Nieman Reports Iran
01 Jun 2009 21:28
[TEHRAN BUREAU] Q&A with Melissa Ludtke, Editor of Nieman Reports
The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard was established in 1938 "to promote and elevate the standards of journalism." The Foundation publishes the quarterly magazine Nieman Reports, which is the oldest magazine in the United States devoted to a critical examination of the practice of journalism.
For more than six decades, Nieman Reports has explored what it means to be a journalist, examined major shifts in the industry, and shared with its worldwide audience articles about the rights and responsibilities of news organizations.
Recent issues of the quarterly magazine have featured "Islam: Reporting in Context and With Complexity"; "Afghanistan: Stories Come Back Into View"; "Goodbye Gutenberg," which dealt with the growth of digital media; and "Global Migration and Immigration: Stories and Images About the Journey."
This month, Nieman Reports turns its focus to Iran.
Melissa Ludtke is the editor of Nieman Reports. She was a correspondent with Time magazine, worked at CBS News and was a reporter with Sports Illustrated. In the late 1970s, she was the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against Major League Baseball in which women reporters gained equal access to their male peers in being able to interview the ballplayers in the locker room. She is also the author of the book, "On Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in America."
TEHRAN BUREAU: How did Nieman Reports come to focus on Iran? Whose idea was it?
MELISSA LUDTKE: Iason Athanasiadis came to me last year, all of the year he was here as a Nieman Fellow. We had many conversations and clearly his experience of living and working in Tehran for three years preceding his coming to the Nieman Foundation was very deep inside of him. So we just didn't have one conversation. We talked a lot. In the spring time we finally sat down with the objective of just saying, How can we make this work in Nieman Reports? It was clear that he had some great ideas inside of him of wanting to share his experience but also invite others to the table: What are some of the stories to be told? And what are some of these barriers to them being told both for Western journalists and also for Iranians themselves?
As we came closer to this year being the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, this time again, from afar, via Skype and email, we said, Let's make it happen. This is an important time, this is an important marking point certainly from the Western point of view of this passage of time and what it has meant.
How did you decide who would write these stories?
We were looking for those who could really bring a good mixture of perspectives. In Nieman Reports journalists write very personally out of their own experience about what it meant to tell a story, report a story, produce a story. We did want a blend of Western voices and Iranian voices in this. We also wanted, if we could, and we weren't sure we could, to find people who are still working in Iran as journalists and who would feel safe writing for us. But we also wanted to hear from those who have been forced into exile and to look at what that voice becomes when the journalists are not allowed to be in their country and trying to stay in touch with what the story is. As one of them said to try to retain a sense of voice and audience when you are in exile. So we wanted to have a blending of those experiences.
As you say, many of the voices are coming from exile. Do you think that may give a skewed picture of what journalism in Iran is like.
I don't know how to answer that. It gives us the picture that we were able to do. One of the people that I quote from in the introduction to this piece was a reporter who is unnamed, for obvious reasons. This person wrote to me that in this case the reporter would have loved to have written for us about experiences in reporting in Iran right now. But as she wrote to me, if it was a better time, she would have done it. "I'm under a lot of psychological pressure. I'm trying not to let it affect my work. My neighbors keep getting calls from security officials who tell them that I'm involved in drug smuggling. I'm assuming that they want to intimidate me with embarrassing charges before the election." So in this case this reporter's voice was silenced. We would have hoped to bring it to our pages, but we couldn't.
Another journalist who Iason was able to help us to find, like many Iranian reporters has been imprisoned. This reporter is writing without a byline because of fear for safety and writes quite revealingly about what it's like to continue to tell these stories.
So we've done what we can do--what our efforts at this point allowed us to do. There may be some who would bring criticism to the table for not trying hard enough to create a more well-rounded picture. It's a tough thing to do. And I certainly accept that criticism. But we gave it the effort that we could.
I relied on the expertise and assistance of a number of people who have been Nieman Fellows through the years. Roza Eftekhari, once an editor at Zanan now living in exile, wrote about her experience. She also helped us reach out to three Iranian journalists. As I said, Iason helped. Scheherezade Faramarzi, an AP reporter based in Beirut, who has covered Iran and is Iranian by birth, shared her expertise. And I reached out to some people that she and others recommended to me. But for a variety of reasons, two people we were really hoping would write for us, after thinking about it and deliberating, made the decision they couldn't for a variety of reasons, including concerns about their safety and ability to get back into Iran. So this desire to write but inability to do so became a refrain I got used to hearing.