Summer 2009

Iran: Can Its Stories Be Told?

Journalists — Iranians and Westerners — share their firsthand experiences as they write about the challenges they confront in gathering and distributing news and information about Iran and its people. Their words and images offer a rare blend of insights about journalists’ lives and work in Iran. In the fifth part of our 21st Century Muckrakers series about investigative and watchdog reporting, the focus turns to coverage of issues involving public health, safety and trust. And in Words & Reflections, essays touch on objectivity, religion, blogging, Ireland and post 9/11 America. – Melissa Ludtke, Editor

Iran: Can Its Stories Be Told?
Introduction (3 comments)
By Melissa Ludtke, Editor
Treatment of Journalists
Understanding Iran: Reporters Who Do Are Exiled, Pressured or Jailed (4 comments)
‘Roxana’s work consistently gave the lie to the narrative of a monolithic Islamic Republic.’
By Iason Athanasiadis
Journalism in a Semi-Despotic Society (2 comments)
'Censorship, low payment, and the high risk of arrest for any journalist who dares to take an investigative step, among other reasons such as lack of individual liberty, have pushed Iranian journalists to the virtual world of the Internet.'
By Byline Withheld
Peering Inside Contemporary Iran (2 comments)
An Essay in Words and Photographs By Iason Athanasiadis
When Eyes Get Averted: The Consequences of Misplaced Reporting (7 comments)
‘Poor reporting from and about Iran has kept the West in the dark. In this lightlessness, Iranians are rendered as ghosts.’
By Roya Hakakian
Imprisoning Journalists Silences Others
While most Iranian journalists have to operate with extreme caution, foreign journalists can be more frank on the issues they face in Iran.
By D. Parvaz
‘We Know Where You Live’ (2 comments)
Working for a Western magazine in Iran, a journalist finds that he has acquired some surprisingly close acquaintances—from the ministry of intelligence. And strangely, they are all called Mr. Mohammadi.
By Maziar Bahari
A Visual Witness to Iran’s Revolution (2 comments)
An Essay in Words and Photographs By Reza
Film in Iran: The Magazine and the Movies (1 comment)
‘… there are two arenas—cinema and soccer—that while not completely impervious to the political torrents have a greater margin of immunity.’
By Houshang Golmakani
Women Reporters, Women’s Stories
Your Eyes Say That You Have Cried (8 comments)
‘Today’s generation of Iranian women reporters are doing big things. Their mark will be left on history.’
By Masoud Behnoud
Telling the Stories of Iranian Women’s Lives (1 comment)
‘Anyone who did research on women’s issues benefitted from hundreds of articles, stories and interviews that were featured in Zanan.’
By Shahla Sherkat
Iranian Journalist: A Job With Few Options
After working for more than a decade at the now banned Iranian magazine Zanan, a journalist now in the United States describes her feelings of identity, location and loss.
By Roza Eftekhari
View From the West
Seven Visas = Continuity of Reporting From Iran
‘The Iranian government sometimes appears to favor U.S. reporters with little knowledge of the country who might be more amenable to spin, although that has not happened in my case.’
By Barbara Slavin
No Man’s Land Inside an Iranian Police Station (1 comment)
When Iran held a U.S. reporter, an American television correspondent recalled her own brief arrest by Iranian police.
By Martha Raddatz
The Human Lessons: They Lie at the Core of Reporting in Iran (2 comments)
‘When we work in countries without press freedoms, we scarcely know the pressures on the people we encounter, the complexities of their motivations, the dimensions of their fears.’
By Laura Secor
Iran: News Happens, But Fewer Journalists Are There to Report It (4 comments)
In a time of global engagement—economic, political, environmental, energy and health, to name a few—budget cuts at news organizations severely limit foreign news coverage.
By Mark Seibel
When the Predictable Overtakes the Real News About Iran (1 comment)
‘What makes news in the West are Iran’s "menacing" actions in Iraq or words against Israel, with such stories told in a similar narrative, encased in little context and with a shortage of evidence.’
By Scheherezade Faramarzi
The Web and Iran: Digital Dialogue
Attempting to Silence Iran’s ‘Weblogistan’ (2 comments)
‘Iran’s filtering and blocking regime has been described by various experts as second only to China’s.’
By Mohamed Abdel Dayem
Blogging in Iran
Publishing and Mapping Iran’s Weblogistan (2 comments)
By Melissa Ludtke
The Virtual Iran Beat (11 comments)
‘Speaking Farsi helps expand our ability to gather news. It means we can tap into a more extensive network and speak to more Iranians, even if we’re not based in Tehran.’
By Kelly Golnoush Niknejad
Nieman Notes
Jobs Change or Vanish: Niemans Discover an Unanticipated Bonus in Community Work
From tutoring to volunteer firefighting to working with at-risk children, fellows use their skills to dig into their surroundings.
By Jim Boyd
Curator's Corner
The Journey of the 2009 Nieman Fellows—And of the Foundation
In their experiences, conversations and future directions, they create a portrait of what is happening in journalism today.
By Bob Giles
21st Century Muckrakers
By Melissa Ludtke, Editor
The Challenges and Opportunities of 21st Century Muckraking (2 comments)
‘… investigative reporters are a hardy breed who will tenaciously uphold their watchdog mission in bad times as well as good.’
By Mark Feldstein
Investigating Health and Safety Issues—As Scientists Would (1 comment)
The Chicago Tribune paid to have state-of-the-art testing done on products people eat and use and the results provided ‘clear reporting entry points into what are complex topics.’
By Sam Roe
Rotting Meat, Security Documents, and Corporal Punishment (2 comments)
A local Chicago investigative reporter uses shoe-leather techniques and digital tools to uncover health and safety violations and be sure the news is widely spread.
By Dave Savini
Mining the Coal Beat: Keeping Watch Over an ‘Outlaw’ Industry
Digging through records, creating new databases, and asking key questions leads a West Virginia reporter to important investigative stories about the coal industry.
By Ken Ward, Jr.
Reporting Time and Resources Reveal a Hidden Source of Pollution
‘In many cases I had the budget to take chances and to not take no for an answer.’
By Abrahm Lustgarten
Pouring Meaning Into Numbers (1 comment)
In using EPA data, USA Today’s watchdog project empowered ‘parents to learn about the types and sources of chemicals that might be in the air near their child’s school.’
By Blake Morrison and Brad Heath
Navigating Through the Biofuels Jungle
‘Given my years of energy reporting in California, I could spot several warning signs early on; others took additional reporting to uncover.’
By Elizabeth McCarthy
Going to Where the Fish Are Disappearing
Investigative reporters in Sweden set out to tell the story of why and how illegal fishing of cod was happening—and what it meant to consumers and businesses in their country.
By Sven Bergman, Joachim Dyfvermark, and Fredrik Laurin
Watchdogging Public Corruption: A Newspaper Unearths Patterns of Costly Abuse (2 comments)
‘These are tumultuous and frightening times for newspapers, but this kind of reporting is what we do best.’
By Sandra Peddie
Filling a Local Void: J-School Students Tackle Watchdog Reporting
‘Those of us who have been investigative reporters have a responsibility to ensure that local watchdogging remains robust in our industry.’
By Maggie Mulvihill and Joe Bergantino
Words & Reflections
Objectivity: It’s Time to Say Goodbye
‘As a standard to separate news from nonsense and a guide to ethical reporting, objectivity is about as reliable as judging character by the firmness of a handshake.’
By John H. McManus
Worshipping the Values of Journalism
‘As I settled in on the National Desk, I gradually realized I had found the guide to my life I had been searching for. It certainly wasn’t religion in the classical sense; it was a secular substitute for religion.’
By John Schmalzbauer
When Belief Overrides the Ethics of Journalism (1 comment)
‘There was no wall between the beat and reporter. He was on a mission to promote religion with all the fervor and zeal of his own born-again faith.’
By Sandi Dolbee
Religion and the Press: Always Complicated, Now Chaotic
In a time of a blogging explosion, ‘… the idea of a coherent mainstream journalistic identity is in this era of old media implosion on the way out.’
By Mark Silk
Journalists Use Novels to Reveal What Reporting Doesn’t Say
‘My pitch: An experienced journalist grows discontented with journalism’s limitations and turns to fiction as a more accurate way to reflect the reality of life in the Middle East.’
By Matt Beynon Rees
Life Being Lived in Quintessential Irish Moments (1 comment)
An Essay in Words and Photographs By Rosita Boland
An Enduring Story—With Lessons for Journalists Today (1 comment)
During the time of ‘the disappeared’ in Argentina, when Robert Cox edited The Herald, the newspaper ‘became the most reliable source of information about human rights violations in Argentina.’
By Graciela Mochkofsky
They Blog, I Blog, We All Blog (3 comments)
An Australian blogger interviews dissident bloggers worldwide, and in his book he explains why what they do matters and who is trying to stop them.
By Danny Schechter
Fortunate Son: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson (1 comment)
‘… it was Thompson’s great good fortune to come of age, professionally speaking, at a point where his own proclivities and the broader Zeitgeist dovetailed to an almost absurd degree.’
By Adam Reilly
The American Homeland: Visualizing Our Sense of Security
By Nina Berman