Nieman fellowship: Proposal for study

Note: I submitted this proposal for study as part of my Nieman fellowship application in January 2012. When I applied, I didn’t know anyone who’d been a fellow, and had no idea what to expect or what was expected of me. If you’re in the same position, please feel free to get in touch with me (here or @ODitor on Twitter), or check out this chat about how to apply and what to do with a fellowship. Good luck!

I began in familiar territory, starting my design for a year at Harvard in the course offerings in English and political science. I wondered whether a 35-year-old would stick out too much in the intriguingly titled “Expository Writing: Immigration in America,” and what oddments I might pick up in “Advanced Creative Non-Fiction” or “Crime and Horror in Victorian Literature and Culture.” (We are a new Victorian age, aren’t we?)

But my daydreams about being set loose in Cambridge veered straight toward doors I swore I’d never darken as an undergraduate at Wake Forest: The business school.

I pored over the course catalog, flagging classes with titles like “Entrepreneurship in the Private and Social Sectors” and “Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries.” Eventually, I opened a new folder for Harvard Business School bookmarks, dubbing it “Wish list.”

I have an entire subfolder of bookmarks devoted to Nieman Lab links, and copies of Ken Doctor’s “Newsonomics” and “The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism” that are dog-eared and covered with marginalia – so no wonder, I guess, that I am looking at nine months at Harvard as time to be invested with care. I want to spend it on new tools that will help me build the next section of my life in journalism. I certainly want to sharpen my writing, reporting and storytelling skills, but I suffer from a crippling ignorance about the machinery of business, and it is interfering with my desire to keep community journalism moving forward.

I want to know: How does it work? What’s it going to take to persuade people that news content has value? How can we protect original content? What sorts of signature content are most valuable, and what do we have to sacrifice to cultivate them?

If I’m selected, I expect you will be able to find me haunting the Nieman Lab offices and hunting around for a B-school blazer, because my fascination with the Nieman Fellowship is based on the hope I can use it to answer these impossible questions that I think about all the time.