Investigative reporting has always been central to the Nieman experience. 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) offers a platform to reinforce an essential element of watchdog reporting: asking probing questions. For more than 60 years, Nieman Reports has published stories examining the craft of investigative journalism, and in this issue it carries forward that tradition under the theme of 21st Century Muckrakers.
This legacy influenced recent decisions by the Nieman Foundation to administer two awards that honor independent investigative journalism:
The press remains an essential national institution in its job of independently probing for facts about wrongdoing or information the government wants to shield from its citizens. Its watchdog role is never more vital than during a national crisis. In a time of economic challenges for news companies, however, deep concern is emerging that a commitment to such public service journalism is waning. Shrinking news staffs and diminishing reportorial resources are worrisome indicators that many daily news organizations will no longer support a serious investment in investigative reporting.
Linking the Nieman name with these awards is an opportunity to reinforce independent investigative reporting by recognizing excellence. To be sure, the awards are distinctive in their purpose.
The Worth Bingham Prize honors newspaper or magazine investigative reporting of stories of national significance where the public interest is ill served. Worth was heir to his family’s newspaper holdings in Louisville when he was killed in an automobile accident in 1966. The Worth Bingham Memorial Fund was established, and the initial prize was given the following year.
Joan Bingham, Worth’s widow, and their daughter Clara, who have overseen the prize program, approached us a year ago with the idea that the Nieman Foundation might have an interest in creating an archive for the winning entries. As these discussions moved along, they led to a broader discussion about establishing the Nieman Foundation as home for the prize. Proposals were exchanged over several months; agreement was reached and approved recently by the trustees of the Worth Bingham Fund. In recent years, the Worth Bingham Prize has been among several journalism honors given at the National Press Foundation’s annual February dinner in Washington, D.C.. Beginning in 2009, the prize ceremony will be presented at a dinner at Walter Lippmann House that will feature a lecture on investigative reporting by the winner.
The I.F. Stone Medal is a new award to be presented annually to a journalist whose work captures the spirit of independence, integrity, courage and indefatigability that characterized I.F. Stone’s Weekly, published 1953-1971. The I.F. Stone Medal will be awarded at an event in Washington that will include a talk by the winner and a workshop discussion on journalistic independence.
Izzy Stone was a model of the resolute, provocative journalist who worked against injustice and inequity and was not afraid to dissent from conventional wisdom. Creating a forum to honor and encourage journalistic independence recognizes that the qualities his work represented are now under stress—qualities that seem especially essential during a time of war in which a nation pays a heavy price for secrecy and deception when used to justify military actions.
We believe that the Nieman Foundation can use its bully pulpits—through Nieman Reports and the Watchdog Journalism Project in tandem with the influence of the Worth Bingham Prize and the I.F. Stone Medal—to draw attention to the need for continued excellent investigative reporting and courageous journalistic independence.