March 12, 2008
I would like to begin by thanking Mitch Stephens for being the genial host and organizer to celebrate I.F. Stone’s100th birthday this evening and for giving us this opportunity to visit the splendid new quarters of the New York University Department of Journalism.
The Nieman Foundation is honored to be associated with the memory of Izzy Stone’s remarkable life in journalism and cherishes the opportunity to capture its spirit anew in advancing the cause of journalistic independence.
This project is a wonderful collaboration between the Nieman Foundation and Jeremy Stone.
Barry Sussman, the editor of the Nieman Watchdog project, and his colleague, Dan Froomkin, invited me into the discussion with a note that said, “Honoring I.F. Stone in this way is exactly in synch with us in terms of a basic goal: to get the press to do a better job of holding powerful individuals and groups accountable.”
Meetings, phone calls, e-mail exchanges and working dinners followed.
A plan emerged, an agreement with Harvard to establish the I.F. Stone Fund for Journalistic Independence was crafted and signed.
Harvard timed the announcement of the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence with the launch of the I.F. Stone Web site, which provides a wonderful resource for learning about and appreciating Izzy Stone’s journalistic independence.
"The Nieman Foundation is hopeful that aligning its name and traditions with the journalistic independence so effectively evoked by Izzy Stone, can embolden a new generation of journalists to stand alone and speak their minds."
As I got more deeply involved, it was immediately clear that the spirit of Izzy Stone’s work was not only in synch with our Watchdog project; it was fully compatible with the mission of the Nieman Foundation---“to promote and elevate the standards of journalism and educate individuals deemed specially qualified for journalism.”
That was the founding mandate for the Nieman Foundation and it has guided the program’s role at Harvard and its global outreach.
For 70 years, the foundation’s history has been heavily invested in investigative reporting.
Journalists specializing in investigative work continue to populate Nieman classes. Speakers address the topic at seminars and workshops.
The Nieman Watchdog project (www.niemanwatchdog.org), which Barry runs, offers a platform to reinforce an essential element of watchdog reporting: asking probing questions.
For more than 60 years, Nieman Reports, our quarterly magazine, has published stories examining the craft of investigative journalism.
The Spring issue, which will be distributed at the end of March, carries forward that tradition under the theme of “21st Century Muckrakers.”
Central to our purpose is the reality that an independent press remains the single institution that is free to probe for facts about wrongdoing or information the government wants to shield from its citizens.
History will mark the national crisis of the past seven years as a time when the watchdog role of the press was never more vital.
Many daily news organizations say they can no longer afford a serious investment in investigative reporting.
These worrisome indicators suggest that in many places the traditional role of the press as a public trust is being eroded under the pressure of a shrinking bottom line.
Izzy Stone was a model of the resolute, provocative journalist who worked against injustice and inequity and was unafraid to dissent from conventional wisdom.
As he said of himself, “I am a wholly independent newspaperman, standing alone, without organizational or party backing, beholden to no one but my good readers.”
The Nieman Foundation is hopeful that aligning its name and traditions with the journalistic independence so effectively evoked by Izzy Stone, can embolden a new generation of journalists to stand alone and speak their minds.
One of our Nieman alumni sent me a note in response to the news story about the I.F. Stone Medal, saying that if Izzy were alive today, he would be one of the most successful bloggers in the country.
The I.F. Stone Medal award ceremony, which will take place at The Newseum in Washington, is part of our strategy to draw attention to the critical need for independent, investigative journalism.
The I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence will be presented annually “to an American journalist or news executive whose work exemplifies the independent spirit of I.F. Stone as well as the qualities of integrity, courage and indefatigability that characterized I.F. Stone’s Weekly, 1953-71.”
We anticipate that the speech by the award winner will shed fresh light on the press’s role, and the workshop that will follow will become a serious forum for examining the values of journalistic independence and investigative reporting in search of ideas that can inspire a deeper commitment to investigative reporting.
To all of you in our fine audience this evening, we look forward to having your support and your ideas.
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