Tehran Bureau and the Future of Journalism

Made it through a five-mile run Sunday morning. Limp. Limp. Limp. But hey. I’m still on my feet and moving forward. And the weather early in the morning was perfect: 50 degrees, clear and not a hint of wind. Doesn’t get much better than that.

This morning I returned to the reality of exercising with an injured leg and foot. I spent 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer — gliding along furiously and keeping my eyes on the TV talking heads. Did Obama really appear on just about every Sunday morning talk show? Apparently so. Yet it doesn’t appear that he broke much new ground newswise (as the TV folk like to say). Too bad Jimmy Carter had to upstage Obama all of last week. I’m sure the current Prez wanted to talk about health care and not Carter’s view of racism in this country. (See WaPo Howard Kurtz, “Obama’s TV Blitz...”)

Anyway, pretty traditional interviews by the network guys and gals. And that got me thinking about one of the presentations at the Poynter/Kent State Media Ethics Workshop I attended last week.

Excellent workshop overall. But I was most intrigued with the discussion involving Kelly Golnoush Niknejad, the founder and editor in chief of the Tehran Bureau. Started originally as a blog in February 2008, Tehran Bureau is described by Wikipedia as “the leading independent online news magazine in English covering politics, foreign affairs, culture and society in Iran and the Iranian Diaspora.”

Niknejad is very much a sole proprietor — assignment editor, editor, publisher and so on. And she doesn’t appear to have much financial support — or resources — if any. Yet what struck me about her was her courage, determination and commitment to her work and to telling the story about what is happening in Iran. She clearly is not standing underneath the corporate umbrella like most working these days with mainstream media.

She is a journalist by training and work history. That gives her credibility with the Poynter folks who are making the distinction  between professional journalists and amateurs and the fourth estate (traditional media) and the fifth estate (online media, blogs and so on). That impresses me, by the way, as a typical think tank exercise in navel-gazing. But no matter.

The Tehran Bureau — and Kelly Golnoush Niknejad — represent both the tradition of American journalism — and quite likely its future.

Here’s from an article she wrote in Foreign Policy, “How to Cover a Paranoid Regime from Your Laptop“:

Our staff of about 20 volunteer reporters and editors, many of whom speak the language or have some familiarity with Iran, are an incredible resource. Speaking Farsi helps expand our ability to gather news, even during an information blackout, because we can tap into a more extensive network and speak with more Iranians, despite not being based in Tehran.

Nothing beats being there. No one disputes that. But the many social networking tools at our disposal help put us in touch with people who are. And because this is our specialization, we have the privilege of working with people and sources we trust.

I wrote my master’s thesis at Kent State about Archibald McGregor, the owner and editor of the Stark County (Ohio) Democrat during the Civil War. Strongly opposed to President Lincoln and the war, McGregor was typical of journalists of that era: independent, committed to a cause and viewpoint, struggling financially and often at risk of mobs destroying the newspaper (yeah, they really had pitchforks in those days) or arrest by government officials.

Does the Tehran Bureau represent the future of journalism? Maybe. Since the models of traditional journalism that we have seen in this country for the past 100 years are crumbling. Is that good for our nation and our democracy? Time will tell. But here we have a content generator that has the ability to tell a story — and reach an audience.

I gained a lot of respect for editors like Archibald McGregor as I was researching his career and journalism during the Civil War in general. They printed their papers — and had no place to hide.

And I’m glad that last week I had the opportunity to learn about Kelly Golnoush Niknejad.

Something tells me that the future of journalism isn’t as bleak as many of the traditional pundits would have us believe these days.

And it will be interesting to watch this week the coverage of Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations.

I’ll be following reports via the Tehran Bureau.

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