinfrastructure to train investigativereporters has taken root, and philanthropicfoundations are increasinglyunderwriting freelance writers to takeon challenging muckraking projects.Leading universities, too, are joiningin and guiding eager students throughthe rigors of investigative projects thatoften produce tangible results. 1 [See the1Among the more active university-based investigative projects are those at AmericanUniversity, University of California, Berkeley, Boston University, Brandeis University,Columbia University, Georgetown University, Northeastern University, NorthwesternUniversity, and Southern Methodist University. See Spring 2008 and Winter 2008 issuesof Nieman Reports for articles about some of these projects at www.niemanreports.org.50 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustarticle by Boston University’sMaggie Mulvihill and JoeBergantino on page 76.]Mark Twain, the rumors ofmuckraking’s demise havebeen greatly exaggerated.Cooperative investigativeventures among news organizationsare expanding.The Washington Post and“60 Minutes” have pooledresources to boost exposurefor their projects; other journalisticoutlets are doing thesame. 2 Perhaps the most ambitioussuch enterprise is theonline global muckraking ofThe International Consortiumof Investigative Journalists,whose 100 participating reportersin 50 countries collaborateon exposés that crossnational boundaries. 3Web sites such as “WikiLeaks”make it easier for whistleblowersto anonymously disseminateonce-secret paperworkdocumenting wrongdoing.In theory, the Internet couldeven eliminate governmentcensorship altogether. Forexample, a contemporaryequivalent of Daniel Ellsbergcould post today’s version ofthe Pentagon Papers online,and they could be downloadedinstantaneously in millions ofcomputer terminals beforeprosecutors had a chance toimpose prior restraint.Publick Occurrences, Both Forreign and Domestick, publishedby Benjamin Harris in 1690, was the first newspaperpublished in the English-American colonies andlasted for only one issue. Four days after it appeared, thegovernor and council of Massachusetts—distressed aboutits content—issued a broadside order forbidding thepublication of the paper without legal authority. Picturedhere is the first of the three-page issue. Photo courtesy ofThe National Archives of The United Kingdom.Global Web-based glasnostalso enables reporters toevade government censorshipby using foreign ISP addressesto disseminate their exposés. In poorcountries, this digital muckraking isaccessible mostly to the wealthy elitewho have access to Web portals; butas the cost of computer technologyfalls—with the proliferation of Internetcafés and mobile devices—theunharnessed investigative potential indeveloping countries could literally berevolutionary.In short, there is reason for hopeas well as concern. Or to paraphraseThe Past as PrologueA look at the history of investigativejournalism offersa window on what its futuremay hold. As its best-knownpractitioner of the time,Lincoln Steffens, righteouslydeclared nearly a centuryago: “I was not the originalmuckraker. The prophetsof the Old Testament wereahead of me.”In fact, the earliest knownmuckraking on American soilcan be traced to 1690, whenPublick Occurrences, the firstEnglish newspaper in thecolonies, exposed “barbarous”human rights abuses as wellas a sex scandal in which theking of France was alleged “tolie with” his “Sons Wife.” TheBritish crown was not amusedand shut down the paper fourdays later—a foreshadowingof the difficulties adversarialjournalism would face inthe future from governmentauthorities, as well as a harbingerof the contradictorymix of noble and lowbrowcoverage that would characterizeexposé reporting in theNew World.More than three centurieslater, investigative journalismhas evolved greatly in scope,style and technique. But itscore remains the same: fact-gatheringto challenge authority and oppose entrenchedpower—political, governmental,corporate or religious—on behalfof ordinary citizens. While America’searliest journalistic crusaders werepartisan advocates, financed by po-2See Gary Schwab’s article, “When Fierce Competitors Join the Same Team,” in the Fall2008 issue of Nieman Reports, www.niemanreports.org.3See Fernando Rodrigues’s article, “Global Efforts at Investigative Reporting,” in theSpring 2008 issue of Nieman Reports at www.niemanreports.org.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 51


21st Century Muckrakerslitical parties or ideologicalmovements such as abolitionor women’s suffrage, mostinvestigative reporters inthe past century have beenemployed by nonpartisancommercial news outlets andhave practiced a more objectivestyle of storytelling.The articles about publichealth, safety and trust inthis issue of Nieman Reportsare a reminder of theessential role that watchdogreporting plays in our lives.Contemporary exposés oftainted overseas drugs andtoys, like recent reportsabout contaminated meatand produce at domesticgrocery chains and fastfoodrestaurants, trace theirorigins to America’s earlymuckrakers. More than acentury ago, Upton Sinclairworked undercover to producehis epic investigationof meatpacking plants, “TheJungle,” while Collier’s andThe Ladies’ Home Journaldocumented dangerous“patent” medicines. Thesereports led to the kind ofreforms that are once againbeing demanded in the wakeof current food and drugscandals.Throughout it all, thiskind of muckraking has beencyclical, waxing and waningover time. It tends to increasein periods of turmoil, suchas the American Revolutionor industrializationor the political and socialupheavals of the 1960’s and1970’s. Similarly, new mediatechnologies and journalisticcompetition have alsoIn 1892, Edward Bok, editor of The Ladies’ Home Journal,made his magazine the first to ban medical advertising. Histarget: patent medicine vendors selling dubious cures andtreatments using false information. By 1904, as the sales ofpatent medicines continued strong, Bok began to publishwhat was actually in patent medicines and hired a lawyer andjournalist, Mark Sullivan, to verify the facts and do research.On this page, above, Bok assembled a visual display of hoaxesas a way of trying to deter gullible consumers from purchasingthese products. For example, Sullivan took a photographof Lydia Pinkham’s gravestone to show she had been dead for20 years even though ads for her patent medicine for womeninvited them to write to her for advice. By 1906, the Food andDrugs Act was passed by Congress to protect the public’s healththrough the control of advertising and claims of medical benefit.The Ladies’ Home Journal. September 1905. Photo courtesyof The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, HarvardUniversity.spurred muckraking, fromthe first mass-market nationalmagazines of the early1900’s to the rise of broadcastingand digital media acentury later. 4My interest in this subjectis more than purely academic.Although I now teach collegestudents investigativejournalism, I first practiced itfor 20 years. As a newsman,I was beaten up and sued inthe United States, detained bypolice in Honduras, censoredby authorities in Egypt, andescorted out of the countryunder armed guard in Haiti.But like so many of the writerswho have recounted theirstories in Nieman Reports, 5the obstacles I faced as areporter paled in comparisonto the satisfaction of seeinghard-nosed journalism leadto prison terms, forced resignations,and multimilliondollar fines for those whoabused the public trust.So what does muckraking’spast tell us about its future?That the challenges of todayare not new; that these difficultieswill inevitably leadto tomorrow’s opportunities,and that investigative reportersare a hardy breed whowill tenaciously uphold theirwatchdog mission in badtimes as well as good.In truth, the woes now besettinginvestigative journalismshould not be surprising.After all, powerful individualsand institutions rarely makeit easy to uncover theirtransgressions. Muckrakinghas never been for the faintof heart. Every generation of4“A Muckraking Model: Investigative Reporting Cycles in American History,” byFeldstein, appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of the Harvard International Journal ofPress/Politics.5Many investigative reporters also described challenges they confronted in the Summer2006 issue of Nieman Reports, “Journalists: On the Subject of Courage” at www.niemanreports.org.52 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustjournalists faces its unique challenges,of course, but the cycles of investigativereporting are eternal: corruption,then exposure, then reform—followedby more corruption, more exposure,and more reform—in an endless loopof societal self-cleansing.If history is any guide, no matterwhat form it takes, muckraking has abright future. Just like the venality itexposes, it will outlast us all. Mark Feldstein, a journalism professorat George Washington University,was an award-winning investigativereporter at CNN, ABC News, NBCNews, and various local televisionstations. His book, “Poisoning thePress: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson,and the Rise of Washington’s ScandalCulture,” is scheduled to be publishedin 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Investigating Health and Safety Issues—As ScientistsWouldThe Chicago Tribune paid to have state-of-the-art testing done on productspeople eat and use and the results provided ‘clear reporting entry points intowhat are complex topics.’BY SAM ROEBack in 2003, when my wifebecame pregnant with twins,one of my weekend duties wasto go to the grocery store and carefullypick out small amounts of fish.We’d read that most seafood is contaminatedwith mercury, a metal thatcould harm fetuses. Pregnant womenwere advised to eat only a few ouncesof fish a week. After I’d weighed delituna and selected only small piecesof frozen salmon for a few weeks, Iwondered, “How did it get to the pointwhere we have to keep track of howmuch fish we eat?”I knew there was an investigativestory in this situation. But where?After talking with my editor, GeorgePapajohn, at the Chicago Tribune, thenewspaper decided to do somethingfairly novel. At least it was for us. Wewould buy dozens of samples of fish andhave them tested for mercury levels ata laboratory. Similarly, in 2007, whenwe decided to gauge the amount of leadin children’s toys, instead of relying ongovernment figures, we tested morethan 800 toys ourselves. Ours turnedout to be the largest study of its kindoutside of the government’s.Doing rigorous testing ourselvescosts money: For each of these twoinvestigations, the cost was about$9,000. Some will be surprised to learnthat despite being in bankruptcy, theTribune continues to support it. Lastfall, the newspaper spent $6,000 totest dozens of food products for “hiddenallergens.” These are ingredientsnot disclosed on labels but ones thatare potentially deadly to those withallergies. 1 Our testing revealed hiddenallergens in a variety of popularbrand-name foods from cookies to chilito chicken bites. The result: Hundredsof thousands of such items were pulledfrom shelves nationwide.As we look ahead, newsroom managersare discussing increasing our budgetfor testing products in the future, notdecreasing it. Of course, there are benefitsto the newsroom being so closelyinvolved with the testing, and some ofthem include the following that havegiven us an edge in reporting thesepublic service stories:• Selecting the items to send to labs fortesting forced us to master the subjectmatter quickly and thoroughly.• Being able to track the testing closelyhelped us determine precisely whomight be potentially hurt by what.• Having comprehensive access tothe details of test results providedus with clear reporting entry pointsinto what are complex topics.We found, too, doing the testingin this way elevated our coverage.At a time when many governmentregulators aren’t doing the kind ofprotective oversight that consumerswant and expect, we could use ourinvestigative journalism to alert themembers of the public to health andsafety dangers. Also, since we knew sowell the methodology of the testing,it would be difficult for our findingsto be disputed, though, as we foundout, some of them still were.1This investigative project, “Children at risk in food roulette,” can be read at:www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/chi-081120-allergens-tribuneinvestigation,0,3661180.story.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 53


21st Century MuckrakersFish and MercuryWith the fish story, we wanted thetesting to be done with as much scientificrigor as possible. So insteadof buying a handful of fish at nearbygrocery stores, we began by studyingthe methodology of similar scientificresearch and called experts for advice.In the end, we decided to test18 samples (each) of nine kinds ofseafood. To purchase the samples, werandomly selected stores. Doing sucha random sampling would remove anybiases—even if we might not thinkwe brought any with us to the story.And in this way, too, the results ofour testing would be representativeof the entire Chicago area.Fellow Tribune reporter MichaelHawthorne and I spent two weeksbattling Chicago traffic to collect fishsamples, including salmon, tuna andswordfish. We placed them in ziplock bags, packed them in ice, andshipped them overnight to RutgersUniversity in New Jersey. There, alab experienced in mercury analysisconducted the actual tests.In all, 162 samples were tested,which made this one of the nation’smost comprehensive studies of mercuryin commercial fish. We found thatmuch of the seafood was so taintedthat regulators could have confiscatedit—if only they’d been looking. However,the Food and Drug Administrationdoes not routinely inspect fishfor mercury—not in ports, processingplants, or supermarkets.Our test results, published as part ofa three-day series in 2005, promptedreforms in both the United Statesand Canada. 2 Three years later, Congresspassed legislation banning U.S.mercury exports so the metal won’tend up on the world market where itmight pollute the environment. (At thetime, Illinois Senator Barack Obamaintroduced the bill in response to theTribune’s series.)But not everyone embraced ourA University of Iowa lab analyst scrapes paint from a toy Godzilla. Tests sponsored by theChicago Tribune found the paint contained 4,500 parts per million of lead, more thanseven times the legal limit. Photo by Heather Stone/Chicago Tribune.conclusions—or even our testing. Inresponse, the U.S. Tuna Foundation,a lobbying group for canned tuna producers,issued press releases claimingthat mercury in tuna was harmless.The industry-financed Center forConsumer Freedom took out a fullpagead in the Tribune and gave usits mock “Bottom Feeders” award for“whipping up needless fears aboutmercury in fish.”Toys and LeadTesting toys for lead was just as challenging,and our stories received asimilar backlash from that industry.For $3,000, the newspaper renteda hand-held device called an XRFanalyzer for three weeks. It looks likea store-pricing gun on steroids; placeits face against an object and pull thetrigger, and it quickly estimates theitem’s lead content. One night I broughtthe scanner home and began testingtoys in my kids’ basement playroom.After three hours, with several “hits”for lead, I came upstairs and placedthe gun on the dining room table.“What’s that thing?” my wifeasked.“It’s a gun to check for lead in toys,”I responded.“How does it work?”“I think it shoots out x-rays.”“X-rays?” she asked, raising abrow.“Well, x-rays or gamma rays.”“I don’t want that thing in the house,”she told me, and that night the XRFgun stayed in the garage. The next day,the manufacturer, as well as a physicistat the Illinois office of nuclear safety,assured me we had nothing to fear, soour testing continued. My reportingcolleague Ted Gregory took the scannerand checked toys and other children’sproducts on shelves of more than 40Chicago-area retailers including bigbox stores, toy boutiques, discountoutlets, and supermarkets.Toys that registered over the legallimit of 600 parts per million of lead onthe scanner were purchased and then2The first part of this series, “Tribune Investigation: The Mercury Menace: Toxic riskon your plate,” can be read at www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/chi-mercury-3-story,0,4192281.story.54 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustsent to The University of Iowa HygienicLaboratory to determine the total leadcontent. Children’s jewelry and vinyltoys that tested high at the Iowa labwere then sent to Scientific ControlLaboratories in Chicago for additionaltesting to determine whether the leadcould leach out if parts of the toyswere swallowed. Vinyl toys receivedeven further analyses—“wipe tests”—to determine whether the lead couldescape by merely touching them.In the end, the Tribune identified adozen toys that violated federal safetylimits. Nine more exceeded stricterIllinois limits.Our story was published in Novemberof 2007, 3 and immediatelyretailers and manufacturers pulledthe majority of unsafe products we’didentified from shelves. The U.S. ConsumerProduct Safety Commission andthe Illinois Attorney General’s officeopened investigations. Our testingalso prompted several manufacturersto take additional steps: Kids IIredesigned its award-winning BabyEinstein Discover & Play Color Blocks,and Ty Inc. remade its popular Jammin’Jenna doll. With both, thesecompanies replaced lead-tainted vinylwith other materials. And Alex Toyssaid it would overhaul its entire testingprogram. The company promisedto check materials for lead duringtheir overseas production and thenreexamine the toys once they arrivedin the United States.With this story, too, our test resultswere challenged. Prior to publication,three toy companies disputed thefindings we’d shared with them of theTribune’s findings and threatened legalaction. One of the complaints arrivedjust as we were on deadline to publishthe story. The firms claimed that theirtests showed their toys were safe, theTribune’s tests were faulty, and Illinoislaw did not apply to their products. TheTribune did not back down. Days afterpublication, these companies pulledtheir products from shelves.My advice to those who might considerdoing this kind of story: masterthe science and think big. Plan on notonly doing the best study any journalisthas ever done on the topic, buttry to conduct one of the most validstudies any scientist has ever done onthe subject.There’s no reason why your newsorganization can’t. Sam Roe is an investigative reporterat the Chicago Tribune. He was oneof the Tribune reporters awarded the2008 Pulitzer Prize for InvestigativeReporting for his work on the newspaper’sseries “Hidden Hazards.”3The first part of this series, “Hidden Hazards: Kids at Risk: Many more toys taintedwith lead, inquiry finds,” can be read at www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-leadmain-story,0,7756666.story.Rotting Meat, Security Documents, and CorporalPunishmentA local Chicago investigative reporter uses shoe-leather techniques anddigital tools to uncover health and safety violations and be sure the newsis widely spread.BY DAVE SAVINIOn a hot summer day, a truckbacks into a loading bay inChicago’s popular Fulton Streetmeat market. The truck’s driver has noidea his every move is being capturedon a small video camera. Thousands ofpounds of pork, cases of yogurt, andcrates filled with fruits and vegetablesare loaded onto a truck that has no refrigeration.It’s an illegal load. Outsidetemperatures reach nearly 90 degrees.The yogurt can spoil in the heat. Thepork (whole pigs) is dripping bloodand other moisture onto peppers andtomatoes, which is a serious violationof public health codes and can leadto cross contamination.The contaminated load is about tobe driven to a restaurant 100 milesaway. Again, the driver has no ideahe’s being tailed by me. A CBS 2 photographerjoins me during this trip. Aproducer back at the station is runningthe license plate, then crosscheckingthe name and address with businesslicenses in Wisconsin.We learn it is a Mexican grocerystore that doubles as a restaurantserving fresh meals in the popularvacation town of Delavan, Wisconsin.Every minute counts, so I begin callinginformation for the names of agenciesthat might be able to inspect this loadbased on my findings. I finally reachan inspector who agrees to meet me enroute. He three-ways the call to localNieman Reports | Summer 2009 55


21st Century Muckrakerspolice and then gets them involved in aslow moving police chase as the truckdriver tries to get away. The driveris eventually pulled over and allowsthe load to be inspected. Temperaturereadings are taken, the food is ordereddestroyed, and numerous citations areissued. CBS 2 is thanked for keepingpotentially hazardous meat, dairy andvegetables off the market. And a biggerstory is developed on how the state ofIllinois has only six inspectors availableto examine the kinds of trucksused to ship food.During this and other CBS 2 undercoverinvestigations, I operate thecamera and also am the reporter. Ioften shoot undercover video, and I’vebeen doing so for the past decade. Iusually start the surveillance projectson my own, figure out patterns, andthen schedule a photographer to accompanyme. Knowing what to expecthelps cut down on wasted overtime;having a camera handy just makessense in case something importanthappens. Maximizing resources area must, since the days of coming upempty on a shoot are over.We also try to maximize the impactof our stories by expanding their scope.Here are two examples:• Knowing we have a great exampleof an illegal food shipment, we thencultivate sources. Meat inspectorsgive us tips with the promise ofconfidentiality about other shortfallswith food inspection agencies.• We learn no inspectors are sent tocheck large shipments of refrigeratedmeat after the trucks hauling itsustain damage in crashes. I beginstaking out key roads where truckdrivers often hit viaducts, in somecases ripping the tops of their refrigeratedtrailers and exposing frozenmeat to sweltering heat. (Adulteratedloads like these can be salvagedif an inspector can ensure food temperaturesdo not slip into the dangerzone of 40 or more degrees.) Wefind two major loads compromisedby heat with no inspectors notified.The loads are transferred to newtrailers, refrozen and shipped daysVisual evidence of a pig that was tossed into a pickup truck and delivered to a suburban Chicago grocerystore. Image courtesy of CBS 2 Chicago.later to wholesalers who had no ideathe boxes of meat were tainted.Prepare to Get DirtyOn a freezing, snowy Chicago night,a worker at a company hired to cleanairplanes at O’Hare InternationalAirport throws a clear plastic bag ofdocuments into a garbage dumpster.Once again I am doing the video surveillance.This time I also jump into thedumpster and load my car with bagsof confidential files left in the trash.I continue to visit this dumpster fortwo months gathering sensitive andconfidential files including airportemployee applications, Social Securitynumbers, and their FBI fingerprintcheck forms. The Social Securitynumbers enabled us to do backgroundchecks on workers to determine howmany had criminal records.This investigation also led to thediscovery that access badges to theairports’ secure entrances and checkpointswere missing. Not just one ortwo but 3,800 badges.CBS 2 Chicagoproducer MicheleYoungerman useddocuments I discoveredin the trash as abasis for a Freedomof Information Act(FOIA) request. Discardedmemos detailingmissing workeraccess badges led to herfiling an FOIA with theChicago Departmentof Aviation, whichoversees the employeebadge program. Wewere given a computerdisc detailing the entiredebacle, including thenames of all missingbadge holders. Theday after receiving thedisc, the Departmentof Aviation and theTransportation SecurityAdministrationin Washington, D.C.,asked us to give the disc56 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustback. We did not.Instead we didnumerous storiesthat led to afederal and localinvestigation—more than 100arrests, new securitymeasures,and numerousawards for CBS2 including the2008 duPont-Columbia UniversityAward.PartneringWith Printand UsingRadioAnother survivaltactic I haveused the pastfour years is a method to combatanother industry problem—a shrinkingaudience. I would strongly advisebroadcast students to study print andprint students to study broadcast. Manybroadcast stations and newspapersnow partner to reach more people.For example, to give my investigationsa longer shelf life, I’ve been writinglong-form newspaper stories withYoungerman for which we receive nopay. These are printed in suburbannewspapers the day after our storiesdebut on our 10 p.m. newscast.These articles keep the story alive;they are great for publicity and helpus get tips from folks who might nothave seen the television story. Ourarticles—typically told in ways thatare more comprehensive than our TVformat permits—allow us to actuallyadvance the story with more factsand supplemental information. Inexchange, the newspapers promote,on their front page, our TV story thatwill be broadcast that night. My contactinformation and our investigativebrand, “2 Investigators,” are alwaysincluded at the end of the copy. Oftenwe receive numerous e-mail tips fromthe newspaper stories, and this makesour extra work well worth it.A photo taken after a truck’s top was ripped off, damaging refrigeration units and exposingmeat to high temperatures. Image courtesy of CBS 2 Chicago.Stories that are on TV and in thenewspaper also tend to lead to talkradio hosts inviting me to advancethe story further on their shows. Onceagain, this mixing of media leads toa branding of the end product withour investigative team and station.It’s also important to remember thatboth media are now merged on newsWeb sites.Background Checking andSocial NetworksIn this ever-changing world of journalism,we have to adapt quickly—andthis includes adapting to new ways ofdoing our reporting and research.Of course, we still use court records,property records, and Nexis to trackinformation. But another useful toolthat my team and I are using is socialnetwork sites. We use these to conductbackground checks or find peoplewe are investigating. Facebook is ourprimary source, and we’ve found italso is an incredibly powerful tool formarketing our story and advertising itto the computer entrenched youngergeneration.Most recently, we exposed illegalcorporal punishment in Chicago publicschools. Wefound hundredsof students whohad been beatenby teachers,principals andother adults;some weaponsused includedbelts, broomst i c k s a n dyardsticks. Wealso uncoveredcoaches paddingathleteswith woodenplanks for missingplays.To find thoseathletes andother studentswho had informationaboutt h e b a n n e dpunishment, we used school yearbooks,team rosters, and searched Facebook.We also used Facebook to send messages(basically a promotion) to letthese students know when to watchthe story. After it was broadcast, wereceived numerous tips from other studentsthat added to the story. In turn,these students then helped promoteour follow-up stories by posting theinformation on their Facebook pages,which thousands of their classmatesviewed. The investigation is still unravelingbut has led to a new policyand the suspension or termination ofnumerous teachers, security guards,and coaches.Textbooks can’t be written fastenough to teach aspiring journalistshow to meet the challenges createdby technology and the ways in whichwe communicate today or will in thefuture. Don’t throw out the old-schooldetective work and creative storytellingjust yet; try blending it in with theopportunities that digital media andits ever-changing cybersuperhighwaypresent. Dave Savini is an investigative reporterwith WBBM-TV, CBS 2 inChicago, Illinois.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 57


21st Century MuckrakersMining the Coal Beat: Keeping Watch Over an‘Outlaw’ IndustryDigging through records, creating new databases, and asking key questionsleads a West Virginia reporter to important investigative stories about thecoal industry.BY KEN WARD, JR.When federal regulators suedMassey Energy in May 2007for thousands of water pollutionviolations, the initial presscoverage was a bit confusing. At first,the lawsuit was described as a majoraction: Massey operations acrossSouthern West Virginia and EasternKentucky had violated their permittedwater pollution limits more than4,500 times over a roughly five-yearperiod. The suit alleged nearly 70,000days’ worth of violations on dozens ofClean Water Act permits. One analystestimated the potential fines at morethan $2.4 billion. However, by earlythe following week, news reports hadalready begun to downplay the case,citing Massey’s belief that the suitwould ultimately have “no materialimpact” on the company’s finances.Whether the Massey suit was alandmark case against a coal giantor a minor blip on a big company’sradar screen, what was buried in oneof the follow-up reports was the gristof a much bigger story. Reporterswere rightly asking the West VirginiaDepartment of Environmental Protection(DEP) why the U.S. EnvironmentalProtection Agency—insteadof the state—was taking this legalaction against Massey. Tim Huber,an Associated Press business writer,quoted a DEP spokeswoman, JessicaGreathouse, as saying that the agencyhad “at some point” stopped reviewingmonthly discharge monitoring reportsfiled by coal companies.“Discharge monitoring reportsweren’t looked at on a regular basisto determine if there were violationsbeing reported, and we weren’t catchingthem,” Greathouse told the AP. “Wehave not done that, though we aredoing that now.” She and other DEPofficials told me the same thing. As shesaid this, I remember doing a doubletake: What? DEP isn’t looking at thedischarge reports. This was the realstory that needed investigation.To understand why, some backgroundis required. Discharge monitoringreports (DMRs) are a key part ofthe Clean Water Act. Any entity thatreceives a permit to legally polluterivers and streams must file a DMRevery month that lists their permitteddischarge limits and the amount theyactually dump into the water. Thisself-reporting process is the main waythat regulators keep track of whethercoal companies and other industriescomply with their permits. If DEPofficials were not bothering to evenreview the reports, how many violationswere going uncorrected andunpunished?Digging Into the StoryScott Finn of West Virginia PublicBroadcasting caught onto this issueright away. Finn did a follow-up radiostory in which Randy Huffman,director of DEP’s Division of Miningand Reclamation, admitted his agencyhadn’t been reviewing coal industrydischarge reports for five to six years.“If the state isn’t even looking at theDMRs, it has no enforcement program,”environmental lawyer Jim Hecker ofthe group Public Justice told Finn.“It’s like trying to catch speeders byhaving the police sit in their cars atthe police station.”I wanted to dig deeper to find outhow bad this problem was. How manyviolations had DEP missed? Howmany water quality problems hadn’tbeen fixed? How much in fines hadthe industry avoided paying? Theseseemed like pretty simple questions.But DEP’s records were in such poorshape that even the agency’s bestcomputer technicians weren’t able toput together very solid numbers. Theirbest estimate: more than 25,000 violationsmissed. Some staffers predictedthe number could be much higher;others guessed it was lower.With another industry in anotherstate, this sloppiness might seem likean outrageous situation. But in mynearly 20 years of covering the coalindustry in West Virginia, this kindof thing has become all too common.Critics call the coal business an “outlaw”industry, and sometimes it’s hard notto see their point. Violations of rulescreated to protect the environment,not to mention health and safetyregulations, are not unusual in thecoalfields. Yet media coverage of theseproblems is sporadic; historically it istied to major disasters.Unfortunately, the consequences ofthe press turning its watchful eye awayfrom what is (or is not) happeningbehind the scenes have been all toovisible in recent years. For example, onJanuary 2, 2006, an explosion rippedthrough the Sago Mine, a small undergroundoperation in north-centralWest Virginia. Thirteen miners weremissing. Twelve were found dead aftera more than 40-hour search that gotnonstop television coverage. The NewYork Times, CNN and the rest of thenational media pack parachuted in tocover the story. Most of the coveragefocused on the human drama. But a few58 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and TrustCrosses in a makeshift memorial to the Sago miners. Photo by Ed Reinke/The AssociatedPress.reporters picked up on the hundredsof previous violations at the Sago Mineand the meager fines handed downby the U.S. Mine Safety & HealthAdministration (MSHA).For example, Thomas Frank at USAToday wrote that the federal governmentlevied a larger fine ($550,000)for the 2004 Super Bowl showingof Janet Jackson’s breast than it didfor the 2001 deaths of 13 Alabamaminers in one of the deadliest minedisasters in a quarter-century. “Andthe $435,000 fine against mine operatorJim Walter Resources was cutby a judge to $3,000,” Frank wrote inFebruary 2006.Journalists I talked with wereshocked by the previous fines at Sago,often just $60 per violation, less thansome speeding tickets they’d gottenrushing to cover breaking news. Thosehundreds of violations and minimalfines at Sago weren’t unusual; coalindustry officials seem to treat themsimply as a part of doing business.One company’s public relations personcomplained to me that I didn’t providethe “proper context” when I wrote thatone of his firm’s mines had 300 or400 violations in less than a year. (Itis true that underground coal minesare inspected much more frequentlythan most other American workplaces.At large underground operations,“resident inspectors” are virtuallyin residence.) MSHA inspectors arerequired to examine all undergroundmines “in their entirety” at least fourtimes a year. No other industry hassuch a requirement. While routineto the industry, the consequences ofthese violations are anything but thatto the families of dead and injuredcoal miners—all of whose names Iknow and all of which my newspaperpublishes.Learning From DataAfter the Sago mine explosion, Ispent six months examining coal minesafety as part of an Alicia PattersonFoundation Fellowship. With time todig in ways I can’t in the daily tug ofreporting, I did read every coal minefatality investigation report for the 10years (1996 to 2005) and obtainedrelated electronic data from MSHA,none of which fully tracked the findingsof these death reports. So I builta database in Microsoft Access, typingin company names, descriptions ofaccidents, and investigation findings.I made sure to include every fallenminer’s name to help me rememberthat this was about people and not abunch of numbers.Once assembled, my database providednew insights into stories I neededto tell. The figures reminded me thatdisasters like Sago are rare. Most coalminers die alone crushed by heavyequipment, ground up by runawaymachinery, or buried beneath collapsedmine roofs. And almost always, coalminers die because the companiesthey work for break the law. In nineout of 10 fatal coal mining accidentsI examined, the deaths could havebeen avoided if mine operators hadcomplied with well-established andlongstanding safety rules.And what kinds of punishmentswere handed down for these renegadeoperators? For each miner killed,agency officials assessed a median fineof $4,250. But fines are lowered orthrown out by judges. MSHA settles forless to avoid legal fights. Companies gobelly up and don’t pay, or MSHA doesnot aggressively pursue payments. Insome cases, appeals are still pendingfor deaths that occurred years before.In cases in which fines were issuedand not appealed, I found that coaloperators have paid a median fineper miner death of $6,200. But fineswere not issued in nearly a quarter ofthe cases, and decisions on fines hadnot been made for a few deaths from2005. If all of the 320 miners’ deathsduring this decade are counted, themedian fine paid by coal operators is$250 per death.Stories Get ToldI wrote about all of this in a story,“One by One,” as part of a series wepublished called “Beyond Sago: CoalMine Safety in America.” This was certainlynot the first time The CharlestonGazette had exposed such behaviorby the coal industry. My colleagueNieman Reports | Summer 2009 59


21st Century MuckrakersThere is no shortage of media attention as Richard Strickler, assistant secretary of theDepartment of Labor and director of the Mine Safety & Health Administration, speaksat the entrance to the Crandall Canyon Mine, August 17, 2007, in Huntington, Utah. Thedesperate underground drive to reach six trapped miners was suspended indefinitely aftera catastrophic cave-in killed three rescuers. Photo by Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press.and mentor Paul J. Nyden has beenexamining renegade coal contractors,corporate shell games, and industryworkers compensation scams since Iwas in high school.It was 10 years ago that I did myfirst major coal industry project, inwhich I applied the tools of investigativereporting to tell the story ofmountaintop removal coal mining. 1By learning in-depth about the regulatorystructure and reading throughhundreds upon hundreds of pages ofpermits, I was able to point to specificloopholes, inactions and oversights byregulators. I discovered how state andfederal regulators approved dozens ofmountaintop removal permits withoutthe required reclamation variancesand did not—as mandated by federallaw—include plans for post-miningdevelopment of flattened land.Then, in July 2005, residents nearthe Raleigh County town of Sundialwere upset about plans by MasseyEnergy to build a new coal silo as partof a plan to increase capacity of a coalprocessing plant located adjacent toMarsh Fork Elementary School. Partof the processing plant is a huge coalwaste dam that towers above the school,just up the hollow. West Virginiansremain wary of such impoundments,still recalling the day in February 1972,when one failed and flooded BuffaloCreek, killing 125 people.Area residents and activists heldprotests and wrote letters. Ed Wiley,a grandfather of a student at theschool, staged a sit-down protest onthe state capitol steps, trying to getthe governor to block the project.Apparently, no one bothered to lookat the DEP-approved permit for thesilo. After visiting with Wiley onemorning at the capitol steps, I droveacross town to DEP headquartersand went to the mining department’sfile room. On earlier visits there, I’dreviewed mountaintop removal permitsby looking through mounds ofpaper files. Now, with digital records,it took me about 15 minutes to pullthe right digital video disc, find theproper maps, and see that Masseywas building the silo outside of itsoriginal permit boundary—in violationof a federal law that requires a bufferzone between mining operations andschools or other public buildings.I reviewed a few earlier versions ofthe map, submitted by the companyover the years as mining progress reports.I printed some and took themto a local blueprint shop to have themtransferred to transparencies. Withthese, I could easily show how thecompany had slowly expanded its permitboundary over the years—withoutasking for DEP permission and withoutagency officials even noticing. Whatthese maps showed is that the enlargedpermit area was just big enough, andshaped just perfectly, to allow the newsilo to fit inside the legal boundaries.Within a week, I was meeting withtop DEP officials and showing themmy transparencies. In response, theyrevoked the silo permit, an action thatremains in litigation today.Lots of local media reported on theMarsh Fork controversy. But no otherreporter took the time—or perhapsknew how—to go to look at permitsto see if DEP was doing its job. Turnsout that even though coal is “king” inWest Virginia, few reporters here andin Appalachia (or in other regions ofthe country) follow the coal industryor know much about mining. Duringour round-the-clock coverage of theSago disaster, reporters at the Gazetteunwound from the intensity of our workon this story with bouts of laughter asTV anchors butchered mining termsor in other ways demonstrated theirignorance of the industry that provideshalf of the nation’s electricity. A wellknowncable news reporter told the1Ward wrote about his mountaintop mining reporting in the Summer 2004 issue ofNieman Reports, www.niemanreports.org.60 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustgovernor during Sago that he didn’trealize miners still went undergroundto dig coal.The national media had anotherchance in August 2007, when a hugeunderground mine cave-in trapped sixworkers at the Crandall Canyon Minein Utah. Early in the coverage of thismine disaster, I thought nobody hadlearned anything from Sago. Initialwire service reports from Utah reliedon comments from company PresidentBob Murray, who said the cave-in wascaused by a natural earthquake andnot any problems at the mine itself.Coal industry watchers knew this wasnonsense. The mine had experienced a“bump” or a “bounce,” a phenomenonwhere the weight of the earth abovethe mine walls collapses them. Thebump at Crandall Canyon caused aspike in seismic activity, not the otherway around.Some of the press coverage wasexcellent. Seth Borenstein, one of theAP’s national science writers, pickedup on the “bump” issue and did afantastic story that explained the accidenthappened as the company hadworkers doing “retreat mining,” orpulling out the very coal pillars thatheld up the mine roof. For his trouble,Borenstein was singled out by Murrayfor criticism during one of the repeatedrants in which the TV media—withoutquestioning his words—allowed himtime to rail against unions and blameGod for the mine collapse.Readers of the nearby Salt LakeTribune were fortunate to have longtimecoal industry reporter MichaelGorrell and his colleague, RobertGehrke, covering Crandall Canyon.Gorrell covered Utah’s last coal-miningdisaster in 1984 and with Gehrke dida heroic job of uncovering variousmissteps by Murray Energy and byMSHA officials charged with policingthe company.After Crandall Canyon, my minesafety reporting continued. In September2007, I discovered that MSHA hadnot completed the required quarterlyThe Schean family’s lake house, which they had spent the past four years restoring, was thefirst home to be hit by the massive coal sludge spill at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman,Tennessee. Photo by © 2009 Antrim Caskey.inspections at a Mingo County, WestVirginia mine where a worker waskilled in a roof fall. I found the samething later that month after anothermining death. Given this, I pulledcomputer records for dozens of minesacross southern West Virginia andfound that MSHA was way behind onits mandated inspections. Eventually,the agency had to admit the problemwas widespread and seek additionalmoney from Congress to pay inspectorsovertime to catch up.Then, in January 2008, a tip frominside MSHA led me to learn that theagency had not assessed mandatoryfines for thousands of mine safetyviolations by coal companies. Again,MSHA was forced to admit the problemand come up with a plan to tryto fix it. Both of these stories revealedthat federal officials were simply notmeeting even their most basic dutiesunder the federal mine safety law.And then late last year, a huge coalashimpoundment in East Tennesseecollapsed, sending a huge flood of toxicpower plant waste out over homes,fields and streams. This event got thenational media—The New York Timesand The Associated Press—paying attentionto coal ash. But some coalfieldreporters, such as James Bruggers atThe (Louisville) Courier-Journal, hadalready been writing about it. 2Role for JournalistsWhat does my experience with thecoal mining story tell us about journalismand, in particular, watchdogreporting? These days as blogging,sending Tweets, and connecting withone another through social mediaseems to be replacing the roles thatnewspapers used to play, journalismappears to be losing its capacity toperform this core function. Whilemy job of doing watchdog reportingabout the coal industry is a lot easierbecause of digital records and thenew technologies that help me dig forinformation, my concern is whetherthese tools will be used in the publicinterest. Will there be journalistswith the skills and resources needed2See Ward’s Nieman Watchdog post, at www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ask_this.view&askthisid=00387.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 61


21st Century Muckrakersto keep an eye on powerful interests?Mortgage lenders, investment banks,hedge funds, and government officialswho regulate them come to mind astopics that were ripe for inspectionbut regrettably didn’t receive enoughof it. For people too busy getting kidsoff to school, paying the mortgage, andtaking care of grandparents to be ableto monitor such entities themselves,there must be some way that this essentialtask we’ve called journalism cancontinue to play this vital role. Ken Ward, Jr. has reported on coalindustry issues for nearly 20 yearsat The Charleston Gazette, West Virginia’slargest daily newspaper. He isa three-time winner of the Edward J.Meeman Awards for environmentalreporting, one of the national journalismawards given by the Scripps HowardFoundation. In 2006, he spent sixmonths studying coal mine safety aspart of an Alicia Patterson Fellowship.Reporting Time and Resources Reveal a HiddenSource of Pollution‘In many cases I had the budget to take chances and to not take no for ananswer.’BY ABRAHM LUSTGARTENProPublica displays Lustgarten’s story with links to news organizations that published hisstory. Other reporting he has done on this topic is also available.Ilanded on the story of contaminatedwater from natural gas drillingbecause I had enjoyed flexibilityrare in journalism today. In fact I hadcome to ProPublica, a start-up venturededicated to investigative projects,precisely because I hoped to escape thestory quotas and budget constraintsthat inevitably made my magazinereporting rushed and incomplete. Inmy new job, I was given time andsupport to investigate obscure leadsand tenuous threads of interest untilone critical issue emerged that couldbe spun into a project with currencyand weight.The project began with an investigationinto chemical contamination inpublic drinking water supplies—a storyoriginally focused on the agricultureindustry in the Pacific Northwest. Formonths I dug into the banal science,learning how to read water qualityanalyses and understanding the nation’slaws and convoluted methods fordetermining when a particular “constituent”became a “contaminant”—both terms that carry extraordinarilyspecific semantic meaning in the worldof science.Along the way I got an educationin federal drinking water standards.62 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and TrustI met with municipal water managers,engineers from treatment plants,toxicologists and health officials. Ibecame a voyeur into the preciseworld of environmental water scienceand found that its regulation, wherealmost every detail is explicitly laidout and considered, is intended to beequally exact. Very little seemed to beleft to chance.Then I stumbled on a water issuethat appeared to be all about chance.I spoke with a hydrogeologist withthe U.S. Geological Survey who wasalarmed about a process being usedby the energy industry in which awhole bunch of chemicals are pumpeddirectly into the ground and couldpotentially reach water supplies. Mysource didn’t know much more—infact he explained that this process,called hydraulic fracturing, was notregulated by the federal governmentand that the Environmental ProtectionAgency didn’t have the authorityto examine it.But there were new plans to drillfor natural gas along the Eastern seaboard,including in New York City’swatershed, and this person describeda quiet undercurrent of concern thathe said extended throughout the scientificcommunity. At this point all thatbackground fodder I had collected hada purpose; without my newly acquiredknowledge of water science, I wouldnever have been able to understandthe implications of the drilling issueor expand it into a full-fledgedinvestigation.Digging DeeperHydraulic fracturing, I soon learned,involved shooting large amounts ofwater, sand and chemicals at highpressure down a freshly drilled wellin order to crack the geologic depositsthat hold natural gas thousands of feetbelow and release that gas so it canflow back out of the well. The extraordinarywater pressure—thousands ofpounds—literally fractures the rock.Then the sand floats into tiny cracksand holds them open while bubblesof gas escape to the surface. A proportionallysmall amount of chemicalsare used to control the viscosity of thewater, kill off bacteria, and otherwiseoptimize the whole operation, butconsidering that several millions ofgallons of water might be pumpedinto a gas well, that can amount totens of thousands of gallons of toxicsubstances put into the ground.The process is nearly ubiquitous.Hydraulic fracturing is used in nine outof 10 gas wells drilled in the UnitedStates and is crucial to extractinghard-to-reach geologic deposits of gasat a time when energy independenceis of paramount importance. Plus,natural gas is viewed as a “transitionalfuel” even by environmentalists—it iscleaner burning than any other fossilfuel and emits 23 percent less carbondioxide than oil. For these reasons,plus the discovery of new deposits likethose in New York State, gas drillingactivity is expanding faster than anyother domestic resource or energyprogram.At first, I saw a straightforwardexplanatory story. Here was a fascinatingtechnological process that fewpeople seemed to know about. The stategovernments dealing with it should beable to address predictable questionsabout how the chemicals are managedand treated, what the risks were, andhow they were handling them.But when I eventually sat down withenvironment and gas drilling officialsfor New York State, they were caughtoff guard by the plainest of questions.What chemicals would they be permittingto be pumped into the ground?What waste would be produced, andwhere would it be disposed of? Anddid the practice threaten the state’swater supplies?They could not answer any of thesequestions. In fact, they weren’t evenaware that chemicals were used inhydraulic fracturing. They had neverasked and never been told exactly whatwas being pumped into the earth; theyassumed that the primary byproductof drilling was plain water. Thus theyhad no plans in place to dispose of thewaste; by default it would be sprayedon roads and discharged through conventionalsewage plants back into thearea’s rivers.I wanted to drill deeper, but it wouldcost money and take more time. Myeditor, Steve Engelberg, said to goahead. In fact, at each juncture in myreporting he continued to enthusiasticallygreen light more time, moreairplane tickets, more research. 1As it turned out, the informationI sought was clouded in secrecy.The identity of the chemicals usedin the drilling was a closely guardedcompetitive secret, protected as proprietarytrade recipes by the drillingcontractors who used them. Neitherthe state agencies nor the EPA had acomplete list of what was being used,and scientists were telling me that theycould not measure any threat or decideif the process was safe, because theycouldn’t trace the source of pollutionwithout knowing the names of thechemicals used in fracturing.Gas drilling activities were furthershielded by exemptions from the SafeDrinking Water Act and the CleanWater Act—the two federal laws designedto maintain water quality andprotect American’s drinking supplies,as well as make the law consistentacross the country. Those exemptionsremoved any federal oversight and leftenvironmental enforcement—and therobust task of funding and conductingscientific research—to individual stateslike New York. It meant that federalscience agencies were not even tasked1His story, “Buried Secrets: Is Natural Gas Drilling Endangering U.S. Water Supplies?”was published by ProPublica on November 13, 2008, www.propublica.org/feature/buried-secrets-is-natural-gas-drilling-endangering-us-water-supplies-1113. The storywas also published in BusinessWeek and on the front page of The Denver Post as part ofProPublica’s effort to disseminate its investigative stories widely.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 63


21st Century Muckrakerswith examining the processes.Employees of the oil and gas industryoffered seemingly simple answersto the possibility that drilling poseda threat. The quantity of the chemicalsthey used is too small to havean impact, and it is diluted in vastamounts of water, they said. Thosefluids can’t leak underground fromone geologic layer to another becausethe layers of rock provide a watertightseal. Occasional accidents have beenstatistical anomalies. Because of thesefactors, it wasn’t necessary to divulgethe exact recipes used in the fracturingfluids—the process was alreadyproven safe. In fact, they repeatedoften, even though more than a millionwells had been drilled, there hadnever been a single instance anywherein the United States where hydraulicfracturing had been proven to resultin contaminated water.On the other hand there wereshrill environmentalists who claimedthe fluids were highly toxic and whopainted a conspiratorial picture of apowerful industry that had lobbiedthe federal government to pass lawsthat would allow them to look theother way as a burgeoning gas drillingindustry spread quickly across theUnited States.I was tasked with finding my waythrough this minefield of statementsand passionate opinions and discoveringthe truth, along the way striving toanswer questions that sprung up farfaster than they could be answered:• If the fracturing process does notharm water, then why was a waterrelatedexemption sought from thefederal government?• If chemicals could not move underground,then why wouldn’t theindustry release the names—evenconfidentially—to scientists tryingto test water and measure environmentalchange?• What scientific research justified theoil and gas industry earning legalprivileges that are not afforded tothe mining, auto, coal or agricultureindustries?• Most importantly, was it true thatA graphic display of hydraulic fracturing. Graphic by Al Granberg.hydraulic fracturing had never contaminatedwater?These are the kinds of questionsthat take time, travel and funding toanswer.Science and SourcesFirst I began to review spill records,which are not kept in many of the 32states that permit oil and gas drillingbut are substantially documented inboth New Mexico and Colorado. ThenI poured through more scientific literature,including several EPA studiesthat addressed hydraulic fracturingand wastewater—finding critical warningsburied hundreds of pages deepin otherwise boring reports. Finally,I traveled to the quiet rural townsacross the Rockies where drilling washappening most, talked with ranchersand landowners about their experienceswith nearby drilling and heardunpublicized tales about when thingshad gone very wrong.The assertion that fracturing hadnever harmed a water supply, I quicklycame to understand, was based ona narrow interpretation that literallymeant that the actual action ofpumping fluids into the ground underpressure had not been proven to havedirectly resulted in an explosion orother accident that happened duringthat actual pumping process. Itexcluded everything else having to dowith the fracturing process, includingthe mixing of chemicals, their transport,and their disposal.But since this process brings alarge quantity of chemicals to a siteand creates substantial waste stream,I quickly found that if you look beyondthe actual drill bits turning andpumping underground and includeaccidents happening on the surface,there was a sizeable impact.In order to learn more, I focused ona handful of incidents—about a dozento start with—in which the contaminationwas more than an allegation andhad been thoroughly documented bystate inspectors or been written aboutin a published official report of some64 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustkind. I spent several weeks sitting onporches or walking in fields listeningto the stories of people whose wellshad been poisoned, or whose animalshad died or, in some cases, who hadbeen hospitalized after drinking orbreathing fluids from fracture fluidaccidents.In many cases I had the budget totake chances and to not take no foran answer. When a nurse involved ina chemical spill said on the phone thatshe wasn’t comfortable talking abouther experience, I hopped on a flight toher hometown of Durango, Coloradoanyway and knocked on her door.Meeting eye to eye instilled her withenough trust to share her story.Trust was built similarly with sourcesat federal agencies, like the EPA,who are typically averse to handlingcontroversial questions on the phonebut tend to open up over lunch. Thatpatience and personal engagement mayexplain how I eventually saw a memoon federal government letterhead thatalleged widespread contamination of adrinking water aquifer in Wyoming thatresearchers feared might be the resultof drilling activities like fracturing.Throughout, my project treadedinto the realm of uncertainty thatoften stops environmental and healthreporting in its tracks. If you cannotprove that contamination made itfrom point A to point B, if there is notepidemiological evidence that a clusterof illness is firmly linked, for example,to exposure to a chemical, then youdo not have an investigation, and youdo not have a story—or so the rulesoften go. And those were exactly thescientific weaknesses that the industry,which fought regulators, politicians andanyone who investigated these issuesat every step, sought to maintain.But in this case I embraced thegray area between those stark linesand sought to raise questions thatunderlined the uncertainty of the situation.All of the information I gatheredestablished a sketch of a problem,and it seemed to exist in almost everydrilling area that we examined. Icouldn’t prove fault—that would bethe job of scientists and was the veryopportunity that they were arguingfor. I could establish that this processbeing used across the country, whichhad become an important link in anemerging national energy policy, didnot appear to be as harmless as theindustry and its regulators believed.At the least, it warranted furtherexamination. Abrahm Lustgarten is a reporter atProPublica.Pouring Meaning Into NumbersIn using EPA data, USA Today’s watchdog project empowered ‘parents to learnabout the types and sources of chemicals that might be in the air near theirchild’s school.’BY BLAKE MORRISON AND BRAD HEATHJames T. Hamilton’s article in thespring issue of Nieman Reportsabout making sense of the U.S.Environmental Protection Agency’sToxics Release Inventory (TRI) dataargued for precisely the sort of workUSA Today published last year in“The Smokestack Effect: Toxic Air andAmerica’s Schools.” 1 This project exemplifiedthe type of journalism Hamiltonadvocates when he suggests that TRIshould be used for “watchdog articles… written by algorithm in a way thatwould allow readers to see a customized,personalized article about how apolicy problem is playing out in theirneighborhood, block or lives.”About eight months before ourproject was published, we’d begun toconsider ways to give the TRI meaning.We learned that researchers atthe University of Massachusetts Amhersthad acquired the microdata foran EPA computer simulation calledRisk-Screening Environmental Indicators(RSEI). It uses air dispersionmodeling and compares the dangersof one chemical to another as a wayto give meaning to the TRI data. Themicrodata enabled us to use pollutionemissions reports, submitted to theEPA as part of the TRI program, toassess the predicted concentrations ofhundreds of chemicals in any squarekilometer in the country. Simultaneously,we began gathering data tomap the locations of almost 128,000public, private and parochial schools.We obtained the locations from more1The Smokestack Effect can be read and its interactive features used at http://content.usatoday.com/news/nation/environment/smokestack/index.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 65


21st Century Muckrakersthan two-dozen sources to ensure thatthe database was as complete andcurrent as possible.We focused on the locations ofschools because children are as much as10 times more susceptible than adultsto the dangers of toxic chemicals. Pinpointingwhere they gather each dayseemed appropriate, and the data weused to determine which schools werein toxic hot spots were based on 2005TRI reports. (This was the most recentdata on industrial pollution that theEPA had modeled.)The RSEI model we used dividedthe nation into a grid with each cellmeasuring one square kilometer. Thenit calculated how much of each chemicalreleased by each facility is likely toend up in the air in each cell. Thoseconcentrations were then weighted,based on how much harm the EPAdetermined is likely to be caused byeach chemical. In short: For eachsquare kilometer, the model producesan estimate of which chemicals werein the air, where those chemicalscame from, and how harmful theymight be.We spent months refining ouranalysis—and understanding its limitations.Computer models rest on sets ofassumptions, and RSEI is no different.Because of those limitations, the EPAhas balked at using the model to determinethe health risks at any givenlocation. Instead, it said, the model wasmeant as a screening tool—a way torank one location against another todetermine which area might demandfurther scrutiny. Some researchershave tried to use RSEI to calculate theodds that exposure to air pollution willcause cancer. Mathematically, that’snot hard to do. The government has astandard formula it uses to determinehow much your risk of contractingcancer goes up based on exposure tovarious levels of toxic chemicals. Butafter much discussion, we opted againstthat approach. Instead, we developedwhat’s called a “work-around,” usingthe case of an Ohio school that hadbeen shut down in 2005.That school, Meredith HitchensElementary in Addyston, Ohio, sitsacross the street from a plasticsplant. After residents complained,the Ohio EPA put an air monitor onthe school’s roof and took samples forseven months to determine the healthrisks there. Their results were stunning:Levels of carcinogens in the airwere 50 times higher than what thestate considers acceptable. The schooldistrict closed Hitchens immediately.So we used Hitchens as a benchmark.The monitoring done by the state EPAthere—and the risk assessment thatits monitoring established—becamea means of using RSEI to identifylocations where the relative risks tochildren appeared the same or greaterthan at Hitchens.Using RSEI in just the manner theEPA intended, we found 435 schoolsthat ranked worse than Hitchens did.In other words, the air appeared to bemore toxic outside 435 schools than itwas at a school that had been shuttered.Senator Barbara Boxer, who chairsthe Environment and Public Workscommittee, described our findings “ashocking story of child neglect.”We listed all 435 schools in print.But we also published an online databaseto enable users to look up anyschool in the country. The database—which became the backbone of ourreporting—has drawn about 1.7 millionpage views since we made it availableon December 8, 2008. 2 It empowers2The project’s database is found at www.smokestack.usatoday.com.66 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustparents to learn about the types andsources of chemicals that might be inthe air near their child’s school.We weren’t satisfied with simplymodeling pollution. The computersimulation was meant as a screeningtool—and so that’s how we used it.That’s why we partnered with JohnsHopkins University’s BloombergSchool of Public Health and the Universityof Maryland to monitor the airoutside almost 100 schools. Reportersand editors were trained to usea variety of equipment—from pumpsto metals filters—and scientists fromthe universities developed the protocolwe used, analyzed the samples, andinterpreted the results. The resultsshowed elevated levels of dangerouschemicals in the air outside abouttwo-thirds of the schools.The response to our work has beensweeping and dramatic. Hundreds ofmedia outlets localized our storiesor used our database to do similarreporting about schools in their area.One advocacy group tracked about8,000 letters to Congress from parentsand others in response to our stories.School districts from California toNorth Carolina called in regulators tobegin long-term air monitoring afterseeing the results of air samples takenby USA Today.Earlier this year, the EPA launcheda $2.25 million initiative to monitorair quality outside 62 schools in 22states. “Your stories raised importantquestions that merit investigation,and that’s what we’re doing,” EPAadministrator Lisa Jackson explained.“We want parents to know that theplaces their children live, play andlearn are safe.” Blake Morrison is an investigativereporter and the deputy enterpriseeditor at USA Today. Brad Heath isa national reporter at USA Today,where he specializes in data-drivenenterprise.Navigating Through the Biofuels Jungle‘Given my years of energy reporting in California, I could spot several warningsigns early on; others took additional reporting to uncover.’BY ELIZABETH MCCARTHYIn his 2007 State of the State speech,Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggerlaunched the world’s first lowcarbon transportation fuels standardfor California. He touted the benefitof using biofuels, derived from cropssuch as corn-based ethanol and otherplant-based feedstocks, to power carsas a way to produce fewer greenhousegas emissions than gasoline. Carbonlightalternative fuels, he proclaimed,would strengthen the state’s economyand security and improve its environment.Moving these less polluting biofuelsfrom the farm to the highway wouldtake far more than regulations, he said.Instead, the marketplace would powerthis change, with standards pavingthe way. In early 2007, Schwarzeneggerappeared confident that the freehand of the market would producethe necessary amount of less pollutingplant-based fuels. At the same time,however, the governor, who portrayshimself as a gung ho environmentalist,saw no need to give up his gas-guzzlingGovernor Arnold Schwarzenegger and, on the right, Bill Jones, a cofounder of PacificEthanol, at the July 2006 announcement of the governor’s bioenergy action plan.Hummer. Rather, he’d power it withan alternative biofuel.From the start of this initiative, itwas clear how critical it would be tohave a watchdog press keeping trackof this unfolding effort. Given thatmuch of this groundbreaking effortwould circumvent traditional channelsNieman Reports | Summer 2009 67


21st Century Muckrakersof the legislative process, there wouldbe even less of a chance for opposingviews to be publicly aired and coveredby the news media. Yet it seemed vitalthat consumers understood what wasabout to happen.Given my years of energy reportingin California, I could spot severalwarning signs early on; others tookadditional reporting to uncover. Thefirst red flag was visible right away.Positing this biofuels policy as atechnical solution to a multilayeredand complex set of energy and environmentalproblems was too goodto be true. Soon, the second red flagemerged when, a few days after hisannouncement, the governor issuedallows for a public airing and debateabout proposed statutory provisions.Furthermore, interactions amongstakeholders during hearings provideclues into what is going on behind thescenes from highlighting what really isat stake to showcasing the inevitablejockeying for power.The importance of such open andpublic decision-making hit homefor me well before the biofuels beatgrew in importance and complexity.When I covered California’s 2000-01energy crisis—a time when informationblackouts were far more prevalentthan power outages—then GovernorGray Davis and his top staff secretlynegotiated at breakneck speed $42governor pledged that rules wouldbe developed to ensure carbon-lightbiofuels would slash 13 million metrictons of carbon emissions in 13 years.By using crops and other plants tofuel transportation, Schwarzeneggerintimated that Californians would notneed to alter their energy-consumptivelifestyles.Red flag number three then surfaced.Although oft repeated, the devil is inthe details, yet few specifics abouthow any of this would work emergedat or after the governor’s announcement.Given the complexity and highstakes of this proposed developmentof a statewide alternative fuels policy,there was sure to be a lot of powerbrokering going on behind the scenes.To keep an eye on all of this, the presswatchdog was needed.Questions to Be AskedA woman in Indonesia harvests palm to be used as a biofuel. Photo by Tom Picken/Friendsof the Earth.an executive order—effective immediately—mandatingthat Californiaregulators create the low carbon liquidfuel standard blueprint.An executive order isn’t vetted asan actual bill would be over a courseof weeks and months. While the legislativeprocess is slower and morechallenging, it is also more open—fortaxpayers and the press. I’ve watchednumerous bills get tangled in tit-fortatlegislative politics and, in the end,be tabled. But the deliberative processbillion worth of energy contracts.Many of these deals were overpricedand mismatched to the state’s energydemand, and they significantly alteredthe energy landscape. It took utilitycustomers years to pay off the tab(and cost Davis his job). This debaclehighlighted the critical role the presshas to play in monitoring this kind ofclose-to-the-vest dealmaking and theabsolute necessity of public access tosuch information.Fast-forward to 2007, when thisAs our staff reported this story forCalifornia Energy Circuit, a subscription-basedand ad-free independentjournal read by those with a stake inenergy issues in the West, we sat inon obscure meetings. We read densereports. We asked questions—lots ofthem—of scientists and other energyexperts. We also spent time figuringout how the terms of the debate werebeing defined—and by whom. We didthis because defining terms matters alot in this new energy arena. How aparticular word is defined and usedaffects decision-making and its implementation.As development of regulationsbegan, a lot of assumptions were onthe table. Primary among them wasthat fuels made from corn, sugar cane,soybeans and other plants would helpto slow climate change. Initial testsshowed that corn-based ethanol fuelproduces fewer carbon emissions thangasoline. However, the formula failedto take into account what happenswhen fields to grow corn expand intorainforests, wetlands and other sensitivelands. Add in those factors, andoverall carbon emissions are higher.On the global front, the expansionof crops to create biofuels to feedcars instead of people—supported by68 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustthe European Union and the Bushadministration—already had causedprices of essential staples to soar. Peoplein struggling nations rioted in protestas the price of essential food stocksrose. That situation also had servedto shift the focus of policymakers andregulators from crop-based biofuels towaste feedstocks, such as biomass.Following the MoneyMarket forces also need to be broughtinto reporting about biofuels. For us,this meant keeping a watchful eye onthose in California seeking a pieceof the multibillion-dollar alternativefuels market. By what means wereindividuals and companies gaining afoothold? Were backroom deals part ofthe equation? The governor professedneutrality about which potential biofuelswould likely qualify under the lowcarbon fuels standard in California,while ethanol blends were ranked firstand second on a list of top 10. Andstanding on stage when the governormade his low carbon fuels standardannouncement in January 2007 wasBill Jones, a former secretary ofstate and Republican lawmaker whohad launched an ethanol productioncompany in California called PacificEthanol. Jones had also been at thegovernor’s side for his 2006 announcementof the Bioenergy Action Plan.Certainly, the press handling thisstory in California has had an importantinvestigative role to play in finding outto what degree taxpayers get stuckwith any of the tab for private sectorinvestments. No doubt this situationwill confront journalists in other statesas similar measures emerge.Digging into the financial interestsof the entity or person promoting anexisting or emerging energy source isessential. As things turn out, discoveringthe details of such transactions canbe hard. But sticking with the hunt isBy what means wereindividuals and companiesgaining a foothold? Werebackroom deals part ofthe equation?part of the fun. A few months afterthe governor’s biofuels’ announcement,British Petroleum (BP) announced a$500 million deal with University ofCalifornia, Berkeley and two otherpartners to create a bioenergy laboratory.BP’s proposal to own a part of apublic university, as well as the largesize of the agreement and its hiddenterms, generated significant publiccontroversy.I devoted weeks of reporting intrying to get hold of the agreement.I didn’t succeed and only could readthe terms of the deal once they werereleased and after the contract wasa done deal. When I finally read theagreement, it revealed that BP wouldbe permitted access to the work of theuniversity researchers. However, accessto the oil company’s work would berestricted.I’ve covered the energy beat fornearly two decades and rarely have Iseen this kind of skewed arrangementbetween public and private entities.Certainly, the practice of suppressingtechnology or scientific informationis not without precedent. Think“Who Killed the Electric Car?.” Whatwas worrisome and different, in thiscase, was not having the opportunityfor prior oversight by legislators—orjournalists—of such a major agreement,given its enormous implications forfuture energy policy.Navigating through this emergingbiofuels debate is challenging andfascinating. Trying to untangle itsintersecting issues reveals the manycomplicated interconnections betweenthem and the global forces involved. AsFranklin D. Roosevelt once observed,“The throwing out of balance of theresources of nature throws out of balancethe lives of men.”It’s now more than two years later,and the biofuels revolution that GovernorSchwarzenegger unleashed inCalifornia is still underway. In workingto create a low carbon transportationfuels standard, the CaliforniaAir Resources Board encountered amorass of unintended and overlookedconsequences highlighted by a flood ofstudies and reports warning of biofuels’environmental downsides. Yet in April2009 the board adopted a standard. 1Mary Nichols, the board’s chairperson,observed that, “We are attempting toset in motion something that will takeseveral years to implement.”However, the answer to the key questionof which plant-based fuels havelighter carbon footprints than gasolineremains unclear. At the same time,the urgency of calls for curbing globalwarming are escalating worldwide andthe energy market—especially investmentsin alternative energy sources(biofuels, wind, solar)—has tumbledlike the rest of the economy.What this episode from the frontlinesin the energy wars teaches usis why reporters need to understandthe complexity of these issues and bewilling to ask tough questions untilanswers are given. And it means monitoringthose who are gaining powerand poised to profit in the transitionto new sources of energy. Elizabeth McCarthy is the coeditorand co-publisher of California EnergyCircuit, an independent publicationthat reports on government policy andenergy and climate change issues.1The board’s regulation requires providers, refiners, importers and blenders to ensurethat the fuels for the California market meet an average declining standard of “carbonintensity.” This is established by determining the sum of greenhouse gas emissionsassociated with the production, transportation and consumption of a fuel, also referredto as the fuel pathway. Economic mechanisms will allow the market to choose the mostcost-effective clean fuels, meaning those with the lowest carbon intensity.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 69


21st Century MuckrakersGoing to Where the Fish Are DisappearingInvestigative reporters in Sweden set out to tell the story of why and how illegalfishing of cod was happening—and what it meant to consumers and businessesin their country.BY SVEN BERGMAN, JOACHIM DYFVERMARK, AND FREDRIK LAURIN“Jupiter, Jupiter, Jupiter … This isNorwegian Coast Guard vessel KVHarstad on Channel 16. We requestto come on board for an inspection.Prepare a pilot ladder on the starboardside and reduce speed to 3 knots.”The freezing northern winds blowwith winter harshness causingthe seas to roll and crash withferocity. As reporters with SwedishNational TV4, we are on board theKV Harstad, the Norwegian CoastGuard’s ultra modern vessel—a partof our journey to investigate the risein illegal fish poaching in the BarentsSea. It’s been two days since we leftthe vessel’s base in north NorwegianSortland, and we are now in the westernpart of the Coast Guard’s workingarea. The search areas are vast—theBarents Sea covers an area as largeas Western Europe—and the vessel’scourse is directed from ashore wherean operation center compiles relevantdata about the location of suspectedfish poachers.Our ship’s mission is to locate andinspect Russian ships that are catching,transferring and transporting fish(mainly cod) from fishing zones in thenorth to harbors along the Europeanwest coast. For us, this trip is part ofour investigative effort to illuminatethe illegal fishing practices that aredamaging the fishing waters off ourcountry’s shore.For us, this trip is part of our investigativeeffort to illuminate the illegalfishing practices that are threateningthe last stable stocks of cod on earth.Stocks of cod in Newfoundland, theBaltic, and the North Sea have allcollapsed or diminished. There is oneplace where the stocks seem healthy—in the Barents Sea between Norway,Russia and Spitsbergen, an island inthe Arctic Ocean. The current scientificadvice says that a maximum of400,000 tons of cod can be fishedper year from the Barents Sea withoutthreatening the regeneration of thestock. But according to our sources,more than 500,000 tons is landedeach year, and this means that massiveoverfishing is happening.The commander of KV Harstadpoints his searchlight towards thetowering silhouette—a Russian flaggedrefrigeration ship called Jupiter, whichis suspected of connections to theillegal “black” fishing. With the aidof an RIB (rigid inflatable boat), theNorwegian inspectors and we willboard the vessel to inspect the cargoand check the catch logs.The atmosphere is extremely tense.Only a few weeks earlier, two Norwegianfishery inspectors were kidnappedby the crew of the Russian trawlerElektron. The Norwegian Coast Guard’sdramatic pursuit was followed on TVscreens the world over. A diplomaticcrisis ensued and finally ended with therelease of the two inspectors once theElektron reached a Russian port.“Prepare pilot ladder on starboardside!”The Norwegian commander’s orderis heard over our radio on the RIB asA helicopter hovers over the Russian trawler Electron that at that time had two fish inspectorsonboard who had been kidnapped. This is a screenshot from “The Illegal Cod,” broadcaston Swedish National TV4.70 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustwe approach Jupiter. The wavesare several meters high. In thedeep troughs of the waves wecan barely see the hull of theRussian refrigeration ship. Anold, worn rope ladder is thrownover the rail. To have any chanceof boarding the ship, we haveto stand in the very bow of theRIB, wait for the next wave crest,and then jump to the ladder.Our hearts beat fast and hardunder the thick survival suit.There is great risk in a jumptimed wrong: the propellerwhirls, darkness descends, andthe biting cold surrounds us inthe wind and the water.“Wait … wait … now. Jump,”a crew member yells, as each ofus prepares to leap.Documenting a Story:Illegal Cod FishingThe crew is shown relabeling packaging of fish aboard the freezer ship Turicia.Our interest in fish, and particularlyin codfish, started several years earlier.After tips from maritime researchersin Sweden, we decided to investigatethe occurrence of fish poaching—morespecifically illegal fishing outside thefixed fishing quotas in the Baltic Sea.Back then, in 2002, no one wanted tospeak about this problem—not professionalfishermen, not the SwedishCoast Guard, and not the retailersthat sold the cod.Our only way into this closed fishingindustry was to form a phony tradingcompany and begin trading withBaltic Cod. In this way we managedto uncover the drastic extent of illegalfishing. Most of the big food chains inSweden, we learned, were involved inone way or another. The manager ofone of the biggest filleting plants thatmade cod products under subcontractfor Swedish Coop (the second biggestfood chain in Sweden) admitted (infront of a hidden camera) that up to50 percent of the cod they boughtwas “black.”The reaction to our televised storywas overwhelming. Large parts of theSwedish retail businesses began toboycott frozen cod from the Baltic andannounced that they would purchasetheir fish from Norway and BarentsSea instead. But within a couple ofyears, the sale of cod in Sweden hadpicked up again—with promises thatthe industry had learned its lesson. Orso the retailers claimed. “The frozencod you can buy in Sweden comesfrom Barents Sea, and it is fished inaccordance with scientists’ recommendationsand guidelines. You canbe absolutely sure it isn’t poached,”declared Yngve Björkman, chairmanof the Federation of Swedish FishIndustries and Trade.Such guarantees aside, we startedto follow coverage of poaching in theBarents Sea that was appearing in theNorwegian news media. This was thelast outpost of the cod fishing industry.This coverage showed that theNorwegian Coast Guard, unlike theSwedish one, was strongly committedto trying to chart the fish poaching,as was the Norwegian Directorate ofFisheries. During the past four years,these two authorities had charted howmany fish had been caught, and theirresults were frightening.In Barents Sea, an extra 100,000tons of fish had been caught on topof the allowed quota every year. Theinitial value of poaching at sea wascalculated at more than one billionSwedish crowns (more than $123million dollars), and the final valueonce the fish was sold to consumerswas much higher. “These are not poorfishermen, this is big business, andthere is much money in circulation.It’s organized crime,” said Stig Flått, afishery officer in the Norwegian CoastGuard. Most of the fish poaching wasbeing done by Russian fishermen, butthe fish didn’t end up in Murmanskor Moscow. Often, these Russianindustrial trawlers turned out to beentirely or partly controlled by Westerninterests.Our key question was an obviousone: If the majority of all frozen codproducts being sold in Swedish shopscome from the Barents Sea, are thesepoached cod? We know that 20 percentof the catch is illegal. But how couldwe tell a poached cod from one thatwas legally caught? We couldn’t seethe difference, nor taste it, and theprice was the same by the time thefish reached the counter. And we knewthat asking the producers, wholesalersand retailers was futile. “We absolutelydo not buy ‘black’ fish! Not what we… Absolutely not!” responded IngerLarsson, quality manager at Findus,Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 71


21st Century Muckrakersone of the Swedish market’s biggestfood producers, when we asked.To do this story, we decided to chartthe flow of all frozen cod productsbeing sold in Swedish shops and torestaurants and schools. With the helpof markings on packages, questionsto fish companies, searches in publicregisters, consignment notes and contactswith authorities in more than10 countries, for several months weattempted to trace the origins of codproducts. Only we did this by movingbackwards—from store counters tofishing vessels.At first, we visited many shops and,with the help of camera and notebook,we started to register all of the codproducts we could find with notesabout their origin and processingplants. Soon we had a list of severalhundred products containing cod fromthe Barents Sea. Our next step was todetermine the retailer of each productand from where the product hadbeen bought and where it had beenprocessed. What plant and when?Which agent had sold the cod to thatplant? Where did the agent buy thefish? And which boat had caught thecod and when?Here is what our charting helpedus reveal:cold seas onto the Russian freezer ship.Fortunately, the rope ladder held and,pumped full of adrenalin, we were atlast on board, and the Jupiter’s captainwas offering us vodka and cigarettes inhis dirty cabin. He made it clear thathe regarded the Norwegian inspectionas completely unnecessary. Everythingis in order, he assured the Norwegianfishing inspectors, who politely butfirmly told him that they wanted tosee all documents. Not only the onesthat concerned this cargo but earlierTransports to foreign ports are notillegal; there is nothing that compelsthe Russian trawlers to leave their fishin Russian or even Norwegian ports.Of course the question remains: Whatmotivates this extra sea voyage lastingmore than a week?We knew the answer—and we knewwe wouldn’t hear it today. In Russia andNorway, the fishing vessels risk beinginspected by officials who check theboats’ quotas, thereby distinguishingbetween legally and illegally caught• A large proportion of the frozen codthat was fished in the Barents Seawas then sold in Sweden.• Much of these fish products, however,had made a long detour viaChina—more precisely throughQingdao Province. There the fishwere thawed, filleted by cheap labor,packaged and then frozen again,before being transported back toEurope and the Swedish freezercounters.In time, we were able to compile along list of the trawlers who deliveredcod to the Swedish market. Our nextstep was to investigate whether theseboats poached fish.At Sea—To Tell the StoryNow, here we were, again preparingto leap from our RIB in these choppyOn the ground is a victim of a shootout in the violence that erupts as part of this illegalfishing market. Murmansk, Russia. This is a screenshot from “The Illegal Cod,” broadcast onSwedish National TV4.ones, too.“Do you know where the last cargoof cod landed?” the Norwegian fishinginspectors asked.“Previous captain … He signed off… He took with him … all reports,”the captain answered.In the Barents Sea, we knew thatthe Russian factory trawlers mostlytransfer the cod to refrigeration ships,like the Jupiter, which go to ports suchas Grimsby, in England; Hirtshals, inDenmark; Bremerhaven, in Germany;Aveiro, in Portugal, or Eemshaven, inHolland. There, the catch is unloaded.cod. In other European ports, the codis treated like any other merchandise.The catch is off-loaded and passedon without any knowledge aboutfishing vessels’ quotas. It is thereforeevidently worth the trouble to reloadone or even two times at sea to havethe catch transported to “safe” harborsin bigger refrigeration ships.When the Jupiter inspection endsan hour later, we head back the sameterrible way we came up. As weclumsily disappear across the rail, thecaptain eyes us as he stands smuglyon the bridge.72 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and TrustTo Russia—To Find the BoatsIn December 2005, we traveled toMurmansk, Russia, the base for BarentsSea fishing. It’s bitter cold andour photographer is suffering fromfood poisoning. We are here withDima Litvinov, who has worked inthe region for Greenpeace for a longtime and has contacts and entriesinto the Russian fishing industry apparatus.Our intention is to find outif the trawlers on our list have beenpoaching fish.We’d compiled our list of fishingand transport vessels by chartingsatellite identities of their locationsand call signals. We’d used bills oflanding, inspection protocols, catchlandingprotocols, and a commercialnet service that accounts for reportedcatches. By doing this, we’d managedto chart how much cod the big factorytrawlers have caught and delivered. Butfor us to prove that they have poached,we must know the size of the quotaeach trawler was given and what catchthey’d reported to the authorities herein Murmansk.In this quest resides our problem:The information is classified.Yet plenty is at stake in finding theanswer. Each year at least two peopleare murdered in Murmansk as a resultof the fight for revenues from illegalfishing in the Barents Sea. With thisdanger in mind, it is understandablewhy few people are willing to speakwith us. But after a few days, ourperseverance pays off: We have abreakthrough when we are alloweda meeting with a key person in thefishery authorities. We leave the camerain the car outside but take a hiddentransmitter microphone with us.“Understand me right. I’ll help witheverything, but I don’t want publicity.My job is to ensure the state’s interestagainst fish poaching, and that isdone today. It is well organized,” hesays to us, referring to the ways inwhich quotes are routinely exceeded.“As an example, I can tell about somecompanies who had a quota of 200tons, which you can fish in a week,but they went to sea with that quotafor a whole year.”This source also gave us access tothe Russian boats’ latest quotas. Hisnew information tallied with olderdata about quotas we’d received fromofficial sources in Norway.When we got back to Stockholm,we worked on doing the math. Theessential equation was this one: howmuch cod had each trawler caught vs.what their quota was during the sameperiod. Here are a few examples:• Factory trawler Koyda: Documenteddelivery 1,204 tons of cod, accordingto Norwegian authorities. Officialquota: 479 tons, according to theRussian source. A difference of 725tons.• Factory trawler Eridan: Delivery1,121 tons. Quota 291. A differenceof 830 tons.And so it continued—boat after boat,fabrication after fabrication.Exactly how much illegally fishedcod is sold in Sweden can’t be establishedwith certainty. But one thingis absolutely clear: The nation’s bigfood suppliers’ guarantee proved tobe worthless.Our investigation—and the two-partreport, “The Illegal Cod,” broadcast inJanuary 2006 on Swedish TV4’s program“Kalla Fakta” (Cold Facts)—hadsome major results:• Several companies who traded withpoaching trawlers (Findus, for example)immediately ceased doingbusiness with them.• Several Swedish food chains, afterinternal investigations, changedtheir suppliers of cod or changedtheir internal ways of controllingthe delivery of fish.• The Swedish and Norwegian fisheryministers joined forces and broughtthe matter to the EU Commissionfor immediate attention, and finallythe EU, after years of handwringing,managed to enforce its ruleson control of ports, and the illegallandings in mainland Europe cameto a halt.• By September 2006, promises hadbeen made by a number of key countriesto report on the deliveries of codtaking place in their ports.• The Danish police’s economic crimeunit began a preliminary investigationagainst one of the big wholesalersin Denmark.• Environment organizations likeWorld Wildlife Federation andGreenpeace took actions against thecompanies and authorities involved.Two years later, the Norwegian fisheriesauthorities reported that dueto the decrease in illegal fishing, theincreased value of legally landed fishwas some $300 million.In the winter of 2006 on the BarentsSea, an object was picked up bythe searchlight. It was a ship, andsoon the Norwegian Coast Guard wasrequesting it to lower speed so it couldbe inspected.“Inna Gusenkova!,” called the commanderof KV Harstad.Just like the last time. Our RIB tripto the Russian ship was just as darkand bouncy, and our jump to the pilotladder just as terrifying.“Do you know who the buyer is?”the inspector asked, after he’d lookedthrough the documents on board.“Agent take the fish … I have noproblem … agent give me papers …I don’t need to know more information…” the captain answered, thencontinued. “I do my work and nomore. If you know less, you will livelonger.” Sven Bergman, Joachim Dyfvermark,and Fredrik Laurin have worked asfreelance investigative reporters formore than a decade and as a reporting/producingteam since 2000. “TheIllegal Cod” was broadcast on SwedishNational TV4 in September 2008, andit won The International Consortiumof International Journalists’ DanielPearl Award for the best investigationby an international medium. For theirreporting of the 2004 story, “ExtraordinaryRendition,” which revealedthe top-secret deportation from Swedenof two Egyptian men by maskedAmerican agents, they received manyawards, including the Stora Journalistpriset,the Swedish equivalent of thePulitzer Prize.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 73


21st Century MuckrakersWatchdogging Public Corruption: A NewspaperUnearths Patterns of Costly Abuse‘These are tumultuous and frightening times for newspapers, but this kind ofreporting is what we do best.’BY SANDRA PEDDIEWhen a private attorney askedthe school board of a smalldistrict on Long Island, NewYork, to put him on the payroll so hecould get a pension and benefits, boardmembers approved it without givingit a second thought. He assured themit was perfectly legal and that otherpeople were doing it. “It wasn’t a bigdeal,” recalled former board memberLorraine Deller.Little did these school boardmembers realize that in making thatseemingly innocuous decision in 1978,they set the stage for a scandal thatwould explode 30 years later on thefront page of Long Island’s majornewspaper, Newsday. In fact, thediscovery of what had become a routinepractice that bilked taxpayers ofmillions of dollars set off a cascade ofinvestigative stories, federal and stateinquiries, landmark pension reform inthe legislature, and the return of morethan $3.4 million to state coffers, alongwith tens of millions more in savingsto taxpayers once these illegal pensionswere stopped.The unearthing of these hiddendeals—and the financial consequencesthey held for taxpayers—was a storyvery well suited to a newspaper. Withina year from when our reporting began,Newsday had published nearly 100stories, columns and editorials aboutaspects of what, by then, had become alarge and costly network of stakeholdersprofiting from this arrangement.The kind of sustained commitmentNewsday made to telling this storyis rarely found in broadcast mediaor on the Web, and unfortunately it’sbecoming scarcer, too, at many newspapersas resources for investigativecoverage shrink.As this story built, outraged readersbecame engaged by contributing to it;their tips helped to drive the narrative.As momentum built, news of whatwe’d uncovered spread throughout thestate of New York and to other partsof the country. It was an exciting andexhausting ride and a reminder toNewsday’s story on Lawrence Reich.those of us involved that newspapersoccupy a singular niche in Americanjournalism.Uncovering PublicCorruptionThe trailhead of our reporting effortwas marked—as many great investigativestories are—by a tip. A reader wasangered by stories I’d written aboutspending abuses in special districts,the tiny units of local governance thathandle services like water hookups andgarbage pickups in specific areas. Suchdistricts can be found throughout thecountry, but they are often overlookedby reporters because they are so small.Though small, the magnitude of theabuse was great. That is precisely whythey made such a good subject forinvestigation. Such special districtscost taxpayers nearly $500 million ayear on Long Island alone.Figuring all of this out, however,was not easy. Investigative reportingnever is. It took months, for example,to get district payrolls, because no onehad ever asked for them before. Oncein hand, they showed wildly inflatedsalaries and benefits for jobs often heldby a tight circle of political insiders. Inone district, a meter reader was beingpaid $93,000. In another, two ditchdiggersmade more than $100,000a year. On top of those salaries weregold-plated health benefits, the kindrarely provided to workers in theprivate sector.The reader who’d called with thetip said a private attorney, who waspaid as a consultant, was placed ona school district payroll so that hecould secure a guaranteed pension andhealth benefits. Public records showedthe tip was right but even worse thanhe thought. Through my Freedom ofInformation Act requests for recordsfrom the state, county and school districtsthat employed him, I obtaineda wide range of information—fromthe attorney’s pension history to histime sheets. These documents filled anentire file drawer. Getting the recordsfrom school board officials, who wereloath to release them, took time andrequired frequent follow-up phone calls74 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustand, in some cases, formal appealswhen requests were denied.Within weeks of gaining all of theserecords, the full story emerged. Fiveschool districts—at the same time—had falsely reported that the attorney,Lawrence Reich, was a full-timeemployee, while also paying his lawfirm $2.5 million in legal fees. As aresult, Reich retired with a pensionof nearly $62,000 and free healthbenefits for life. Then he returned towork for the districts as a consultant.The abuse was so flagrant that he wascredited with working 1,286 days ina single year, according to records.What upset our readers the mostwas that state auditors knew aboutthe arrangement—which is barred bythe Internal Revenue Service—yet didnothing to stop it.Reich agreed to be interviewed anddefended the arrangement as commonpractice, but he did not agree to bephotographed. So we assigned one ofour photographers to watch his homeand office; eventually we got a shot ofhim in his office parking lot. He wasn’taware that he had been photographeduntil his picture ran on the cover ofNewsday with the headline, “Who arethey kidding?”Readers Respond,Legislators, TooNewsday’s front-page story set off afirestorm. Readers were furious. TheFBI and IRS subpoenaed the schooldistricts’ records the next day, andNew York Attorney General AndrewCuomo launched a parallel investigationdays later.My colleague, Eden Laikin, thenjoined me. Often we worked eveningsand on weekends. Our challenge wasto break new ground with each investigativepiece as we kept up withfast-breaking news developments.The story built its own momentum,which helped ratchet up pressure onofficials, who were feeling the heatfrom constituents.Shortly after Eden began workingwith me, many of our newsroom colleagues,including a longtime editorwho had helped shepherd the Reichstory into print, left. Economic pressureshad forced Newsday to makepainful cuts in staff and news hole.Fortunately for us, however, Newsdayremained committed to the story.Within weeks, it became clearthat Reich’s arrangement was not anisolated one. Records showed that 23school districts—or nearly one-fifth ofthose on Long Island—had improperlyreported their attorneys as employees,entitling them to good-sized benefitpackages. This prompted New YorkOne of Newsday’s “double dippers.”Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli tolaunch a review of every attorney ona public payroll statewide. Meanwhile,Cuomo’s investigators were expandingtheir probe statewide—netting, amongothers, the brother and sister-in-lawof a top state judge.All of this investigative action bypublic officials meant that we had tomove fast simply to not be beaten onwhat had been our story. The pacewas daunting. We requested morerecords, including vendor records andpayments to all professionals employedby 124 school districts and 96 villages,meeting minutes, Civil Service records,and pension databases from the state’stwo largest retirement systems, amongothers. We built our own databases,as well.After prodding from readers, wealso decided to write about a differentkind of pension abuse, one thatstunned the public with its scope andcost. At least 40 Long Island schooladministrators were “double dippers,”meaning they had retired and thenreturned to work as so-called interimemployees. Pension and payroll recordsshowed that they were paid six-figurepaychecks on top of equally lucrativepensions, collectively reaping at least$11 million a year.We found one superintendent collectinga pension of $316,245 andreturning to work as a superintendentfor an additional $200,000. Anothersuperintendent, convicted of stealingmore than $2.2 million from his schooldistrict, was collecting a pension of$173,495 in prison. In several cases,administrators literally retired one dayand returned the next day to the samejob. These double dippers had turneda system meant to provide security inretirement to one that minted millionairesonce they turned 55.Our stories hit a nerve. Newspapersthroughout the state, as wellas national law journals, picked upon our reporting. In New York, likeeverywhere else these days, there is agrowing divide between the public andprivate sectors, as public-sector salarieshave risen and private-sector benefitsare disappearing. On Long Island, theaverage public-sector worker makes$10,000 a year more than the averageprivate-sector worker and gets aguaranteed pension and health benefitson top of that. Taxpayer resentmentruns deep.Readers deluged state legislatorswith letters and e-mails, and a rarepublic hearing on the issue resulted.Although the New York legislaturehas been branded as “dysfunctional”by some, the clamor was too much toignore. In June 2008, the legislatureunanimously passed sweeping pensionreforms. The state’s comptroller andthe education department revampedtheir rules and beefed up enforcement.A few months later, state officials andlegislators proposed an additionalreform measure to address abuses inNieman Reports | Summer 2009 75


21st Century Muckrakersspecial districts. By year’s end, NewYork’s attorney general and comptrollerhad reached settlements involvingmore than 75 lawyers and other professionalsand recovered more than$3.4 million. In addition, the statehas saved tens of millions more inpensions no longer being paid.For those of us who reported thesestories, the most gratifying part wasour newspaper’s willingness to stickwith the story in spite of enormouseconomic challenges—Newsday wassold last year by the Tribune Company,which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcyprotection—and pressures frompeople we were writing about. These aretumultuous and frightening times fornewspapers, but this kind of reportingis what we do best. And, more thanever, it’s the kind of reporting that wemust continue to do. Sandra Peddie is an investigative reporterat Newsday, a daily newspaperon Long Island, New York. She and hercolleague, Eden Laikin, won the 2009Selden Ring Award for InvestigativeReporting for their stories on specialdistrict and pension abuses.Filling a Local Void: J-School Students TackleWatchdog Reporting‘Those of us who have been investigative reporters have a responsibility toensure that local watchdogging remains robust in our industry.’BY MAGGIE MULVIHILL AND JOE BERGANTINOWhile investigative journalismremains a staple of manynational news organizations,it’s been eviscerated closer to our homein New England. The Boston Globe,our region’s largest metro, is clingingto life. Local TV stations are shrinkingtheir investigative units or turningthem into ratings-grabbing “shockunits” with stories about health scaresor sex offenders that aim to frightenviewers into watching. And radio, withthe exception of our NPR affiliates,seems only to tug at the extremes ofpolitical debate, backed up by little,if any, reporting.This demise means New Englandersaren’t receiving vital links in this informationalchain. What occurs behindthe scenes—the stuff unspoken in apress release or press conference—isn’tmade visible, such as what’s behind alegislator’s vote or why a business getsfavorable treatment or how local banksare handling debt and mortgage situations.Such bottom-line local storiesrequire focused and dedicated time forreporting and money to support whatcan be slow, plodding work. Thoseresources are in short supply.This is where our efforts at theNew England Center for InvestigativeReporting at Boston University(NECIR-BU) will fill this void.Launched in January, NECIR-BU isthe first university-based nonprofitinvestigative reporting collaborativewith an exclusive focus on coverageof local and regional issues. Ourfunding comes from the John S. andJames L. Knight Foundation and theuniversity’s College of Communication,as well as from some civic-mindedcitizens and our media partners. Thecenter has established partnershipswith several of the region’s leadingnews organizations. 1 It is also part ofa national effort spearheaded by theCenter for Public Integrity to createa network of regional investigativereporting centers.Our university-based model is asensible response to the industry’s grapplingwith how to keep investigativereporting alive during its transitionto digital media in tough economictimes. Already, the model we’ve builthere is being replicated in WashingtonState and Colorado. There are manybenefits in housing such an enterpriseat a university, including these thatrelate directly to our situation:• Having available the support andexpertise of faculty—not just journalismprofessors but on-campusexperts who teach across a rangeof disciplines related to topics thestudent journalists will cover.• Access to a vast research library.• Journalism alumni, many of themleaders in the industry, who supportthis effort.• Experienced fundraising staff, as wellas public relations and event plan-1Principal media partners are The Boston Globe, boston.com, WBUR radio, the NPRaffiliate in Boston, and New England Cable News. The center also works closely withethnic media groups, including New England Ethnic Newswire, to tap into the oftenignoredstories developing in ethnic communities across the region. Other local newsorganizations have expressed interest in becoming partners.76 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Public Health, Safety and Trustning professionals to do the kind ofoutreach we’ll need.• A student-run, on-campus radiostation.• High-quality multimedia equipmentthat enables stories to be told in ablend of audio, video, print, photography,blogging and with the use ofinteractive data.With the support of faculty and thecollege’s dean, Tom Fiedler, the formerexecutive editor of The Miami Herald,we will direct journalism students intheir investigations of issues with localsignificance. 2 What they find out will beproduced so that it can be distributedon multimedia platforms.Our center’s mission is clear: providelocal and regional public accountabilityand train the “farm team” of investigativereporters. Few experiences exciteor better prepare the next generationof journalists than to see semesterlongreporting efforts be publishedor broadcast by the widely read andlistened to news organizations in NewEngland. We also offer two internshipsfor students from Boston’s high schools;they shadow our reporters and productionwork and assist with research. Inthis way, we bring students—as soonin their educational life as possible—into the process of serious investigativereporting.Of course, once students finish theirinvestigations, we want to secure thebest way to generate maximum impactfor what they’ve found. Our partnershelp make this happen by providingregional distribution. This collaborativearrangement then takes us in otherdirections: In exchange for content wesupply, our partners contribute eitherfunding or in-kind contributions, suchas equipment, staff time, assistancewith audio recording and videography,and editing facilities in support of ourwork. In turn, we help train some of theyounger reporters in their newsroomsin investigative techniques, computerassistedreporting, and access to publicrecords. We also provide tips for dailystories that wepick up as wework sources anddo research forour investigativeprojects.By mid-June,NECIR-BU willhave broadcastthe first set ofour investigativestories. Itsfocus is on theeconomy; threeother investigativeprojectsare underway.For much of thespring semester,we’ve been educatingour “reportertrainees”in techniques, such as recognizing whatare the essential elements of a journalist’sinvestigation, teaching them howto mine public records, learning howto do database analysis and conductartful interviews, including those thatturn confrontational.This year the Pulitzer Prize forInvestigative Reporting went to TheNew York Times. It was a worthyproject about what happens whenmajor broadcast news organizationsrely on retired military officers whoare also consultants to military-relatedcompanies without alerting viewersto potential conflicts of interest. Itexplored the conflicts that exist whenthey explain the Iraq War to viewerswithout disclosing their financialinterests. But for those families whostruggle to pay the mortgage and stayahead of the unemployment curve,what is happening in Washington,D.C., New York, and overseas wars canseem very far away. New Englanderswant and need to know about issuesand events directly impacting theirlives, those involving their schools,hospitals, doctors, police, housing,roads and bridges (are they about tocollapse?), energy and the environment,to name a few.Our goal is to preserve this kind ofreporting. Those of us who are investigativereporters have a responsibility toensure that local watchdogging remainsrobust in our industry. We’re encouragedby the efforts of new local newsentities such as Wisconsinwatch.org,Texas Watchdog, and the InvestigativeVoice in Baltimore, as well as betterknown entrepreneurial Web operationssuch as MinnPost, the Beaconin St. Louis, and voiceofsandiego.org,an award-winner for its investigativereporting about San Diego’s downtowndevelopment. It’s likely that newsorganizations like these will be theemployers of students at our centertoday. Our job is to see that theyare ready to do the watchdog workso critical to journalism—and to ourdemocracy. Maggie Mulvihill, 2005 Nieman Fellow,is cofounder and associate directorof the New England Center for InvestigativeReporting. Joe Bergantino,an award-winning broadcast journalist,is the cofounder and director of theNew England Center for InvestigativeReporting.2Students are taught by two former Boston Globe investigative reporters, Dick Lehr andMitchell Zuckoff.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 77


WORDS & REFLECTIONSObjectivity: It’s Time to Say Goodbye‘As a standard to separate news from nonsense and a guide to ethicalreporting, objectivity is about as reliable as judging character by thefirmness of a handshake.’BY JOHN H. MCMANUSAmerican journalism haslong embraced an impossiblestandard—objectivity.Beyond being unachievable,it’s undesirable because it rejectsbiases that are necessary if newsis to be useful in a democracy—biases for the common good,for brevity, for making what’simportant interesting. Objectivityhas also hobbled journalism,substituting accuracy—oftenthe transcription of officialquotes—for the more difficultgoal of truth. If that weren’tenough, neither journalists northe public can agree on what itmeans. The resulting confusionsows mistrust.When journalists are losingtheir jobs by the thousands andmajor newspapers are closing,it may seem that a discussionof objectivity has the urgencyof deck chair arrangements onthe Titanic. But when better torethink the core principle of soessential a democratic institutionas journalism than duringa technological revolution that isushering in new providers to fillthe vacuum left by the departingprofessionals? Our new “journalists”range from concerned citizens,covert advertisers and pressagents, Jon Stewart and MattDrudge, to swarms of Flickringshutterbugs, Twittering texters,and YouTube vloggers.As a standard to separatenews from nonsense and a guideto ethical reporting, objectivityis about as reliable as judgingcharacter by the firmness of ahandshake. So I propose we junkobjectivity in favor of a moreaccurate, honest and demandingstandard—empiricism—thescientific method of inquirybased on careful observationfrom multiple perspectives andlogic that Walter Lippmannproposed for journalism nearlya century ago.Empiricism’s BenefitsAlthough the best news organizationsare already movingin this direction, replacing objectivitywith empiricism wouldrepresent a paradigm shift, notjust a change of terminology. Itwould re-pour the foundationof reporting and redefine therelationship between news providers(whoever they might be)and the newly empowered groupformerly known as the audience.Here’s why:• Empiricism doesn’t pretendthat news reflects reality. It recognizesthat news represents asmall part of it with carefullyselected words, sounds andimages. It’s a partial versionof what’s real.• Rather than assuming thatnews organizations and journalistsrender the world as itis—without any biases of theirown—empiricism acknowledgesbias as inescapable andattempts to limit partisanshipthrough diversity, both of staffand quoted sources. The social“fault lines” that the late RobertC. Maynard identified—race,class, gender, geography andgeneration—are taken seriously.So is the inherent conflictbetween public service and thenews provider’s self-interestin inexpensively attractingan audience and servicing itssponsors.• As with science or law, empiricaljournalism is a selfreflectivemethod of seekingtruth. But because journalistsdo not enjoy extended periodsof observation, laboratoriesor subpoena power, theirreports are even more provisionaland subject to revision.Admitting this uncertainty,empirical journalism requirestransparency—a willingnessto disclose how its version ofwhat happened was gathered.Likewise, it must invite othercredible versions. Objectivityis a lecture. Empiricism is aconversation.Objectivity’s FaultsMy indictment of objectivity restson four counts, none original.The most fundamental isthat humans can’t achieve it. Bydefinition an objective view ofsomething would be unaffectedby the viewer. It would recordthe occurrences in a locality likea giant video camera—a magiccamera that shows everythinggoing on above and below the78 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Essaynarrow spectrum of radiant energyvisible to human eyes. In a truly objectiveaccount of a day’s events, thestory of each grass blade’s growth—orits being cut down in the prime of lifeby a lawn mower—would beas important as the launch ofa war. To elevate one over theother is to apply a value system.It is not objective, not valuefree. Objective reporting woulddescribe everything in the enhancedviewfinder of the giantcamera. No one would want toconsume truly objective news.Way too much trouble!This undesirability leads tomy second count: Objectivitytosses out three useful biasesalong with all the destructiveones.1. We want journalists to siftthrough the innumerableoccurrences of the day and selectthose with the greatest impact on us.They should be guided by a bias forthe common good of the communityserved, a pro-public slant.2. People are busy. We want news tobe brief, even though that requiresa set of value judgments about whatmatters most.3. We want journalists to use all oftheir talents with cameras, graphicsand storytelling to render theconsequential compelling. If newsis to appeal to a mass audience, asit must in a democracy of any scale,journalists serve us best when theyexercise a preference, a bias, for engagingdetail and drama. We’re morelikely to read and remember storiesthat touch both heart and head.My next concern rests with howobjectivity as often practiced hasimpeded the pursuit of truth, whichthroughout history has been journalism’sprimary mission. Objectivenews providers typically act as if theirobservation from a single place andtime, or that of an official source,provides an adequate representationof reality. As NBC reporter AshleighBanfield observed during the 2003invasion of Iraq, reporters embeddedwith U.S. soldiers “certainly did showthe American side of things becausethat’s where we were shooting [video]from. You didn’t see what happenedwhen the mortar landed. There areWhen the official view is portrayed asan objective view, it gives voice mainlyto the powerful. Civilian casualties aremerely ‘collateral damage.’ In domesticreporting, the poor and minorities oftenbecome invisible, unless they break thelaw. And then their depiction contributesto a divisive stereotype.horrors that were completely left outof this war.”Such “objective” accounts requirefewer perspectives, so stories areshorter, simpler and cheaper to report.There’s also less friction withauthorities when journalists surrenderto them the power to say what’s real.When the official view is portrayed asan objective view, it gives voice mainlyto the powerful. Civilian casualties aremerely “collateral damage.” In domesticreporting, the poor and minorities oftenbecome invisible, unless they break thelaw. And then their depiction contributesto a divisive stereotype.Objectivity has encouraged passivityand invited official manipulation. Reporterswho pursue the public’s toughquestions as opposed to merely coveringwhat government and corporateleaders say or do are sometimes accusedof “having their own agenda,” “makingnews” rather than “covering” it.Objectivity, a least as some construeit, can result in journalists falling backon a “he said, she said” approach toreporting. Likewise, it can push themtowards a false balance—equal time orspace—when two or more sides do nothave equal evidence for their positions.That has commercial value: To presentone side as having the stronger claimcan spark controversy from powerfulconstituents, possibly advertisers, andalienate both sources and audience.But demagogues like Senator JosephMcCarthy and powerful industries liketobacco have taken advantageof such objectivity norms atgreat expense to society.My last objection was capturedably by Brent Cunninghamin the Columbia JournalismReview: “Ask 10 journalistswhat objectivity means, andyou’ll get 10 different answers.”And if you think journalists areconfused, consider the public.According to surveys conductedby The Pew Research Centerfor the People & the Press,Americans now see bias almosteverywhere in the news. Theconfusion erodes public trustand breeds cynicism.Empiricism would makejournalism more “multiperspectival,”to borrow a phrase from sociologistHerbert Gans, thus more effortful.As it became more independent andskeptical of powerful sources, it wouldrisk their wrath, even denial of access.Accuracy would become more necessary,but less sufficient, particularlywhen journalists asserted facts fromtheir own investigations rather thanrelying on officials. Rather than pretendingthat they cover “all the newsthat’s fit to print,” providers wouldhave to acknowledge their limitationsof staff and space or time and invitethe public as a partner in what wouldbe a more empowering and democraticform of journalism.Now is the time. As news moves tothe Web, it can more easily accommodategive and take with the communityit serves. There’s room for diverseperspectives. Updates and revisionsare easy to accomplish. And news iseasier than ever to share. John H. McManus, a former journalistand academic, founded GradeThe-News.org. His recent self-publishedbook, “Detecting Bull: How to IdentifyBias and Junk Journalism in Print,Broadcast and on the Wild Web,” isavailable at www.detectingbull.com.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 79


Words & ReflectionsWorshipping the Values of Journalism‘As I settled in on the National Desk, I gradually realized I had found the guide to mylife I had been searching for. It certainly wasn’t religion in the classical sense; it was asecular substitute for religion.’BY JOHN SCHMALZBAUERGod and the Editor: My Search forMeaning at The New York TimesRobert H. PhelpsSyracuse University Press. 284 Pages.Is journalism a religious calling?That’s the question raised inthis engaging memoir by RobertPhelps. Tracing his journeyfrom the shores of Lake Erieto the newsroom of The NewYork Times, Phelps describes acareer that was nothing shortof a spiritual quest.With the publication of “Godand the Editor,” Phelps joinsa national conversation aboutthe religious character of thejournalistic profession. In workssuch as Mark Silk’s “UnsecularMedia” and Doug Underwood’s“From Yahweh to Yahoo!,”scholars have uncovered theinfluence of religious values onAmerican journalism. I foundsomething similar in my book“People of Faith,” an explorationof the place of religious convictionin the careers of CokieRoberts, E. J. Dionne, Jr., PeterSteinfels, Kenneth Woodward,and a dozen other prominentjournalists. On more than oneoccasion, my respondents describedtheir commitment toobjectivity and fairness as anoutgrowth of their Christian beliefs.By calling The New York Times his“substitute for religion,” Phelps echoesa 2004 essay by journalism professorJay Rosen on his blog, PressThink.There Rosen argued that “journalismis itself a religion,” complete with itsown creed (written by Walter Williamsof the University of Missouri), sacredscripture (the First Amendment), andhigh priesthood (the members of thePulitzer Prize board). Following BillMoyers, Rosen identified the ColumbiaJournalism Review as the “highchurch” of journalism. He could justas well have mentioned this publication.During his decade as the editor ofNieman Reports, Phelps served on thePulitzer Jury for National Reporting,confirming his place in the hierarchyof American journalism.Though Phelps retired at the top,he began near the bottom, at the DailyCitizen in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.Before and after World War II, hecovered state politics for United Pressin their Harrisburg bureau. Part ofTom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation,”he served as a Navy correspondent inthe Pacific theater, risking his life inthe Battle of Okinawa. After abrief stint in public relations(which greatly troubled his conscience),he entered the holy ofholies of American journalism,“the block-long newsroom ofThe New York Times on 43rdStreet.”Phelps is not the first writerto describe the search for meaningat The New York Times.John Cogley’s “A CanterburyTale” includes a chapter on hisyears covering religion, as wellas an account of his decisionto leave Catholicism for theEpiscopal Church. Recountinga 1985 sabbatical, Ari Goldman’s“The Search for God atHarvard” describes his struggleto reconcile the demands ofOrthodox Judaism with thelife of a reporter. Religion alsoappears several times in GayTalese’s “The Kingdom and thePower,” a portrait of the GreyLady during the postwar years.The chapter on evangelical JohnMcCandlish Phillips is one ofthe highlights of the book, asis his account of editor A.M.Rosenthal “sitting shivah” after theassassination of Robert Kennedy.A Spiritual JourneyAt the outset of his book, Phelpsnotes that the reader will have tojudge “whether my spiritual journeywas authentic.” This appeal to per-80 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Bookssonal authenticity is not surprisingin a nation of religious individualists.Identifying as a spiritual seeker, hedistances himself from the Protestantrevivalism he encountered as a youth.By praising Thomas Jefferson, MaryBaker Eddy, William James, and theQuakers, Phelps locates himself inan authentically American tradition,joining the “restless souls” chronicledby historian Leigh Schmidt.One mark of Phelps’s authenticityis his willingness to acknowledge hisown shortcomings. In “A CanterburyTale,” Cogley apologizes for leavingout “my own sins of mind and flesh,”trusting “that these have beenabsolved through God’s graceand have been consignedto oblivion.” Not having theluxury of a confessional, Phelpstakes a different approach.In Chapter 2, “Sex, Pacifism,and the Cub Reporter,” Phelpscatalogues his youthful indiscretions.Painting a soberingportrait of his early career, headmits using “the power of thepress for personal advantage,”fabricating a quote, deceivinghis readers, and accepting freeliquor from a politician. Thisconfession of sin continuesinto the middle chapters of the book,where Phelps acknowledges his earlyblunders at The New York Times,including the use of his position toobtain a cheap Mercedes. When thecar failed to please, Phelps concludedthat “the god of newspaper ethics wastrying to teach me a lesson.”Never does this detailed examinationof conscience descend into whattheologians call a morbid scrupulosity—thetendency to turn minormistakes into grievous sins. Whatsaves “God and the Editor” from selfflagellationis its didactic purpose:Phelps uses his own life to articulatea moral vision for the profession. Inconfessing his sins, Phelps professeshis belief in the religion of journalism.He says as much in the book:As I settled in on the NationalDesk, I gradually realized I hadfound the guide to my life I hadbeen searching for. It certainlywasn’t religion in the classicalsense; it was a secular substitutefor religion. It was journalismas practiced at The New YorkTimes.In Part II of the book, we are treatedto an insider’s view of the Church ofthe Grey Lady, including such righteouscrusades as the publication of the PentagonPapers. Far from a hagiography,Phelps describes both the “winners andWhat saves ‘God and the Editor’ fromself-flagellation is its didactic purpose:Phelps uses his own life to articulatea moral vision for the profession. Inconfessing his sins, Phelps professes hisbelief in the religion of journalism.sinners” in the organization. 1 Amongthe winners were the mentors whoinitiated him into the religion of dailyjournalism, including copyeditor JohnStephenson. Among the sinners werestars like Harrison E. Salisbury, whois described as a “flawed role model.”Phelps reserves special criticism forExecutive Editor A.M. Rosenthal,the man who ultimately blocked hiscareer. Recounting Rosenthal’s volcanictemper and authoritarian managementstyle, he calls him an “Imperial Editor.”By contrast, Phelps remembersbeing a “Partnership Editor,” recallinga collaborative relationship withhis reporters during his years in theWashington bureau of the Times.Between 1974 and 1985, Phelpspreached the gospel of good journalismat The Boston Globe. Criticizinghis reporters for arguing with sources,taking sides in policy disputes, andshowing favoritism to political candidates,he tried to bring “a good doseof discipline” to the paper. In theend, he was only partially successfulin adding a measure of objectivity tothe paper’s “enthusiasm for helpingthe weak and exposing the corrupt.”According to Phelps, there were many“nonbelievers in objectivity” in thenewsroom.After his retirement, Phelps himselfbegan to question the religion of journalism.Ever thoughtful and introspective,he renewed his search fortranscendence when his belovedwife, Betty, became ill, a searchthat intensified after her deathin 2003. Reflecting on decadesof marriage and work, Phelpsobserved that journalism lefthim “spiritually bankrupt, withan emptiness of heart.” Aboutthe same time, he experienceda series of mystical events,including a vision of Jesus inhis backyard. Though he laterdiscovered it was the result of ahall light, Phelps remains opento the possibility that somethingmore was going on.At the end of this refreshingly honestbook, Phelps articulates a questionthat confronted the journalists I interviewedfor “People of Faith”: “Cannottruth come through the spirit?” Likemany Christian reporters, Phelps isunable to reconcile the empiricism ofhis profession with the reality of thesupernatural. All he can do is to livein the tension. Such epistemologicalhumility is commendable. Americanjournalists would do well to learnfrom his example. John Schmalzbauer is the BlancheGorman Strong Chair in ProtestantStudies at Missouri State Universityand author of “People of Faith: ReligiousConviction in American Journalismand Higher Education.”1Between 1951 and 1978, “Winners & Sinners” was the name of the internal bulletin ofthe Times, edited by national desk copy chief Theodore M. Bernstein.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 81


Words & ReflectionsWhen Belief Overrides the Ethics of Journalism‘There was no wall between the beat and reporter. He was on a mission to promotereligion with all the fervor and zeal of his own born-again faith.’BY SANDI DOLBEELosing My Religion: How I LostMy Faith Reporting on Religion inAmerica—and Found UnexpectedPeaceWilliam LobdellCollins. 291 Pages.William Lobdell’s memoir about coveringreligion for the Los Angeles Timeswasn’t an easy book for me to read. AsI turned the pages of “Losing My Religion:How I Lost My Faith Reportingon Religion in America—and FoundUnexpected Peace,” my coffee grewcool, and I felt myself getting hot.Agenda journalism has that affecton me. Listen to how Lobdell describeslanding a gig writing a religioncolumn for the newspaper’s OrangeCounty edition: “I felt like one of thelast tumblers in my Christian life hadclicked into place. I was certain thatGod had made it happen; I was justHis vessel.”What came tumbling back to mewere memories of my first years asreligion and ethics editor of The SanDiego Union-Tribune. I took the jobin 1992 and almost immediately beganattending the annual conventions ofthe Religion Newswriters Association(RNA), which represents journalistswho cover religion in the secularmedia. With 19 years of experiencein newsrooms from Washington Stateto California, I was appalled at someof what I encountered at the RNAmeetings. Several religion reportersopenly shared with me about howthey felt their beat was a calling fromGod. Some wore crosses around theirneck. At least one was an ordainedclergyman, who wrote stories duringthe week and did baptisms on theweekend.They were friendly and, I presumed,talented people. But how could theirnews organizations allow them to coverthis beat? Had they not heard of theirprofession’s code of ethics, especiallythe one about the need to maintainindependence? Here’s how the Societyof Professional Journalists puts it:“Avoid conflicts of interest, real orperceived. Remain free of associationsand activities that may compromiseintegrity or damage credibility.”I gravitated toward like-minded colleaguesdedicated to promoting moreaggressive journalism within our ranks.People like David Briggs, then the nationalreligion writer for The AssociatedPress; Laurie Goodstein, who is nowwith The New York Times, and GayleWhite, former religion reporter for TheAtlanta Journal-Constitution.I gradually came to believe thatreligion writing was the chink in thearmor of many newsrooms. Adherenceto belief directly related to thesubject at hand would be intolerableon other beats, yet on this one it wasquietly accepted.Missionary Zeal“Losing My Religion” confirms that itwasn’t only smaller publications thatfell victim to this misguided embedding.Read what Lobdell writes ashe moved from religion columnistto full-time religion reporter for theTimes: “God had answered my prayersmore completely than I could haveever imagined …. I would be able toshape religion coverage at one of thenation’s largest media outlets.”There was no wall between the beatand reporter. He was on a mission topromote religion with all the fervor andzeal of his own born-again faith. As Icontinued to read, I kept shaking myhead. When I was on the city desk ofvarious newspapers, I would cautionreporters about not crossing the linebetween participant and observer. “Dothat,” I would tell them, “and you stoplistening with both ears and seeingwith both eyes.” It’s like a soldier whostops paying attention in a minefield;the next step he takes could explodein his face. The reporter isn’t the onlycasualty when this happens. The collateraldamage includes readers—andtheir trust.A telling example of this dangerhappens early in his book, when Lobdellacknowledges that he set aside apile of depositions and reports givento him by another reporter concerningCatholic sexual abuse allegations.He had “much more inspiring stories”to do, especially since he was not onthe fast track to becoming a Catholichimself.I admire his candor about this explosivestory. I also admire his subsequent82 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Booksscrambling when the scandal couldno longer be ignored. To his credit,he began doggedly chasing the LosAngeles Archdiocese’s wrongdoings,which would culminate in the largestsettlement in the nation with victimsof childhood sexual abuse.His coverage of the Catholic scandalthen opened up stories about othercontroversies—from Mormon excommunicationsto a two-part series detailingthe lavish spending by foundersof the Trinity Broadcasting Network,a worldwide television empire basedin Orange County.During this time, Lobdell went frompromoting religion to deciding it washis mission to right its wrongs. “TheBody of Christ was sick,” he writes.“My investigative reporting skillscould help uncover the infection andpromote the healing. I was sure thishad been part of the Lord’s plan forme all along.”Guess what happened next? As thetitle suggests, Lobdell loses his faith.He had blurred the lines between hisprofession with his personal beliefs socompletely that covering the humanfoils of organized religion and its byproductswas too much to bear. Beforeleaving the Los Angeles Times last year,Lobdell wrote a front page confessionof this journey, which led to him towrite this book. He is a compelling,gifted writer. His conversational styleserved him well in journalism as itdoes on the pages of his book. But hiswriting skills provide little solace formy indignation and my sadness, forhim and for my beloved profession.Lobdell is right about one thing.When he began thinking about becominga religion reporter, editorsregarded the beat as “an antiquatedpart of newspaper tradition.” Today,editors are killing the beat or scalingit back dramatically. One excuse givenis the results of marketing surveys,which apparently show little readerinterest in religion coverage. Sinceroughly eight out of 10 people saythey believe in God, and about halfthat number practices a faith regularly,I have a hunch the problem liesmore in how the questions are beingasked than what the surveys have sofar revealed.Regretfully, I fear Lobdell’s bookmight give editors more ammunitionto distance their newsrooms fromcovering religion. As for readers, Iworry it will give them another reasonto lose faith in our ability to informand equip them in an unfettered, independentvoice. On the other hand,if the pendulum swings back towardincreased interest in covering whatpeople believe and how they behavebased on those beliefs, perhaps hisbook will serve as a compass pointingtoward which reporters to assignto this beat—and which to put on adifferent one. Sandi Dolbee was the religion and ethicseditor of The San Diego Union-Tribuneand a one-time president of theReligion Newswriters Association. Sheis a two-time winner of the ReligionReporter of the Year award and hasbeen honored by the American Associationof Sunday and Feature Editors,the San Diego chapter of the Society ofProfessional Journalists, and the SanDiego Press Club.Religion and the Press: Always Complicated, Now ChaoticIn a time of a blogging explosion, ‘… the idea of a coherent mainstream journalisticidentity is in this era of old media implosion on the way out.’BY MARK SILKBlind Spot: When JournalistsDon’t Get ReligionPaul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, RobertaGreen Ahmanson, EditorsOxford University Press. 240 Pages.For the past 30 years, a staple ofthe culture wars has been the notionthat journalists in general, and elitejournalists in particular, are eitherhostile to religion or ignorant of it or(most likely) both. By this account,they belong to the “knowledge class”responsible for leading American societyto godless moral relativism. Nomatter that journalists are, accordingto the best surveys, as religious asAmericans generally. No matter that,beginning in the mid-1990’s, newspapersdevoted more space and staffingto religion coverage than ever before.The antireligion trope is a conservativearticle of faith.A collection of essays, “Blind Spot:When Journalists Don’t Get Religion,”is the latest and, I dare to hope, lasthurrah of this misbegotten conviction.That’s not because I believe the culturewars are at an end, though they maybe winding down. It’s because the ideaof a coherent mainstream journalisticidentity is in this era of old mediaimplosion on the way out.That news seems not to havepenetrated the consciousness of thebook’s essayists, most of whom areacademics and think-tank denizens,though here and there a professionalscribbler can be found. Their premiseis that the robust journalism ofyesteryear is still hale and hearty butNieman Reports | Summer 2009 83


Words & Reflectionsthat its practitioners have missed toomany stories because of a failure tocome to proper terms with religion.And their primary focus is on storiesnot covered by reporters who actuallyhave the job of covering religion.Indeed, the biggest religion story inthe history of journalism—the 2002-2003 scandal involving the CatholicChurch’s cover-up of its sexual abuseby priests—receives nary a mention.Rather, complex events with religiousdimensions, many of which have takenplace in distant countries, grab thebook’s attention.While there have been, as always,mistakes in the coverage, the authors’sins of commission and omission outweighthem. How does the book getthis wrong? Let me describe a few ofthe ways:• Allen D. Hertzke blames the pressfor failing to recognize that thecampaign for international religiousrights includes more than just evangelicalseager to make the world safefor evangelism. However, Hertzkefails to mention the fact that theprime legislative manifestation ofthe campaign, the 1998 InternationalReligious Freedom Act, arose from adesire on the part of President Clinton’sreligio-ideological opponents toembarrass him.• In castigating the press for focusingexcessively on the question of anti-Semitism in “The Passion of theChrist,” Jeremy Lott ignores the uglyhistory of passion plays in Westernculture. He also neglects to mentionthat the “group of liberal scholars”who expressed concerns about therepresentation of Jews in the moviewas convened at the request of theofficial in charge of Catholic-Jewishrelations for the United States Conferenceof Catholic Bishops.• C. Danielle Vinson and James Guthtake political reporters to task forcasting religion and the 2004 presidentialcampaign too much in termsof the “God gap,” which describes theproclivity of the more religious votersto prefer Republicans to Democrats.As someone who, along with theeminent and continually quotedJohn Green, did a lot to alert thejournalistic community to that gap,I beg to differ.• Amy Welborn claims that while journalistscovered to a fare-thee-wellPope Benedict’s criticism of Muslimsin his speech at the University of Regensburg,he was actually tougher onthe West. My reading of the speechis that he came down equally hardon both sides and that, more importantly,the speech demonstratedthe pope’s woeful ignorance of thehistory of Islamic thought.• Michael Rubin contends that journalistsdo not recognize the importanceof religion in interpreting thepolitics in Iraq. But a fair readingof the reportage shows that the warcorrespondents did a far better jobof conveying the country’s religiousdynamics to the American publicthan did the political leaders whotook the country to war.I could go on giving such examples,and I could mention some ways theauthors get it right, just as they occasionallygrant that the journalistshave. The main problem, however, isthe usual one: When the journalistsdon’t tell the story the way “we” seeit, then they’ve obviously missed thestory. Yet as my comments suggest,it’s not hard to posit other plausibleperspectives and informed points ofview. Threading one’s way throughthe thicket, noting and parsing theinterpretive differences, is what reportershave to do. The ideologicallycommitted will always have bones topick with reporting that seeks to finda fair balance.But the authors of “Blind Spot”should breathe easier. In 21st centuryjournalism, every person gets to play.Indeed, in no sphere of coverage todayare there more online commentators,tipsters, reporters and screamersthan the religious arena—or rather,the almost infinite number of arenasthat engage the religious interests andcommitments of humankind.Though a faculty member at asmall New England college, I amalso a blogger on religion and politics(www.spiritual-politics.org). Assuch, I’m offered credentials to pressconferences—and the presidentialinauguration—and I’ve received phonecalls this year from a White House officialannoyed at my posts. Like manyothers among my blogging brethren,I think I know what the story of theday is in my corner of the news, and Ido what I can to persuade journaliststo take notice and tell their storiesaccordingly. Sometimes they do. Theproblem is, there are fewer and fewerof them to do it.The pleasant thought that, yes,reporters would get it right if theyonly paid attention to me, is yieldingto the reality of just a lot of voices,each shouting out his or her own versionof the news. The churches areemptying and the streets are full ofmissionaries. Who are the passersbyto listen to? Mark Silk, director of The LeonardE. Greenberg Center for the Study ofReligion in Public Life at Trinity College,worked for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1987 to 1996.84 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


BooksJournalists Use Novels to Reveal What Reporting Doesn’t Say‘My pitch: An experienced journalist grows discontented with journalism’slimitations and turns to fiction as a more accurate way to reflect the reality oflife in the Middle East.’BY MATT BEYNON REESPromised Virgins: A Novel of JihadJeffrey FleishmanArcade Publishing, Inc. 253 Pages.Jay Morgan, the central character ofJeffrey Fleishman’s thought provoking“novel of Jihad,” carries an undevelopedroll of film shot by his young photographerwife in the moments before shewas killed in Beirut. Morgan lifts herwounded body to safety, but she diesanyway. It’s a fitting image on whichto build Morgan’s deep bitterness anddisillusion about journalism as hecovers the war in Kosovo. In thesedays of cyberjournalism, idiotic reader“talkbacks” and nonsensical newsroomcutbacks, the only thing apparentlymore useless to the media industrythan an undeveloped film or a deadphotographer is a living foreign correspondent.The story of “Promised Virgins”revolves around Morgan’s trek throughthe mountains as he interviews Serbs,Albanians and CIA operatives on thehunt for a newly arrived jihadi whohas brought Islamic fundamentalismto the otherwise nationalistic Muslimsof Kosovo. In truth, the book is abouta foreign correspondent’s uncomfortablepersonal connections with thesociety he covers and his realizationthat they’re the only things keepinghim from despair at his ever-shabbiertrade. The author mainly hangs thatfeeling on the unconsummated sexualrelationship Morgan shares with histranslator, Alija.When Morgan, who narrates thenovel in first person, describes Alija,we get the book’s finest moments. Itseems possible from the vigor andpoetry of those passages that therewas someone like this for Fleishman,who reported from the Balkans andis now Cairo correspondent for theLos Angeles Times—someone localwho lit him up creatively by the sheerforeignness of her being. It’s the kindof connection that’s beyond journalismto capture and, no doubt, one ofthe reasons he wanted to write thisnovel in the first place. By contrastthe scenes of Morgan with anotherjournalist interviewing sources arenumbing and emotionally empty.When the first of my Palestiniancrime novels, “The Collaborator ofBethlehem,” was published in 2007, Iapproached most of the American correspondentsin Jerusalem to ask themto write about the book. My pitch: Anexperienced journalist grows discontentedwith journalism’s limitationsand turns to fiction as a more accurateway to reflect the reality of life in theMiddle East. No correspondent arguedwith me; most interviewed me withsympathy, swapping stories of the waytheir own publications failed to makeuse of the depth of their knowledge. Thetruth is that a foreign correspondentwho spends any time with the peoplehe covers, who doesn’t just interviewthem and go off to drink with the otherhacks at the hotel bar, will uncoverrealities that don’t fit the black andwhite formula of journalism. Thesesnippets of reporting—these glimpsesof gritty reality—are the ones likelyto be woven into a fictional account,given the layers of emotional depththey explore.The duality of Fleishman’s novelis a perfect illustration of this. Alija’spersonal story and her response to itis a compelling mystery that Morganunravels gradually, almost by touch,as they sleep together. In contrast,Morgan spends the rest of the book onthe trail of the jihadi in the mountains,which never seems like the big storyhe thinks it is and, in the end, turnsout to be a bit of a dud. But Fleishmantoys with us, seeming to promisethat there’ll be a journalistic payoff forMorgan, when in fact this story willretreat into insignificance beside thewrenching climax of his relationshipwith Alija. What you learn from thejournalistic preference for promiscuousinterviewing, Fleishman seemsto say, isn’t a patch on the insightsgained in a single, deep relationshipwith a local.The question that faces manyforeign correspondents is whether totake their collection of exotic rugs,local robes, and war stories back towhere they came from, exhibitingNieman Reports | Summer 2009 85


Words & Reflectionsthem like trophies in their suburbanhomes while commuting to the op-eddesk, or to remain with the peoplethey’ve covered and learned about.That doesn’t necessarily mean stayingin one location, as I’ve done—13 yearsin Jerusalem and counting. It can alsoinvolve a commitment to delve intothe emotions that people who are nolonger strangers unfold for you and torecount your responses. Usually, thiswill mean a turn to fiction. Journalisticmemoirs require a personal, emotionalnarrative that few correspondents cansupply, since most of them spent theirtime, like Fleishman’s Morgan, interviewingpeople, filing and drinking, allrather dull activities when recountedin print. Rather it’s what they heardand saw, not what they did, that hasoften burrowed its way inside of foreigncorrespondents and, in time, this tugsthem into fiction.The human connection with localpeople is, I think, what saves foreigncorrespondents from the worst effectsof the dreadful things they see.(Most foreign correspondents areafter all really war correspondents.)During the drafting of my secondPalestinian novel, “A Grave in Gaza,”I often cried as I wrote. At the timeI thought, “Man, I’m good. I can evenwrite myself into tears.” Only whenI had finished did I realize that myweeping was the result of the traumasI had expelled onto the page. OnceI understood this, I noticed that thetears and quick rages and nightmaresabout burned, dismembered bodies,ceased. That would not have happenedif I hadn’t been able to connect on thepage my feelings to the emotions ofthe Palestinians. The characters hadto be real enough—I had to know thepeople on whom they were based wellenough—for them to carry the weightof my own intense feelings of horrorand shock.I can’t say the same thing for journalism.As a reporter, almost the onlytime I cried over my copy was after Isaw the edit. Matt Beynon Rees is the author of“The Samaritan’s Secret,” the third inhis series of Palestinian crime novels.“The Collaborator of Bethlehem,”which introduced his lead character,Omar Yussef, won the Crime WritersAssociation’s John Creasey New BloodDagger that is given to the authorof a first novel. He was bureau chieffor Time magazine in Jerusalem. Hewrote about his own turn to fiction inthe Summer 2007 issue of NiemanReports, www.niemanreports.org.AN ESSAY IN WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHSLife Being Lived in Quintessential Irish MomentsBY ROSITA BOLAND“Beyond the Moment: Irish Photojournalismin Our Time” is the title of afine slab of a book recently publishedby the Press Photographers Associationof Ireland. This is Ireland as observedby the press photographers who liveand work there: the insider’s eye on acountry that has changed more timesduring the past 17 years recorded inthis book than the mercurial weatherit is famous for.“Beyond the Moment,” introducedby Booker Prize-winning novelist JohnBanville, is an unsentimental, thoughtprovoking, and revealing examinationof the big public moments and thesmaller, quieter moments that makeup the texture of daily life in Ireland.There are images from political eventsthat made international headlines, suchas rioting on the streets of NorthernIreland—and Dublin—both before andafter the Good Friday agreement of1998. But in contrast there are alsomany glimpses of the more esotericways in which the business of politicsis domestically conducted. IrishTimes photographer Frank Miller’sportrait of the returning officer in asmall boat with a ballot box, shelteringunder a cloth from the rain whilereturning with two votes from one ofthe offshore islands that traditionallyballot some days before elections, is astriking reminder of the truism thatall politics are local.You won’t find pictures of Ireland’sfamously quaint, picturesque pubs in“Beyond the Moment,” but you will findgritty, unflinching images of the everpresentrole that alcohol continues toplay in Irish life. Such as in KennethO’Halloran’s important series aboutthe aftermath of a night out, whichinclude a depiction of a dazed-lookingwoman dressed as a fairy trying toflag a taxi down with a magic wandat 4 a.m. and other images of peoplegathered like secular tableaux roundthe prone figures of friends too drunkto remain standing. There are imagesof familiar Catholic traditions, such asthe annual pilgrimage of climbing theholy mountain of Croagh Patrick. Butthere are also images that show howIreland is changing, as its immigrantpopulation finally rises, in photographs86 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


BooksMichael and Matthew O’Halloran, who run a family undertakers in Corofin,County Clare, prepare for a funeral in June 2002 while Matthew’s wife, Eileen,hangs out the washing. Photo by Kenneth O’Halloran/Freelance.of a funeral at a Dublin mosque andthe baptism of a member of the EternalSacred Order of Cherubim andSeraphim Church Noah’s Ark in aswimming pool in the west of Ireland.And there is the irony of a black immigrant,covered in blood, attackedwhile attending the first-ever antiracismrally in Dublin, which his assaultin the preceding days had prompted.All these images tell stories, fragmentsof the larger narrative that has beengoing on through the years that sawthe Celtic Tiger live and die.The crazed property overdevelopmentthat is now hanging like analbatross around the neck of Ireland’seconomy is recorded here, too. Amound of mud in County Kildare witha sign that advertises show homes onview optimistically marks the site ofa planned new housing developmentin 2006—perhaps the most relevantstatement about the current state ofthe property market.Sometimes, the date on the photographseems extraordinarily at oddswith the subject, such as Lar Boland’spicture of an exhausted-looking elderlywoman, a study of work that isreminiscent of the 1950’s, taken at theDublin Fish Market in 2005, whichclosed that year. This is real Ireland.So is Mark Condren’s compellingbird’s-eye view, biographical pictureof the chaotically bleak one-room flatoccupied by a County Leitrim bachelor,also taken in 2005. So also is theimage of a backyard in County Clare,taken in 2002, where two undertakerbrothers prepare a coffin for a funeralwhile the wife of one of them calmlyhangs the family washing on a lineover the coffin.Thankfully, no matter how grim thetimes are—and in 2009 they are asbad as the black days of recession inthe 1980’s were—Ireland has alwaysbeen able to laugh at itself and seethe humor that flashes through moreserious situations. And so we seeGerry Adams spontaneously throwing asnowball in Matt Kavanagh’s campaigntrail picture and Colin Keegan’s eyecatchingportrait of former TaoiseachBertie Ahern, as he appears to floatsurreally and saintlike above the freakflood waters that poured down on hisDublin constituency in 2002.For me, the real spirit of Ireland isin Joe O’Shaughnessy’s picture of thewoman he found sunbathing on a Galwaywall. Represented only by her bareknees and abandoned shoes as she liesback unseen from the camera, this isperhaps the most entertaining picturein the book, capturing a philosophyall Irish people will recognize—whenthe sun shines, stop everything andlive in the moment. Rosita Boland, a 2009 Nieman Fellow,is a features writer with the IrishTimes. “Beyond the Moment, IrishPhotojournalism in Our Time,” is editedby Colin Jacobson and publishedby the Press Photographers Associationof Ireland in association withthat organization’s AIB PhotojournalismAwards. Images from the book canbe seen at www.ppai.ie/books.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 87


Words & ReflectionsA young woman in a fairyoutfit tries to wave downa taxi at 4 a.m. in the citycenter. Dublin 2006. Photoby Kenneth O’Halloran/Freelance.The Taoiseach Bertie Ahern surveys the floods after the river Tolka burstits banks in his Drumcondra, Dublin constituency in mid-November 2002.Photo by Colin Keegan/Collins Photo Agency.88 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


BooksGarda Jim Brennan; David Alcorn, the presiding officer, and Donal ó Dufaigh,a radio reporter, return from Inishfree Island to Burtonport, CountyDonegal with the General Election ballot box, containing two votes, inNovember 1992. Photo by Frank Miller/The Irish Times.A woman basks in the sun at Palmers Rock, Salthill, Galway in May 2004.Photo by Joe O’Shaughnessy/The Connacht Tribune.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 89


Words & ReflectionsThe Dublin Fish Market in St. Michan’s Street shortly before its closurefor the last time in April 2005. Photo by Lar Boland/Freelance.A Royal Ulster Constabulary officer shoots his pistol in the air tosave an ambushed colleague during a disturbance in Derry in 1998.Photo by Martin McCullough/Freelance. 90 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


BooksAn Enduring Story—With Lessons for Journalists TodayDuring the time of ‘the disappeared’ in Argentina, when Robert Cox edited TheHerald, the newspaper ‘became the most reliable source of information abouthuman rights violations in Argentina.’BY GRACIELA MOCHKOFSKYDirty Secrets, Dirty War: The Exileof Editor Robert J. CoxDavid CoxEvening Post Publishing Co. withJoggling Board Press. 232 Pages.It might be argued that “Dirty Secrets,Dirty War: The Exile of Editor RobertJ. Cox” should have been written threedecades ago, most likely in 1981, whenCox was enjoying, as I do now, a NiemanFellowship. He was then on hissecond year of exile, the bitter prizehe had been awarded for making theEnglish-language newspaper BuenosAires Herald into one of the mainadvocates against state terrorism inArgentina.The military junta was still in power,backed by the Reagan administration,and Latin American politics were amatter of public concern for a broadU.S. audience. Robert Cox’s bookwould have come out as a powerfulindictment against the human rightsviolations taking place in Argentinaat the time.But he could not write this bookthen, neither can he today. “I havealways believed in impersonal journalism,the reporter in a shabby raincoatthat nobody notices who writes hisstories without a byline,” he explainsin the prologue to “Dirty Secrets, DirtyWar.” Modesty, he concedes, was onlyone reason; it was too painful a storyfor him to write. 1Twenty-eight years later, with BuenosAires now a favorite Americanexpat destination, the past Argentineantragedy awakens little interest ina country that’s beginning to cometo terms with its own government’shuman rights violations in the “waragainst terrorism.” But it is now whenCox’s son David, at last conquering hisown arduous distance from the countryin which he was born and raised,writes the book his father couldn’twrite. Significantly, he does it in theyear in which his father, 75 years ofage, retired from journalism.Is this story being told too late?Or is the ordeal of a man who sawhorror when most people around himwere in denial still an important oneto tell?Cox’s Time and PlaceIn 1959, at 26, seeking to escape a dullmiddle-class existence in his nativeEngland, Cox answered a classifiedadvertisement for a newspaper job inBuenos Aires. The Buenos Aires Herald,founded by a Scotsman in 1876as a shipping news single sheet, was,83 years later, a small daily newspaperfor the equally small English-languageArgentinean community. Cox saidgoodbye to his homeland and boarded aship that traversed the Atlantic towarda life of adventure and exoticism.He got much more than that. Aftertwo years as a reporter at the Herald,he was promoted to news editor andsoon afterwards he married MaudDaverio, an Anglo-Argentine whoseprosperous family claimed an aristocraticBritish lineage. Cox’s Argentinawas quite different from that of mostArgentinean journalists. Bob and Maudlived in a wealthy, Parisian-like neighborhood,owned a weekend villa in anexclusive country club, sent their fivechildren to an elite English school, andspent their vacations in Europe. Coxentered a fraction of the Argentinesociety that was, for the most part,fiercely anti-Peronist (mostly for classreasons, Peronism being the partywith which the working class identi-1Robert Cox, a 1981 Nieman Fellow, finally did write about what happened to him andhis family—the dangers and strains they faced—during the time of “the disappeared”in an article, “When Death Seems Inevitable,” which appeared in a collection of storiescalled “Journalists: On the Subject of Courage,” in the Summer 2006 issue of NiemanReports, www.niemanreports.org.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 91


Words & Reflectionsfied), pro-military (several members ofMaud’s family were officers), politicallyconservative and, in many cases—toCox’s shock—anti-Semitic.In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s,when Argentina’s working and middleclasses radicalized, Cox opposed theguerrilla movements (“terrorism” in hisnomenclature) and the political left. Hereceived death threats by Montoneros,the Peronist guerrilla, and was viewed“as a right-wing imperialist by theleft,” as he puts it. When in 1976 anew military dictatorship overthrew ademocratically elected government andtook power with the stated purpose ofcrushing the “subversive elements” inthe country, Cox, by then editor of theHerald, almost applauded.The Herald supported the militaryjunta and its first leader, GeneralJorge R. Videla, as did the majorityof the press. Cox had good contacts inthe armed forces and met often withhigh-ranking government officials.He supported the economic plan andhad a dear friend who was appointedfinance director at the Ministry ofEconomy.Almost everyone Cox knew andloved saw the dictatorship as a wayout from one of Argentina’s darkerperiods. It would be, at last, an endto Peronism and its evils; it wouldtransform the economic structure ofthe country and put an end to thepolitical violence originated, as theysaw it, in the “terrorism” of the leftand the internal feuds of the Peronistparty.But Cox soon realized that somethingvery different was taking place.In cocktail parties, in conversationswith military sources, in calls fromthe Herald’s readers, he started tohear about people being kidnappedand “disappeared.” The first confirmationcame from an English expatriatecouple whose son had been abductedby a squad of policemen in the middleof the night and later found deadwith signs of having been tortured.Far-right factions within the government,he concluded, had adopted themethods of the left-wing “terrorists.”It had become, he deplored, “anotherterrorism.”While praising the economic planand other aspects of the military administration,the Herald publishedfront-page stories about the disappearances.Those articles saved lives:several people “reappeared.” It was acourageous decision, and the Heraldwas mostly alone among Argentineanpublications. The government hadissued strict censorship rules, andreporters and editors were among thedetainees and disappeared.Herald News Editor AndrewGraham-Yool came up with the ideaof having the relatives of the disappearedsecure habeas corpus writs sothat the reports of kidnappings wouldhave an official source. Only one otherArgentinean newspaper, La Opinión,followed the Herald in publishing thehabeas corpus writs.As a frequent stringer for Americannewspapers such as The WashingtonPost, Cox wrote the first stories aboutthe gatherings of the relatives of thedisappeared in front of the GovernmentHouse. The Mothers of the Plaza deMayo and, later, the Grandmothersof the Plaza de Mayo, would becomeworldwide symbols of the fight againststate terrorism as they gathered incrowds to clamor for the truth abouttheir children’s whereabouts.The Herald’s newsroom became ameeting point for the relatives of thevictims—the only newsroom in whichthey were welcomed. A few othernewspapers occasionally agreed to runlists with the names of the disappearedunder the form of “solicitadas,” paidads. But Cox refused to take moneyfrom the relatives. The Herald alsobecame the most reliable source ofinformation about human rightsviolations in Argentina. It reached acirculation of 20,000 and gained internationalprestige. Argentines foundin it what they couldn’t find in theirSpanish-language publications.The Story’s Personal TollMost journalists in Argentina knowCox’s record. What not everyoneknows is the price he and his familypaid. David Cox tells of his father’ssevere asthma seizures. With threatsmounting against him and his family—Robert Cox was detained for 24 hoursand faced the prospect of his owndisappearance—his children “alternatedtheir route home from schoolto the apartment, sometimes takingthe train and other times riding thebus.” He also became isolated fromfriends and people whom they thoughtwere friends. To many in his own socialcircle, he’d become a “subversiveCommunist.”In June 1979, Cox lamented that,“People treat me, I imagine, in thesame way they would treat a condemnedman.” He designed mentalescape plans from his home andfrom the newsroom in case they camelooking for him. He’d wake up in themiddle of the night fearing someonehad entered their house and, when hewent to check on his children to besure they were all right, found themawake and alert.After three long years of living infear, his son Peter, an elementaryschool student, received a threateningletter: It carried personal informationthat only someone close to the familywould know. (Years later, they wouldlearn that the informer was a cousinof Maud’s who served in the Navy.)The letter stated that the family hadthe “option” of seeking exile or theywould be “assassinated.”Cox asked General Videla for protection.When Videla argued he couldn’tguarantee his own security, Cox decidedto go into exile. Bit by bit he came torealize that it was not a fraction of themilitary involved in state terrorism,but the entire government. From theUnited States, Cox continued to be anoutspoken critic of these human rightsviolations until in 1983 democracy wasrestored in Argentina.It took years for the press, whichhad praised the dictatorship and omittedcoverage of most of its crimes,to regain public credibility. But theHerald was never again such a finenewspaper. Last year, after a longfinancial struggle, the U.S.-ownedEvening Post Publishing Co. sold itto an Argentinean entrepreneur ofdubious reputation. At about the sametime, Cox retired as assistant editor for92 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


BooksThe (Charleston) Post and Courier ofSouth Carolina.Once or twice a year, Cox goes backto Buenos Aires, where he keeps anapartment. I met him there a few timesat afternoon tea parties he organizesto catch up with his Argentine friendsand acquaintances. He draws an odd,diverse crowd: Anglo-Argentines,high-society ladies, human rightsadvocates, a few young journalists. Ifirst attended one of these gatheringswhile researching the life of JacoboTimerman, a legendary Argentinenewspaperman of his generation. Manyjournalists whom I interviewed at thetime argued I needed to understand“the context” in which they had lived;understanding that, they implied, theirsilence would be justified. Cox was theliving refutation of that argument: Hewas able to escape his context.That rarity speaks to the importanceof Cox’s story. And today, when theideals of journalistic truth risk becomingold fashioned and a “war againstterrorism” with government sponsoredtorture and disappearances has againbeen waged, it is as important as itwas three decades ago. Graciela Mochkofsky, a 2009 NiemanFellow, has been a journalist in Argentinafor the past 17 years, as seniorpolitical correspondent for La Naciónand until last year as a contributingpolitical columnist for the newspaperPerfil, in Buenos Aires. Her articleshave appeared in many Latin Americannewspapers and magazines, andshe has written four nonfiction books;her most recent book, La Revelación,was published in August 2007.They Blog, I Blog, We All BlogAn Australian blogger interviews dissident bloggers worldwide, and in his book heexplains why what they do matters and who is trying to stop them.BY DANNY SCHECHTERThe Blogging RevolutionAntony LoewensteinMelbourne University Press. 294Pages (paperback).I am a blogger, a media critic, and ahuman rights-oriented journalist. Iam also a fan of Australian blogger,freelance writer, and author AntonyLoewenstein, because even as heprofiles brave online journalists andwriters in his “The Blogging Revolution,”he doesn’t leave his voice in thebackground. Nor does he avoid thedeeper media crisis that creates allof the reasons anyone needs for appreciatingthe value and importanceof the proliferating blogosphere.When I started my News Dissectorblog (www.newsdissector.com/blog/)10 years ago, blogging was an emergingmedia form. No longer, and hereare U.S. stats that offer a glimpse atthe profound changes that have takenplace (with more added every day):• Now more than 12 million Americanadults maintain a blog.• More than 147 million Americanadults use the Internet; 57 millionread blogs. More than one-third oftoday’s blog readers started readingthem in 2005 or 2006.• More than 120,000 blogs are createdeach day: Nine percent of Internetusers claim to have created one, andincluded among these people are sixpercent of the U.S. adult population.• Among bloggers, 1.7 million Americanslist making money as one ofthe reasons they blog. Of companiessurveyed, 89 percent indicate thatblogs will be more important to theirbusiness during the next five years.A bit more than half of blog readersshop online.• Technorati tracks more than 70 millionblogs.• Nearly one quarter of the Web’s 100most popular sites are blogs. Thereare more than 1.4 million new blogposts made each day.• Blog readers average 23 hours onlineeach week.Whew. With the emergence of somany people expressing themselvesso vigorously as part of the Web’sdaily media stream, the relationshipbetween their engagement and theestablished media’s decline becomesNieman Reports | Summer 2009 93


Words & Reflectionsabundantly apparent.The revolution brought about byblogging—which Loewenstein dedicateshis book to exploring—focuseson how blogs are being used by “theimprisoned dissidents everywhere.” Heis clearly driven in writing this bookby the mission of calling our attentionto the struggle many dissidentsface in countries where it isdifficult—and dangerous—to tryto get heard in these repressiveenvironments. Governmentswould not crack down on theInternet and suppress its voices,if bloggers are not articulatingmessages and informationthat they find offensive or feelthreatened by.At the same time, Loewensteinis not unmindful of thechallenges facing scribblerslike himself who live in placeswhere speech is not harassed.As he writes about our changingmedia, he speaks to issuesof corporate consolidation andthe economic decline that haveled to deep cutbacks of reportersand the dumbing down of newsoutlets. Given these connectionsLoewenstein is making about the roleblogging now plays throughout theworld, it is significant that many newsorganizations that initially criticizedbloggers as not being “real journalists”have now opened their pages to theirstaff blogs in a mode of “if you can’tfight them, join them.”At the same time, what real journalismis remains unresolved—as if it evercould be fully defined. In the openingparagraph of his book, Loewenstein offersa quote from the now offline andin-exile Iraqi blogger Riverbend, withwhom I’ve corresponded. (Disclosure:This blogger wrote a blurb on one ofmy books and is quoted in “When NewsLies.”) She is quoted as saying:Bloggers are not exactly journalists,which is a mistake manypeople make. They expect us to bedispassionate and unemotionalabout topics such as occupationand war. That objective lack ofemotion is impossible becausea blog in itself stems from passion.There isn’t one way to commitjournalism. We know that in countriesother than ours, reporters are expectedto bring their personal perspectives tocoverage. Nor is the AP Stylebook auniversal guide.Given these connections Loewensteinis making about the role bloggingnow plays throughout the world,it is significant that many newsorganizations that initiallycriticized bloggers as not being ‘realjournalists’ have now opened theirpages to their staff blogs in a mode of‘if you can’t fight them, join them.’The writers, diarists, commentators,artists and activists Lowensteininvites us to visit in his good read ofa “blog around the world” book area diverse lot, though each of them ischallenging government and pushingback against orthodox ideas. Hewasn’t content to work from secondarysources. As he traveled to meetbloggers in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia,Syria and Cuba, he found an engaged,talented, sometimes tenacious decentralizedtribe of committed and caringpeople, who speak in many tonguesas they confront common enemiesin the form of authorities who wantthem to disappear.The remarkable diversity amongthese bloggers is what makes readingabout them so interesting. It isn’tpossible to boil down their words intosound bites. Each confronts a specificsituation, and Loewenstein spendsenough time with each to profile themwithin their circumstance’s context—and thereby offers readers memorablemoments and close observations aboutthe culture and their experiences aswell as their aspirations. It also helpsthat Loewenstein writes so well andknows how to tell a good story.Restricting Online ContentCloser to home, Loewenstein explainshow big U.S.-based technologycompanies have been complicitin helping governments monitorand restrict online content, especiallyin China, where its GreatWall is now the government’sfirewall. His discussion abouthow American-made software—he names Google, Yahoo!, CiscoSystems, and Microsoft in thisvein—has assisted with policeprosecution of bloggers highlightsthe controversial intersectionof business interests vs. thebedrock American principle ofprotecting freedom of speech.All too often, such corporatepractices are not the focus ofhuman rights advocates, such asthe Committee to Protect Journalistsand Reporters WithoutBorders, who tend to be moreconcerned about government actions.In these cases, however, these organizationspublished detailed accounts fromthis cyber battleground and sent outaction alerts to urge people to channeltheir outrage into action on behalf ofbloggers facing persecution and jail.This is sadly a familiar story, even ifan ongoing one.On occasion, courageous bloggersare given awards for their work. Yetwhen this does happen, few U.S.news organizations send reporters tointerview them or link to their blogson their own Web sites. Rather thancollaborate with them as colleagues,they and their words are marginalizedeven as crippling cuts in foreign reportingare happening at newspapers andtelevision stations. At the same time,newsroom managers are not actingto make their international coveragemore inclusive and decentralized,given the amazing resources thatnow exist online. There is one newsoutlet, GlobalVoicesonline.org, where94 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Booksinternational bloggers’ words are beingpublished and, when necessary,translated into English.“The Blogging Revolution” (www.bloggingrevolution.com) is not a guideon how to blog nor does it explain whyso many people read blogs and writecomments on them. Had Loewensteindone so, there would have been plentyof challenges and dilemmas for himto explore—difficulties that go withmaintaining a blog and marketing itto find an audience in what’s becomea very, very crowded arena. Instead,Loewenstein took on an original topicand did so as a global journalist witha focus squarely on some of the bigissues of our time. In short, he haswritten a book that tells us why blogsmatter. News Dissector Danny Schechter, a1978 Nieman Fellow, blogs on Mediachannel.org.His book “Plunder:Investigating Our Economic Calamityand the Subprime Scandal” waspublished by Cosimo Books in 2008and reviewed in the Spring 2009 issueof Nieman Reports. He can be reachedat dissector@mediachannel.org.Fortunate Son: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson‘… it was Thompson’s great good fortune to come of age, professionally speaking, ata point where his own proclivities and the broader Zeitgeist dovetailed to an almostabsurd degree.’BY ADAM REILLYOutlaw Journalist: The Life andTimes of Hunter S. ThompsonWilliam McKeenW.W. Norton & Company, Inc.428 Pages.A scant few pages into “Outlaw Journalist:The Life and Times of HunterS. Thompson,” his new biography ofThompson, author William McKeen—chair of the journalism department inthe University of Florida’s College ofJournalism and Communications—makes it clear that he has a rootinginterest in his subject. “He was a goodand decent man,” McKeen says ofhim in the introduction. Then, a fewsentences later, McKeen expresses agonizedincomprehension at Thompson’s2005 suicide: “I may know somethingabout Hunter Thompson, but I don’tknow why he did this. Say a prayerfor him.”Such authorial sympathy doesn’thave to be a problem. It could eveninspire a biographer to ask bold newquestions, or draw unexpected insightsfrom seemingly familiar material, oreven tackle a long-neglected subjectin hopes of correcting the historicalrecord (e.g., “Shakespeare’s Wife,”Germaine Greer’s biography of AnnHathaway). But in “Outlaw Journalist,”the opposite happens: McKeenadmires Thompson so much that—tryas he might—he simply can’t makesense of him, as a private person ora journalist. Fortunately, though, hegives readers enough raw materialthat they can finish the job.McKeen’s misdirected sympathyplagues “Outlaw Journalist” from theget-go. After trotting out the aforementionedencomiums, for example,McKeen builds a convincing case that,from his earliest years on, Thompsonwas actually a budding sociopath.A childhood friend explains thatchildren rushed to befriend Thompsonso he wouldn’t beat them up;Thompson’s brother, Jim, recalls theteenage Thompson as “intolerant andmean;” just before graduating fromhigh school, Thompson and a friendsuccessfully rob two couples makingout in a parked car after Thompsonthreatens to rape one of the girls.This is grimly fascinating stuff—and given his affection for Thompson,McKeen deserves credit for includingit. Maddeningly, though, neitherThompson’s darker tics nor his determination,evident from an earlyage, to hobnob with the social eliteof Louisville (his hometown) keepMcKeen from casting his protagonistas a tragically noble iconoclast. Forexample, here’s his wince-inducingrendition of an exchange Thompsonhad with a high-school classmate: “Asgraduation neared, one Ivy Leagueboundsnot backed up Hunter in thehallway and asked, ‘Where are yougoing next year?’ ‘I don’t know,’ HunterNieman Reports | Summer 2009 95


Words & Reflectionssaid, ‘but I’m going somewhere.” Whyis McKeen so sure the kid in questionwas a “snot”? What’s more, givenThompson’s personality, isn’t it morelikely that he was the one backing the“snot” up against a wall?This unwillingness tosquare evidence with judgmentpersists throughout“Outlaw Journalist”—andultimately dooms McKeen’sattempt to make sense of hissubject. The interpretation ofThompson that he finally proposes(with assists from RollingStone’s Jan Wenner andSandy Thompson, Hunter’sex-wife) is both exculpatoryand hagiographic: Thompsonwas a tremendously talented,fundamentally decent humanbeing who was ultimatelycrippled by external pressure to playthe part of the sociopathic buffoon.Based on the trove of biographicaldetail McKeen provides, though, thatcan’t be right. Thompson’s darkestadult tics—his abuse of women, hisself-mortification with drugs andalcohol, his seething contempt forall authority and convention (exceptliterary authority, which he coveted),his narcissistic need to have all eyestrained admiringly on him—didn’t suddenlymaterialize when Garry Trudeaumade “Uncle Duke” a regular characterin Doonesbury. Nor did they bubbleup when legions of professed fanswho hadn’t actually read Thompson’swork started pestering him for hisautograph. Instead, they were fully inkeeping with the identity Thompsonhad cultivated from childhood on.That’s who he was.Man and Moment MeetEven if McKeen’s analysis falls short,his prolific reporting helps us makesense of Thompson’s place in journalistichistory. There are those whosincerely believe that Thompson’sdeath left a profound vacuum. Westill need his excoriating presence,or so the argument goes. But no onehas quite managed to take up theThompsonian torch.In fact, Thompson’s stylistic inheritorsare everywhere in contemporaryjournalism: think of Matt Taibbi (everyone’sfavorite neo-Thompsonian)hilariously eviscerating Tom Friedman… it’s often hard to say where, inThompson’s oeuvre, the line ofdemarcation between fiction and factcan be found. In the 1960’s and ’70’s, thisadded to the Thompson mystique; today,it would make him a professional pariah.in the pages of the New York Press; orfood/travel writer Anthony Bourdainshocking his way to dyspeptic multimediaprominence; or sex columnist/Seattle Stranger editor Dan Savage lickingdoorknobs at the Iowa Republicancaucuses in order to give Gary Bauer theflu and readers a great story; or evenTime’s Mark Halperin telling BarbaraWalters, during the fight for the 2008Democratic presidential nomination,that John Edwards might back HillaryClinton because he considered BarackObama to be a “pussy.”So why, then, does no one figure loomas large today as Thompson once did?To be blunt: blame the times. After all,it was Thompson’s great good fortuneto come of age, professionally speaking,at a point where his own proclivitiesand the broader Zeitgeist dovetailedto an almost absurd degree. Prior toThompson’s heyday, Americans wereconditioned to view authority, conventionand conformity with deep skepticism,both by the academy (think ofDavid Riesman’s “The Lonely Crowd”)or the literary world (“RevolutionaryRoad,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” etc.).Then, just as the arc of Thompson’scareer took off, that skepticism souredinto downright (and often justified)contempt—courtesy of the civil rightsmovement and its opponents, and theassassinations of JFK and MLK andRFK, and the Vietnam War, and thedepredations of one Richard MilhousNixon.Absent foils like these—and withoutindirect assistance from cultural contemporarieslike R.D. Laing,who subverted establisheddefinitions of sanity andmental illness—Thompson’sscrew-the-hypocrites shtickmight not have been quite sowell received. As fate wouldhave it, though, Thompsonseemed, instead, to be offeringjust the sort of bracingjournalistic tonic that thetimes required.Don’t forget, either, thatThompson’s timing relativeto the craft of journalismwas ideal, too. When a drugand-booze-fueledThompsonwas hammering out his propulsive,hilarious, disturbing treatments ofeverything from the 1972 presidentialcampaign to the Kentucky Derby, theNew Journalism was still ascendant.And within the journalistic fraternity,it was still acceptable—as it had beenfor Joseph Mitchell and A.J. Lieblingdecades earlier—to fictionalize largeportions of allegedly “true” reportage.Of course, as McKeen rightly notes, it’soften hard to say where, in Thompson’soeuvre, the line of demarcationbetween fiction and fact can be found.In the 1960’s and ’70’s, this addedto the Thompson mystique; today, itwould make him a professional pariah.(So, too, would Thompson’s habitof burning through mass quantitiesof expense money, then failing—orrefusing—to write the item in question.The money was there then. It’snot anymore.)This, then, is the profound revelationcontained in “Outlaw Journalist”—evenif it’s not what McKeen intended.Hunter S. Thompson wasn’t a tragicfigure. He was, instead, a deeply flawedtalent who was blessed to work at thebest of all possible times. His untimely,tragic end notwithstanding, we shouldall be so lucky. Adam Reilly is the media columnistfor The Boston Phoenix.96 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


NIEMAN NOTESJobs Change or Vanish: Niemans Discover anUnanticipated Bonus in Community WorkFrom tutoring to volunteer firefighting to working with at-riskchildren, fellows use their skills to dig into their surroundings.BY JIM BOYDAs I sit down to write this, I havejust spent an hour thinning seedlingsin my modest greenhouse,the one I always wanted but neverhad time for while I was working.Before the thinning, I finished off animportant press release for a friendwho owns a small lumber company.Before that, I attended a meeting ofa broadband task force. Two days ago,I had three meetings focused on thefeasibility of developing a communitywind project. I had to miss a monthlymeeting of the community foundationboard on which I sit.Those community volunteer rolesform the core of my life these days. Ido not intend to brag. I feel privilegedthat members of this community wishme to share the talents and skills Iaccumulated in a 30-plus year careeras a journalist. For all those activecareer years, my life was steeped in aneclectic study of public affairs, yet theethical strictures of journalism, withwhich I very much agreed, meant Iwas prohibited from participating inmost aspects of community life.My community involvement causedme to wonder if other Niemans, putout of work early, as I was, might beexperiencing something similar. Mightthis be a silver lining to the currentconvulsions in the media world—anunanticipated opportunity for stillvigorousNiemans to harness journalismskills in volunteer work? Thus myquery to my fellow Nieman Fellows inlate March asking for information onvolunteer work in which they mightbe engaged.I recognize how fortunate I was tobe at the age I was when the convulsionshit. Many excellent journalistsnow find themselves out of work andstill under obligations that requireregular employment.Roberta Baskin, NF ’02, is anexample. This celebrated televisionjournalist went from receiving aduPont-Columbia award one day toa pink slip the next. She wrote thatshe missed the deadline for this articlebecause she “was doing nine panels(!) at the Conference on World Affairsin Boulder last week. Today I’ve hadtwo conference calls with journalismorganizations I support. I’ve becomethe Queen of Pro Bono since losing myinvestigative reporting job in January.… I do enjoy serving the world forfree. But I’m also in need of payingtuition for two daughters in college…. And there’s that pesky mortgage,too.” Unfortunately, Baskin has quitea lot of company.Frequently, we take for grantedthe skills we acquired courtesy of ourcareers in journalism. The ability towrite coherent sentences is one ofthose. Nothing I have ever writtenprofessionally will be mistaken forgreat literature, but my sturdy meatand-potatoesapproach, and the abilityto execute quickly, makes me a rarespecimen in this community. Most ofus also have the ability, given half anhour, to find the nut graf in a 90-pagedocument, which gives us the abilityto cut through verbiage to the essenceof an issue. Over the years, we havedeveloped excellent BS detectors. Wedo not hesitate to ask the dumb questionif we think it will elicit neededinformation. We know generally howto conduct a good meeting. We areexcellent, quick-study generalistsbecause we have had to be. Usually,we know a little about a lot of things.These skills, and others I have failedto note, have tangible value to ourcommunities.More than a handful of Niemansgraciously wrote to say they were stillworking and couldn’t offer tales ofvolunteer experiences. Hearing fromthem was a treat. Those who didsend information on their volunteerexperiences wrote about situationsthat varied greatly, as did the form oftheir volunteer efforts. I found theire-mails touching, encouraging and veryhuman, and I wish space had allowedme to include more from them. However,this is not meant to be the endof this conversation but a beginning.For members of the Nieman family, thenew alumni section of the foundation’sWeb site [www.nieman.harvard.edu]will make communication among useasier. And there will be a place toshare your stories on this topic. Myhope is that the dialogue I initiatedby e-mail will continue through thefoundation’s Web site.H. Brandt Ayers, NF ’68, remindedme gently that journalists traditionallyhave had a selective sense of wherethe line against participation is drawn.“I have been deeply and constantlyinvolved in community affairs. It haslong been my belief that a sense ofcommunity has been missing in metrojournalism and may have contributedto its steep decline.” Ayers’s participationstarted “with raising rewardNieman Reports | Summer 2009 101


Nieman Notesmoney for the arrest and convictionof a racial nightrider murderer and[ended] with the passing of the gavelto an energetic successor on a localeducation foundation serving at-riskstudents.”Of course Ayers is right about journalists’selectivity in drawing the lineagainst participation. But for most ofus, most of the time, most communityactivities were off limits. Ayers seemsto believe that is a mistake. I offer hisassertion in that regard for discussionon the Nieman Web site.Bert Lindler, NF ’84, has the mostunusual volunteer interest. When hedidn’t like the direction new ownerstook his Montana newspaper, he quitand joined the U.S. Forest Service asa technical writer. He’s still working,but five years ago he “adopted an elkherd that winters near my home. Sincethen, I’ve spent a lot of time learningabout fencing, weeds and populationmanagement through hunting.” Lindlerproves my point about being excellentquick-study generalists.One of the most poignant storieswas offered by Dean Miller, NF ’08. Hewas fired “out of the blue” in February.He needs to work, but recognizesthe job hunt will be long. Meanwhile,he has used his “newfound freedomfrom the need for official neutrality”to teach a journalism ethics seminarfor the local branch of Drinking Liberally.The biggest change, he says, “isthat I have time for something otherthan the needs of the newspaper. Lastmonth, I got to spend five school-daymornings in my 9-year-old son’s class,helping them revise, edit, proofreadand prepare for hardback publicationtheir fairy tales.”Jenny Lo, NF ’96, still has a job,but it is part time. “It’s great to beactive and not a wage slave,” shewrites from London. When she isnot posted overseas, she volunteersas a literacy aid and an English tutorfor adult Muslim men. She also is aschool advocate for inner-city migrantcommunities. Lo volunteers as wellfor the National Trust and is active in“cultural heritage and environmentalNGO activities in Malaysia.”Leslie Dreyfous, NF ’95, believesthere is something to this idea of “thecommunity energy unleashed whenreporters are sprung from their obligationto objectivity.” Dreyfous leftjournalism because she “had threechildren in four years.” She writesthat she was “at first uncomfortableand then gradually unstoppable inmy commitment to improving ourcommunity of Half Moon Bay (Calif.).Environmentalism, school board politics,downtown ‘smart growth,’ lobbyingstate legislators … chair of the parksand rec commission …. It was quitean experience to be on that side ofthings, particularly after having ‘studied’community over the course of mycareer with the AP.” In fact, Dreyfouscontinues, she “wrote a book aboutcitizenship and civic participation ….”It’s titled, “Getting a Life: America’sChallenge to Grow Up.”Peg Simpson, NF ’79, writes that sheisn’t retired, “just doing a lot of extrastuff.” That “stuff ” includes being veryactive in an effort to build a “virtualcommunity” in the DuPont Circle areaof Washington, D.C.. The effort, shewrites, is part “of the new nationalmovement of ‘aging in community.’”Previously, she’d participated mostly injournalism groups, many with the aimof advancing the position of womenand minorities.Ralph Hancox, NF ’66, retired beforethe media economy got “cranky.” He“went into pro bono work at SimonFraser University in Vancouver, B.C., atthe Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing.”One of the fruits of that labor[“Managing the Publishing Process”] isdescribed at www.abcbookworld.com/view_author.php?id=9671. He’s editeda couple of master’s theses and “donesome promotion work on a women’sfashion accessories Web site.”Graeme Beaton, NF ’79, is anAustralian Nieman who settled inthe United States after his year atHarvard. He is a tutor for the localliteracy council and gets “as much outof it as the students I tutor.” He willdo more as he “winds down” from hissecond vocation—raising thoroughbredhorses.John Strohmeyer, NF ’53, sold hisinterest in a Pennsylvania newspaperin 1984 and moved to Alaska to teach,fish and write, but not necessarily inthat order. Currently he is unpaidwriter-in-residence at the Universityof Alaska, in Anchorage. He writes,“Being a Pulitzer Prize-winner andcontroversial journalist keeps me indemand for scores of unpaid appearances”as a speaker, panelist and academicadviser. “And thank you, LouisLyons,” he adds.Peter Almond, NF ’81, is closing inon retirement from his work as a freelancedefense writer. But he is dabblingalready in volunteer work. A letter hewrote to his local UK council was, hethought, “straightforward journalistwriting.” But it was described to himby one council member as the “mostpowerful letter he’d seen in 25 years”and played a major role in getting thecouncil to adopt the policy Almondfavored. That and other small involvements,he said, opened his eyes “towhat I could do.” But for the moment,“I still have to feed my mortgage andmy family and not drive myself intothe ground, broke and frustrated ….Save the world and get paid is myideal plan .…”Mike Pride, NF ’85, retired in 2008from his position as editor of theConcord (N.H.) Monitor. He is moving“carefully” into the volunteer world,because he had so many requests tojoin community ventures, many ofwhich were not a good fit. Plus, hewanted to reserve time for his passion,writing history. Pride did say “yes” tothe N.H. Lincoln Bicentennial Commission,speaks around the state on NewHampshire history, served as a localimpresario, and occasionally works asan overnight volunteer, with his wife,at a winter homeless shelter.Rui Araujo, NF ’91, writes that theperspective on civic participation is abit different in Portugal. Although he isstill working full-time for a Portuguesetelevision station, he has been activelyengaged for years, as a volunteer fireman,helping immigrants in France bywriting and reading letters for them,and working in an organization thathelped poor city kids get to summercamp.Nick Daniloff, NF ’74, went into102 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Nieman Notesteaching (“a good fit”) after his famous1986 arrest in Moscow on trumped-upcharges of espionage. He “got hookedon help to the children wounded inRussia’s war against Chechnya.” Thatled to a book, “The Oath,” and to participationin the International Committeefor the Children of Chechnya.Beatriz Terrazas, NF ’99, had alreadychosen to serve on the boardof a literary center before she tooka buyout from The Dallas MorningNews in 2006. She had one condition:that she would do nothing forthe newspaper at all related to thecenter. For income, she still works asa freelance writer and photographer.She now is getting involved in a naturecenter and preserve near home butavoids anything related to promotionor marketing. She believes doing thatwould cross an important line thatis very clear in her head. It wouldcompromise her credibility, “And mycredibility is all I have.”Michael H.C. McDowell, NF ’79,went from journalism in Canada towork as a trustee and senior fellowat the Panos Institute in Washington,D.C.. His reasons bear on the thesisof this essay: “I left journalism mainlybecause I wanted to influence policyand write about public issues andnot be a voyeur all my life.” He hasserved on several boards, played a keyrole in the Northern Ireland peaceprocess, advised the Bill & MelindaGates Foundation, and done otheradmirable work as well.Bill Henson, NF ’78, writes that oncehe was freed “from the restraints ofnewsroom prohibitions,” he became apublic library trustee, appointed by theschool board. He’s also media adviserto a group that “works with childrenwho have disabilities.” Finally, andnear and dear to my heart, this fellowVietnam vet serves as secretary to the1,200-member 35th Infantry RegimentAssociation, where he helps write andedit the quarterly newsletter.Jon Larsen, NF ’80, got an early starton nonprofit work “for various reasons”and “engaged in such while practicingjournalism. I even voted throughoutmy career.” Larsen was an early, activeparticipant in development of theNatural Resources Defense Council.He served as an unpaid consultant forthe start-up of the NRDC magazine,The Amicus Journal, which “morphedinto OnEarth, and at present I am thechairman of the magazine’s editorialboard. I am still on the NRDC boardas an honorary member.” Larsen alsoserved on the board of Nuclear Timesand the Columbia Journalism Review.He is now president of the board ofCambridge College, which focuses onproviding college education to workingadults. “In the next year or two,” hehopes “to turn my attention to morelocal boards in Vermont.”Ned Cline, NF ’74, “chose to leavenewspapers early, not the other wayaround.” Because he did, he “has beenable to serve as president of the Friendsof the Library at the local universitycampus” and as president of the localhistorical museum. He also has writtensix biographies “of significant philanthropistsin my state [North Carolina]who deserved recognition for goodworks but never received it.” Ned alsohas taught editing courses at the localuniversity. “It has all been worthwhileto me and others. I could have donenone of this if I had remained in thenewsroom.”Tim Giago, NF ’91, retired “for acouple of years.” But when the newspaperhe had published folded, leavingno Native American press “to cover theIndian reservations of the NorthernPlains,” he started a new one, theNative Sun News. “Now I am busyas hell and the paper is rolling rightalong.” Giago reinforces a good point:Simply doing good, honest journalismis a public service.Like Cline, Daniloff and some others,Douglas Cumming, NF ’87, leftjournalism rather than the reverse.Thanks to a Freedom Forum fellowship,he earned a PhD in mass communications,now teaches at Washingtonand Lee University, and is awaitingpublication of his first book, “LiteraryLegacies and the Challenge of Modernity.”He also enjoys being active incivic life, although “I still feel funnyshowing partisan bias or being activein a cause—so I guess I’ll always bea journalist in recovery.”Laura Eggertson, NF ’96, is stillworking as a freelancer, but also finds“that my journalism skills are valuableand in some demand from the volunteercommunity. I am very active …with the Adoption Council of Canada,helping to write grant proposals, doingsome advocacy training, and helpingcraft long-term strategies.” She alsouses her journalistic skills to helpother organizations, including theNorth American Council on AdoptableChildren, “to get their messageacross and to raise their profile withlegislators and policymakers.”To my reading, Dan Rapoport, NF’71, is the quintessential hyperactivevolunteer. After a long and variedjournalistic career in Washington,D.C., Dan and his wife, Maxine, madea break for Canaan, in upstate NewYork. He’s writing a history of Canaanfor its 250th anniversary; doing pressreleases for The Chatham Synagogue;involved in the annual book festival atthe Spencertown Academy Arts Center;occasionally researches a story thatneeds telling and then bugs the editorof the Chatham Courier to follow up;sits on the Canaan Board of AssessmentReview, and picks up highway trash.Dan has discovered that when you areopen to volunteering “you don’t reallyget a chance to specialize.” The result,he writes, “is that I am busier thanI’ve been in years and loving almostevery minute of it.”Gerald Jordan, NF ’82, also movedfrom practicing journalism to teachingit, in 1995. Once he was “freed from myethical obligations as a daily workingjournalist,” he writes, “I was tabbedfirst for a lot of campus committeesand subsequent community boards.”Jordan also is active in a number of“community-based nonprofits thatserve at-risk youth and persons insimilarly dire circumstances. …” Thenthere is a “laundry-length list of organizationsthat support scholarships andrelated programs.” Jordan is carefulbecause he still works summers as aneditor at The Philadelphia Inquirer;if he “encounters a story that looselyconnects to my advocacy back home,I defer editing it.”Nancy Rhoda, NF ’81, retired earlyNieman Reports | Summer 2009 103


Nieman Notesfrom The Tennessean. She’d spentthe last half of her career as a photoeditor and “desperately missed photographinglife in the real world.” Rhodafound what she sought as a volunteerphotographer for the Land Trust forTennessee. Over the years, she hasphotographed “about 35 Tennesseelandowners, and their farms, throughthe seasons of the year.” Rhoda alsotrained her dog, Sandy, to work as atherapy dog. She and Sandy work withbrain-injured adults and help childrenwho have difficulty reading. When thekids read to Sandy, they make “amazingchanges in their self-confidence andprogress in their reading skills.”Last, but far from least, is ArnoldMarkowitz, NF ’76, who writes thatit “isn’t a big deal” (but it is) thathe provides his skills to a fly fishingclub, primarily as a volunteer at kids’fishing clinics. He also demonstratesfly tying and serves as an observer insailfish tournaments. “I wouldn’t havetouched any of that during my reportingcareer,” he writes, “even thoughI didn’t work for the sports section.”Markowitz also keeps his hand in journalismwith a monthly fishing columnfor a local paper. Getting “mixed upin community life” is a great way tospend retirement, Markowitz writes,as long as you have something youlove. “If you have no life or interestsoutside the news biz … you’d betterstay in it, or you’re liable to go up thewall and not be able to come down.”Of the 999 living journalists whohave participated in the Nieman program,I heard from a very small sample.Are those who responded exceptionalin their desire to put their talents tocommunity use? Probably a little. Buttheir stories do demonstrate powerfullythe ways that journalistic skills canenrich community life when they areput to such use. A Nieman Fellowshipis an awesome gift, one that I believerequires years of giving back. Volunteerwork like that described here is proofthat the giving back can continue evenafter Niemans move out or move onfrom journalism. Let’s keep talkingabout our journeys. Jim Boyd, a 1980 Nieman Fellow, isformer deputy editorial page editorat the Star Tribune in Minneapolis,Minnesota.1951E. Hugh Morris died on June 1stin Frankfort, Kentucky at 94. Morrisbegan working at The Courier-Journalin 1937, where he held a variety ofpositions, including reporter, assistanteditor, and assistant state editor. Afterservice in the U.S. Navy, he returnedto Frankfort and The Courier-Journal,where he worked for 23 years, 17 asbureau chief. Morris received a 1967Pulitzer Prize for Public Service as partof a group of reporters who coveredstrip mine abuses.Dick Wilson, a retired Courier-Journal colleague, said in an obituaryat www.state-journal.com, “Hugh wasthe model for many young Kentuckyjournalists, including myself, who aspiredto outstanding state governmentand political coverage. You couldn’tkeep up with Frankfort without readingMorris in the Courier-Journal.”1972R. Gregory Nokes’s book, “Massacredfor Gold: The Chinese in HellsCanyon,” will be published by OregonState University Press in October. Thebook is the first authoritative accountof the forgotten 1887 massacre of asmany as 34 Chinese gold miners inOregon’s Hells Canyon, the deepestcanyon in North America. The discoveryof lost documents in recent yearshas made it possible to reconstructwhat Nokes has called the worst crimein Oregon history and “in lives lost,one of the worst against the nearly150,000 Chinese who immigrated tothe American West in search of workin the 19th century.” Nokes retired in2003 after 43 years in journalism.1983Callie Crossley received an honorarydegree at Cambridge College’s38th commencement ceremony inJune. The Doctor of Humane Letterswas awarded to Crossley, the NiemanFoundation’s program manager anda television and radio commentator,public speaker, and the recipient ofmajor journalism awards for her workas a producer on “Eyes on the Prize:America’s Civil Rights Years.” Crossley,who also holds an honorary Doctor ofArts degree from Pine Manor Collegein Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, is aWoodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow.1984Nina Bernstein, a reporter for TheNew York Times, has received the2009 Hillman Prize for NewspaperJournalism for “Deaths in ImmigrantDetention.” The Sidney HillmanFoundation presents this prize to “…journalists, photographers, writers andpublic figures whose work fosters socialand economic justice.” In describingher work, the foundation said, “NinaBernstein’s sweeping report providedthe first important spotlight on thedeaths of undocumented workers indetention.” Bernstein is also the authorof the prize-winning book, “The LostChildren of Wilder: The Epic Struggleto Change Foster Care.” The HillmanPrize ceremony took place in May inNew York City.1988William Dietrich gave a talk andread from his novel, “The DakotaCipher,” at The Reader’s Cove bookstoreon May 7th, hosted by Friendsof Colorado State University Libraries,in Fort Collins. “The Dakota Cipher”is the third in Dietrich’s series of his-104 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Nieman Notestorical thrillers featuring the fictionalAmerican explorer Ethan Gage, after“Napoleon’s Pyramids” and “The RosettaKey.”Dietrich currently teaches environmentalstudies at Western WashingtonUniversity and advises The Planet,the university’s student publicationof environmental coverage and theonly undergraduate-produced environmentalmagazine in the country.In 1990, while a reporter for TheSeattle Times, he shared a PulitzerPrize for National Reporting on theExxon Valdez oil spill.1989Joseph Thloloe received the AlanKirkland Soga Lifetime AchieverAward at the eighth annual MondiShanduka Newspaper Awards in Johannesburgon May 6th in recognitionof his almost 50-year contribution tojournalism in South Africa. “This yearthe award was renamed after Soga, ahistoric editor from the late 19th centurywhose credo was, ‘Gainst the wrongthat needs resistance; for the good thatlacks assistance,’” said Professor GuyBerger of Rhodes University’s School ofJournalism and Media Studies and thechief judge. “Thloloe’s life personifiesthis motto. He is possibly the mostrespected South African journalist anda professional with an unparalleledwealth of courage, compassion andcommitment.…”Thloloe is a former chairman ofthe South African National Editors’Forum and president of the Union ofBlack Journalists.Cynthia Tucker will become a politicalcolumnist based in Washington,D.C. for The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionthis summer, with her columnsappearing twice a week in the op-edpages and online at ajc.com. Tuckerwas previously the editorial page editorof the Journal-Constitution. Shehas frequently appeared as a televisioncommentator and has receivednumerous awards for her work. In2007, Tucker won the Pulitzer Prizefor Commentary.Lois Fiore Lauded for 35 Years at Nieman FoundationAt the final dinner of the Nieman year, BobGiles announced that Nieman Reports’sassistant editor and longtime staffer, LoisFiore, has accepted Harvard’s early retirementoffer, beginning July lst. He said,“I want to say some words of thanks andappreciation for our friend and colleaguewho is bringing to an end a Nieman lifetimeof 35 years of dedicated service to thefoundation. Lois leaves several milestones.She worked for four Curators. She is thelongest-serving member of the foundationstaff. Her 35 years represent one-half thelife of the foundation. Here is anotherimpressive stat: During those 35 years,Lois touched the lives of 804 of the 999living Nieman fellows….Editor Melissa Ludtke said, “I have reliedon her judgment, her skill with words, her1992Charles Onyango-Obbo writes:“The Nation Media Group recentlycreated an Africa Media Division topursue our expansion and to launch apan-Africa news magazine, an Africanews portal, and a 24-hour Africa newsTV channel by 2012. I was appointedas executive editor to head up thedivision and make all this happen, somore hours at work and of travel.“I am working on two books. Oneon what President Obama means forAfrica and the other, on which I havedone a little more work, on what itmeans to be an albino in Africa. Withmy new assignment the books willsuffer, but also it gives me a betteropportunity to get quality informationand data for them.” Onyango-Obbo canbe reached at cobbo@nation.co.ke.1998Christine Chinlund has beennamed deputy managing editor fornews operations at The Boston Globe,running the newsroom at night. Shewill also be the senior editor responsiblefor journalistic standards. Mosteye for the poignant and powerful image,and her steadfast guidance about whataspects of Nieman Reports’ past mustremain firm as the magazine evolves tomeet changing demands. Most of all, Ihave valued our friendship. To say I willmiss our editorial partnership only beginsto touch on the feelings of absence we willhave in our little corner of this foundation,for I know that her departure from ourdaily lives here will leave a void that all ofus know will be impossible to fill.”“I plan to first take a three-week traintrip across the country,” Lois said, “and thensettle into my studio at the BrickbottomArtist Building in Somerville as a full-timeartist and, I hope, a steady correspondentwith my treasured Nieman friends.” (www.loisfiore.com.) recently, she was deputy health andscience editor at the Globe, where shehas worked since 1983.2001Ken Armstrong won The GeorgePolk Award, The Michael Kelly Award,and The Payne Award for Ethics inJournalism for a series he did withNick Perry at The Seattle Times. “Victoryand Ruins” exposed the criminalhistories of members of the Universityof Washington (UW) football team.The Payne Awards announcement saidthat the series “revealed a network oflawmakers, university administrators,and athletic boosters who protectedmore than two dozen UW footballplayers who had been arrested while incollege, some for violent felonies.” TheKelly Award praised Armstrong andPerry for showing “the commitmentto truth that will alienate readers, riskadvertising accounts, and jeopardize anewspaper’s standing during alreadyprecarious times.”Armstrong and Perry are working ona book, “Scoreboard, Baby: A Team’sRise to Glory and the Dark Side ofOur National Obsession,” scheduledfor publication in the fall of 2010.Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 105


Nieman NotesKirstin Downey’s book, “TheWoman Behind the New Deal: The Lifeof Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretary ofLabor and His Moral Conscience,” waspublished by Nan A. Talese/Doubledayin March. Perkins was one of FranklinD. Roosevelt’s closest friends andconfidants, the first woman namedto a cabinet post, and a driving forcebehind the New Deal.Downey did much of her researchduring her Nieman year and foundobscure New Deal documents in theHarvard archives. Downey writes, “Thisis really a Nieman-created project. …My colleagues listened patiently to mystories about my research and havebeen endlessly supportive over the pastnine years .... I am very grateful tothe Nieman Foundation for making itpossible for me to do something that Ihave found so personally meaningful.”Curator Bob Giles said, “I rememberher great excitement at discoveringboxes of papers in the SchlesingerLibrary at Radcliffe that had beenmissed by other Perkins scholars. Sheknew it was a rare find.” The Library ofCongress will include the book in theNational Festival of Books, to be heldin Washington, D.C. in September.Downey covered business and economicsat The Washington Post forover 20 years, winning several awards.Eugene Robinson Awarded 2009 Pulitzer PrizeEugene Robinson, NF ’88 and a columnistfor The Washington Post, receivedthe 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Commentaryfor “his eloquent columns on the 2008presidential campaign that focus on theelection of the first African-Americanpresident, showcasing graceful writing andgrasp of the larger historic picture.”Amy Goldstein, NF ’05 and a reporterwith The Washington Post, was a finalist,with Dana Priest, for National Reporting.They are cited for work on immigrationdetention centers in the United States,In 2008, she shared the Pulitzer Prizefor Breaking News Reporting with herPost colleagues for their coverage of theVirginia Tech shootings. She left thepaper in 2008 to finish her biographyof Perkins. For more information onthe book, go to http://kirstindowney.com/book.2003“melding reporting and computer analysisto expose sometimes deadly abuses andspur corrective steps.”Amy Ellis Nutt, NF ’05 and a reporterfor The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey,was a finalist in feature writing for “TheAccidental Artist,” a “deeply reported storyof a chiropractor who suffered a severestroke following brain surgery and becamea wildly creative artist, in many ways estrangedfrom his former self.”The awards were announced in April atColumbia University in New York. Ronnie Ramos is the managingdirector of new media strategies andcontent development for the NationalCollegiate Athletic Association. Ramon,who began this job in May, isresponsible for running the organization’sWeb sites. Ramos had mostrecently been sports editor at TheAtlanta Journal-Constitution, wherehe worked for the past five years.2004Jodi Rave ended her newspapercareer on May 4th to work on indepthprojects, including a book aboutElouise Cobell and the Indian trustfund lawsuit. The book will be theresult of more than a decade’s worth2009 Lukas Prize Project Awards PresentedColumbia’s Graduate School of Journalismand the Nieman Foundation honored therecipients of the 2009 J. Anthony LukasPrize Project Awards for exceptional nonfictionat a ceremony at the Graduate Schoolof Journalism in New York City in May.The J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize($10,000) was awarded to Jane Mayer for“The Dark Side: The Inside Story of Howthe War on Terror Turned Into a War onAmerican Ideals.” The judges describedthe book as “the one indispensable narrative,as yet, of what really happenedwhen the George W. Bush administrationdecided to use torture as a weapon in thewar on terror.” Mayer is a writer for TheNew Yorker.The Mark Lynton History Prize($10,000) was awarded to Timothy Brookfor “Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Centuryand the Dawn of the Global World.” Thejudges said that in the book, Brook “playsa dazzling game of extrapolation, lookingclosely at the domestic accoutrements inhalf a dozen paintings and demonstratingthat Vermeer’s ostensible subject—the provincialDutch city of Delft—was actuallya window through which we can todayperceive the rise of international tradeduring the 17th century and the dawn ofglobal commerce.”The J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-ProgressAward ($30,000) was presented to JudyPasternak for “Yellow Dirt: The Betrayalof the Navajos” (to be published by FreePress). This award is given to assist inthe completion of a significant work ofnarrative nonfiction on an American topicof political or social concern.Established in 1998, these prizes recognizeexcellence in nonfiction writing thatexemplifies the literary grace and commitmentto serious research and social concernthat characterized the distinguished workof the awards’ Pulitzer Prize-winning namesake,J. Anthony Lukas (NF ’69), who diedin 1997. The Mark Lynton History Prizeis named for the late Mark Lynton, businessexecutive and author of “AccidentalJourney: A Cambridge Internee’s Memoirof World War II.” The Lynton Family hassponsored the Lukas Prize Project sinceits inception. 106 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Nieman NotesThe Charlotte Observer Wins Taylor Family Award for Fairness in NewspapersThe Charlotte Observer’s series, “TheCruelest Cuts,” has won the Taylor FamilyAward for Fairness in Newspapers for itscoverage of health and safety violations inthe poultry industry. Based on thousandsof documents and hundreds of interviews,“The Cruelest Cuts” investigation focusedon the North Carolina-based House of RaefordFarms and uncovered serious safetyregulation abuses that included preventinginjured workers from seeking a doctor’scare, bringing injured employees back towork just hours after surgery, and hiringunderage workers to perform dangerousjobs. Many of those workers were illegal immigrantswho were reluctant to complain,fearing repercussions if they did.Throughout the production of the series,the paper sought comment from Raefordofficials, even twice postponing publicationto allow the company more time to respondto questions. Reporters for the series wereAmes Alexander, Franco Ordoñez, KerryHall, and Peter St. Onge. Ted Mellnik wasdatabase editor for the series.The Observer stories have led to Congressionalhearings and efforts to punish theunderreporting of workplace injuries, theindictment of a Raeford company manager,increased staffing in the North CarolinaDepartment of Labor, and promises fromfederal and state legislators to protect youngworkers from hazardous jobs.Curator Bob Giles noted that “At a timewhen the very future of print journalism isthreatened, the Taylor Award illustrates yetagain why the resources of an establishednewsroom are invaluable. The kind ofin-depth, time-consuming reporting thatmany newspaper reporters do is too oftenundervalued today. We salute the effortsof all the papers that produced such fairmindedentries in this year’s competitionas well as the critical role they continueto play in our democracy.”The award, presented in April at theNieman Foundation, includes a $10,000prize for the winner. The award programwas established through gifts for an endowmentby members of the Taylor family,who published The Boston Globe from1872 to 1999. William O. Taylor, chairmanemeritus of the Globe, embraced the ideaof an award for fairness in newspapers asa way to give something back to the craftto which five generations of his familydevoted their working lives. of reporting on the 13-year-old lawsuitagainst the U.S. government for failingto pay Native Americans billions ofdollars in royalties from Indian trustlands managed by the Departmentof the Interior since 1887. Rave alsoplans to focus on Native Americanlanguage revitalization programs andher community, Twin Buttes, NorthDakota, home of Edwin Benson, theremaining person fluent in Nu’eta asa first language. Rave’s final story forthe Missoulian was a profile of Benson,78 years old. Rave reported on NativeAmerican issues for Lee Enterprisesnewspapers for 11 years.2004Ju-Don Marshall Roberts wasnamed executive editor and seniorvice president of Beliefnet, a spiritualitysupport Web site owned by NewsCorporation. Roberts will oversee thecompany’s content divisions of editorial,community, video and product,according to a June 5th news release.Most recently, she was named deputyeditor of the Post’s new universal deskand has been the managing editor ofThe Washington Post’s Web site. In2008 Roberts led Web coverage ofthe Virginia Tech shootings, whichcontributed to the Post being awardedthe Pulitzer Prize for Breaking NewsReporting. Roberts had worked at TheWashington Post for 17 years.2005Amy Ellis Nutt is the recipient ofthe 2008 Sigma Delta Chi Award inFeature Writing (circulation of 100,000or greater) and was a finalist for thePulitzer Prize for Feature Writing forher Star-Ledger story, “The AccidentalArtist.” This tells the story of Jon Sarkin,a once mild-mannered chiropractorwho, after poststroke surgery, awokewith “a single, ferocious urge: to createart,” Nutt wrote. Nutt has writtenfor The Star-Ledger since 1997. Shereceived a 2003 Distinguished WritingAward for Non-Deadline Writing fromthe American Society of NewspaperEditors and a 2004 Science JournalismAward from the American Associationfor the Advancement of Science.2006Chris Cobler received the firstEditorial Achievement Award fromthe Texas Daily Newspaper Associationat its annual conference in March.The award recognizes “courage andcommitment to the newsroom andleadership in the community” and“advocating and pursuing openness andaccessibility to government.” Cobler,editor of the Victoria Advocate since2007, received the award for a serieson law enforcement in Victoria County.Cobler has won numerous awards forhis papers, including best front pagefor the Advocate from Inland PressAssociation in 2008, the InternationalPerspective Award for the Greeley(Colo.) Tribune in 2006 and 2002,and the Robert G. McGruder Awardfor Diversity Leadership as editor ofthe Tribune in 2003.Mary C. Curtis now writes for AOL’sMediaGlow, which runs 70 online mediaproperties. Curtis was one of 22people hired for its new site, PoliticsDaily. Curtis, based in Charlotte, NorthCarolina, also contributes to NPR andthe Nieman Watchdog political andmedia blog.Jeb Sharp won a 2009 Dart Awardfor Excellence in Trauma Coveragefor her five-part investigative radioseries, “Rape as a Weapon of War.”Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 107


Nieman NotesThe PRI series, edited by JenniferGoren, examined “the brutality ofsexual violence in conflict zones andthe medical, humanitarian, legal andpolitical response to it,” according tothe press release. Judges commendedSharp for her great respect and compassionin reporting the survivors’stories and her ability to convey thetraumatic environments that led tothe dehumanizing acts. Sharp andGoren were recognized at a ceremonyin April at the Columbia UniversityGraduate School of Journalism, siteof the Dart Center for Journalismand Trauma.2007Dexter Filkins received the NationalBook Critics Circle Award forGeneral Nonfiction for “The ForeverWar,” his reporting on the conflicts inIraq and Afghanistan.Juanita Léon has created theinvestigative political blog La SillaVacía (The Empty Seat), dedicatedto scrutinizing politicians and powerin Colombia. Léon, with Colombia’s2010 presidential elections in mind,started the project more than a yearago with help from experts she hadconsulted during her Nieman year.Léon is a former editor of Semanamagazine and El Tiempo newspaperand a current fellow of the Open SocietyInstitute. Her blog is at www.lasillavacia.com.Andrea McCarren’s “Project Immigration”for WJLA-TV was nameda regional winner of the Edward R.Murrow Award for News Documentary(www.wjla.com/projectimmigration).McCarren reported, produced andcohosted the special, which exploredcomplex immigration and labor issues,especially in the Washington, D.C.area, which has a high concentrationof immigrants from El Salvador. Regionalwinners of the Murrow awardare eligible for the national awardscompetition, which will be judged inJune and presented in October.McCarren has been a news anchor,reporter and producer for 26 years,the past eight at WJLA-TV until beinglaid off in January 2009. She isnow freelance reporting and doingmedia training for nonprofits andcorporations as well as broadcasttraining for print journalists. She isalso gathering material for her firstnonfiction book.2009David Jackson received a 2009Studs Terkel Community Media Award,presented at a 20th anniversary partyto “… celebrate the talent in our everchangingmedia landscape as well asStuds’ phenomenal life.” At the awardsevent in 2007, Terkel said the awardis to honor journalists who take extrasteps to report news “from the peoplewho made Chicago, news that’s bottomup rather than up, down. That’s whatthis is all about.” Jackson met Terkel athis first internship at Chicago magazinein the 1980’s. Terkel introducedhimself to Jackson and said, “I wantto meet some young people. Can youhelp me?” So Jackson took Terkel to afew nightclubs. He remembers Terkelas larger-than-life, somewhat fragile,carrying a large reel-to-reel recorderover a shoulder and an “outlandishlygiant” microphone. Jackson said, “Itwas the most amazing kind of journalistictheater I’ve ever seen.”Update: In his Spring 2009 Notes article,Andrés Cavelier, NF ’08, writesabout his new consulting venture. Afterthe issue went to press, he renamedthe company FastrackMedia. Four Nieman Fellows Honored By Overseas Press ClubThe Overseas Press Club (OPC) announcedthe recipients of their 2008awards at their annual dinner in Aprilin New York City.Dexter Filkins, NF ’07, received TheCornelius Ryan Award for best nonfictionbook on international affairs for“The Forever War,” a narrative abouthis experiences covering the conflictsin Iraq and Afghanistan. OPC said, “hisvivid portraits of the arc of violence anddeath that spreads from Afghanistanand Pakistan to Iraq and even the tipof Manhattan capture the fear and thefeel of a global conflagration.”Amy Goldstein, NF ’05, receivedThe Joe and Laurie Dine Award for bestinternational reporting in any mediumdealing with human rights, along withfellow Washington Post reporter DanaPriest, for the series, “Careless Detention.”The series exposed the unethicaltreatment and medical neglect of immigrantsin deplorably run detentioncenters across the United States. Theawards honored Goldstein and Priest’scareful, critical investigation depictingthe “horrors and torture” that detaineesendured.Alma Guillermoprieto, NF ’05,received The Robert Spiers BenjaminAward for best reporting in any mediumon Latin America for her New Yorkerarticle, “Days of the Dead: The NewNarcocultura.” The article portrayedthe roots of the “narcocultura” thathas “so convulsed Mexico as to raiseconcerns about a failed state south ofthe border.” OPC commended Guillermoprietofor going beyond headlinestories and adding new context tothe public’s understanding of thesituation.Jeb Sharp, NF ’06, received TheLowell Thomas Award for best radionews or interpretation of internationalaffairs for “How Wars End,” a seriesfor PRI’s “The World.” Sharp reportedthe series and Patrick Cox was theeditor. The series explored the issueof how to determine the appropriatetime and way to “disengage from war.”One judge highlighted the series’ approachto thinking about “abstractquestions, for example, the tensionbetween stability and justice.” 108 Nieman Reports | Summer 2009


Nieman NotesNieman Fellows 2009-2010 AnnouncedThe Nieman Foundation has selected24 journalists from the United Statesand abroad to join the 72nd class ofNieman Fellows. The group includesprint and multimedia reporters andeditors, radio and television journalists,photographers, book authors, afilmmaker and a columnist.Curator Bob Giles notes that membersof the incoming class reflect thechanging news industry: “This year,we received applications from—andawarded fellowships to—more freelancejournalists than ever before. Theyare highly talented professionals whoby choice or circumstance don’t holdstaff positions with established newsorganizations. In response to theirneeds and those of all the NiemanFellows, we will introduce a yearlongmultimedia curriculum in the fall,designed to teach new media skillsin what is becoming an increasinglycompetitive market.”U.S. Nieman Fellows:Martha Bebinger, state housereporter, WBUR, Boston, Massachusetts.Monica Campbell, freelance journalistbased in San Francisco, California.She is the Louis Stark NiemanFellow, the fellowship that honorsthe memory of The New York Timesreporter who was a pioneer in thefield of labor reporting.Jeff Howe, contributing editor,Wired magazine, New York.Beth Macy, The Roanoke (Va.)Times.Liz Mineo, reporter, The MetroWestDaily News, Framingham, Massachusetts.She is the Donald W. ReynoldsNieman Fellow in Community Journalism.Lisa Mullins, anchor/senior producer,Public Radio International’s“The World,” Boston, Massachusetts.Joshua Prager, freelance journalistand author, New York City.Alissa Quart, author, contributingeditor/columnist, Columbia JournalismReview and contributing writer,Mother Jones, New York City.Kevin Sites, freelance multimediajournalist and author based in LosAngeles, California.Anita Snow, AP Havana bureauchief.Marcela Valdes, freelance writerfrom Annapolis, Maryland. Valdes isthe 2010 Arts and Culture NiemanFellow.Shankar Vedantam, national sciencereporter, The Washington Post.Nieman Fellow in GlobalHealth Reporting:Hopewell Rugoho-Chin’ono, documentaryfilm director/news producer,Television International, Zimbabwe.He is the Robert Waldo Ruhl NiemanFellow.International NiemanFellows:Audra Ang (China), correspondent,The Associated Press. She is the AtsukoChiba (NF ’68) Nieman Fellow.Maria Balinska (United Kingdom),editor, World Current Affairs Radio,BBC. She is the Ruth Cowan NashNieman Fellow.Ibrahim Barzaq (Palestinian Territories),correspondent, The AssociatedPress. He is the Barry Bingham, Jr.Nieman Fellow.Janet Heard (South Africa), executiveeditor, Weekend Argus. Herfellowship is supported by the NiemanSociety of Southern Africa. Heard’sfather, Anthony, is a 1988 fellow.Joana Gorjão Henriques (Portugal),deputy editor, Público. Herfellowship is funded by the Luso-American Foundation and the CalousteGulbenkian Foundation.Jana Juginovic (Canada), directorof news and programming, CTV NewsChannel and executive producer, CTVNews Specials. She is the Martin WiseGoodman (NF ’62) Canadian NiemanFellow.Gary Knight (United Kingdom),photographer and editor, VII PhotoAgency and Dispatches Quarterly. He isthe Carroll Binder Nieman Fellow.Alejandra Matus (Chile), freelancejournalist for The Clinic, Paula magazine,Terra magazine, and The MiamiHerald. She is a John S. and JamesL. Knight Foundation Latin AmericanNieman Fellow.Boris Muñoz (Venezuela), editor inchief, Exceso magazine. He is a JohnS. and James L. Knight FoundationLatin American Nieman Fellow.James Reynolds (United Kingdom),China correspondent, BBCNews.Maxim Trudolyubov (Russia), opedpage editor for the business dailyVedomosti. He is the William Montalbano(NF ’70) Nieman Fellow.The U.S. fellows were selected byMarie Danziger, lecturer in publicpolicy and director of the CommunicationsProgram at Harvard’s KennedySchool of Government; LouiseKiernan (NF ’05), a senior editor atthe Chicago Tribune, and MichaelSkoler (NF ’93), founder of PublicInsight Journalism. Bob Giles (NF’66), Nieman Foundation Curator,chaired the committee.The Nieman Global Health ReportingFellow was chosen by Linda Harrar,a documentary producer, directorand writer, and Stefanie Friedhoff(NF ’01), special projects manager forthe Nieman Foundation. The NiemanFellow in Arts and Culture Reportingwas selected by Jack Megan, directorof the Office for the Arts at HarvardUniversity, and Alicia Anstead, editorof Inside Arts magazine, freelance artswriter, and the 2008 Arts and CultureNieman Fellow. Bob Giles chaired thecommittees. Nieman Reports | Summer 2009 109


VOL. 63 NO. 2 SUMMER 2009 IRAN: CAN ITS STORIES BE TOLD? THE NIEMAN FOUNDATION AT HARVARD UNIVERSITYNieman ReportsOne Francis AvenueCambridge, Massachusetts 02138NIEMAN REPORTS

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