Reporting in good conscience

Nieman Fellows spend a good chunk of our time on extra-curricular activities; to a degree, what happens outside of the classroom matters more than what happens in it. Some of our activities transcend the mere extra-curricular, including what we’re doing right now, as we discuss what journalist should get the Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.

As an American journalist who has spent little time reporting from foreign countries, I find this process eye-opening. Journalists don’t get a lot of respect in America, but at worst I might get hazed, or on a good day screamed at by an angry corporate mouthpiece. Elsewhere, journalists get shot at, blown up, jailed, deprived of basic civil rights. I was aware of this in an abstract way before I became a Nieman Fellow; I spent some time a few years ago trying to help with the U.S. transition for an African journalist who was driven from his country because of his reporting.  But actually going through example after example of journalists under attack for doing their jobs shatters my abstract ideas of what it really means to be a journalist. We are sifting through data about journalists and bloggers in Azerbaijan, Burma/Myanmar, China, Colombia, Iran, Mexico and Somalia. Several of them are in jail for their reporting, some are in exile or banned from working, some still alive by what amounts to a minor miracle. It’s a stunning list, every one an intrepid human being. It’s no less enlightening to hear colleagues here at Nieman put it in context from their own experience — what happens when you’re threatened with death in a country where the government actually would be glad to see you dead? What happens when you know your phone and email are monitored, as well as all your personal interactions?

Something for me to reflect on when somebody flames me for not kowtowing to their perspective.

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