In an effort to bring the worldwide Nieman family together, the Nieman Foundation introduced its Web site in 1999. At that time, Bill Kovach, then Curator, sent a note to Nieman Fellows in which he described what he hoped this Web site would become. “By combining the new information technology with the Nieman network,” he wrote, “the foundation is rapidly becoming a leading-edge electronic clearinghouse for journalists and their work, a sure sign that public interest journalism will be well-represented in the 21st century.”
In its early years, the Nieman Web site (www.nieman.harvard.edu) served as a reliable place to find information about the program and about Nieman Fellows. The increasing power of the Web now has enabled the Nieman Foundation to expand on that beginning with changes that permit more than 900 Nieman Fellows, as well as other journalists, educators, students and citizens interested in how the press does its work, to access a larger variety of information. Next steps include a new database and content management system to support new and expanded services and make interactive engagement possible.
We are building on the idea that the Nieman Foundation should be an Internet destination for good journalism. Here are some of our Web site’s developing elements.
- The Watchdog Journalism Project. The mission of the watchdog project since its inception in 1997 has been to reinvigorate the news media in its fundamental role of monitoring the activities of organizations and individuals who wield power at all levels of government, business, labor and nonprofit organizations. Until now the project’s work has focused on convening conferences and reporting on them in Nieman Reports. Now we recognize the need to reinforce an essential aspect of watchdog reporting—asking probing questions. Effective questioning techniques are not emphasized in journalism courses, nor are they evident in much of the daily news coverage in print and broadcast. Important elements of stories are left unexplored and policymakers often seem to escape questioning they want to avoid. The new online watchdog project staff will be working with authoritative sources at universities and other places to develop lines of questioning that a probing and penetrating press should be asking. This part of the Nieman Web site will also provide links to “best practices” in watchdog journalism and a forum for discussions about watchdog reporting.
- The Narrative Digest. The Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism is developing an online narrative newspaper to provide links to the best work in narrative journalism that we can find. The site will point readers to classics in narrative journalism, reports on the Nieman Narrative Journalism Conference, tips on reporting and writing practices, the role of editing, and the ethics of narrative journalism.
- Lippmann House Expansion. We invite Nieman Fellows and friends to track the progress of our expansion of Lippmann House, share a memory, sign up for e-mail alerts, and make a donation to the Walter Lippmann House Fund. The Web site will maintain a project overview, construction schedule, regular photographic updates, and a history of Lippmann House in words and pictures.
- Nieman Fellowship Applications. The “How to Apply” section is being expanded to include detailed information about the selection criteria for fellowships, the Nieman experience, and the foundation’s history. Prospective U.S. fellows will be able to download the application and fill it out on their computers. Prospective international fellows will find more information about funding and support.
- Nieman Alumni/ae Database. The alumni database is a valuable resource that enables the foundation to maintain its important global network of fellows. The Nieman staff uses the database to contact Nieman Fellows about foundation events and news. Because information in the fellows’ database often is incomplete or out-of-date, we are asking each fellow to provide us with updated, accurate information so connections among Nieman Fellows can be more easily made. Those who stop by Lippmann House share with us fond memories and how much they want to stay in touch with the program, and we value the expertise, ideas and contributions many fellows have made to the foundation’s programs and publications through the years. This revised database will make it easier for us to remain in touch and to alert fellows of changes and events.
And, as you know, the current and many back issues of Nieman Reports can be found on the Web site as well.
All of us who practice journalism know that the Web is playing a transformative role in the way we communicate among ourselves and with those who receive the news we report. At the Nieman Foundation, we want our Web site to be an effective tool that can be used to engage all of us more fully in the work of elevating the standards of journalism and to help us maintain our valued personal and professional connections with members of the Nieman family. As we work to make this happen, stay in touch and offer us ideas on how our Web site can be even more helpful to you.