Nieman Foundation withdraws from Chinese media education program

CAMBRIDGE, MA: Harvard's prestigious Nieman Foundation for Journalism is undertaking its own crisis PR effort after one of its programs came under fire for blurring the line between PR and journalism.

CAMBRIDGE, MA: Harvard's prestigious Nieman Foundation for Journalism is undertaking its own crisis PR effort after one of its programs came under fire for blurring the line between PR and journalism.

Angry outcries from alumni and other journalists spurred the Foundation to end its support of a program that will educate Chinese officials about the US press.

Curator Bob Giles said the decision was made to protect the "good name" of the foundation, which sponsors a mid-career fellowship program for journalists.

"The critical issue was not whether this was a good idea or a bad idea, but that it could become controversial," he said, adding that the program has received both negative and positive feedback.

News coverage about the program - which was designed to teach Chinese officials about what sorts of questions they might field during the 2008 Olympics - appeared in outlets such as The New York Times and on National Public Radio.

"The Nieman Foundation has a well-earned reputation for training the press," stated a critical Boston Globe editorial. "It should not be in the business of training press handlers."

Giles noted that the controversy was not likely to go away.

"I talked about it as education, and many people looked at it as training," he said. "I realized that it was not possible to get the education message across."

He added the program has not been cancelled, and might be sponsored by Harvard's Fairbank Center for East Asian Research and the Asia Center.

"It doesn't need the Nieman Foundation, and that's why I didn't hesitate to withdraw our support," Giles said.

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