Nieman Foundation's China program about journalism, not PR

CAMBRIDGE, MA: Chinese officials preparing for the 2008 Olympics are getting a crash course on the US media, tapping into the resources of a prestigious journalism center.

CAMBRIDGE, MA: Chinese officials preparing for the 2008 Olympics are getting a crash course on the US media, tapping into the resources of a prestigious journalism center.

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism, which runs a well-known fellowship program at Harvard University, will educate Chinese officials on what to expect from the foreign press corps.

The officials visiting Harvard are those assigned to work with the press during the Beijing summer games.

The eight-day program, which will touch on the history of the US media, the values of a free press, and the types of questions visiting reporters might ask, has not been spared controversy.

Former fellow Howard Berkes, a correspondent at National Public Radio, told The New York Times that alumni attending a Nieman reunion had a "visceral" reaction when they found out about the program. But in an interview with PRWeek, curator Bob Giles emphasized that the eight-day program is about education, not PR training.

"There's absolutely no public relations element at all," he said. "If they want to learn that, they'll have to go somewhere else. Our role here is pretty narrowly journalist."

Organizers have not yet determined who will run the sessions, he noted.

The curriculum will focus on helping officials anticipate the range of questions they might field during the Olympics. Giles noted that reporters would likely question Chinese officials about the country's economy, changes in the cities, and imprisoned journalists.

"Olympic coverage is not all about the games," he said.

This is the first time a foreign government has approached the Nieman Foundation to provide this sort of education for its press officers, according to Giles.

It is unclear how much the Chinese government will spend to educate officials; Giles noted that the Nieman Foundation is receiving only reimbursement for meals and speakers' time.

The program will be conducted next month with the help of Harvard's Fairbank Center for East Asian Research and the university's Asia Center.

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