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Ending a ten-month search, President Neil L. Rudenstine named former Detroit News editor Robert H. Giles curator of Harvard's Nieman Foundation on Tuesday. Giles will assume the duties of curator the week of August 14.
Giles and Rudenstine met in Mass. Hall last Wednesday, for what a media executive with a strong interest in the appointment characterized as a "full discussion" of his candidacy. According to the source, the meeting was wide-ranging and touched on the role Giles played in an acrimonious Detroit newspaper strike, the issue that prompted his former employees to lobby Mass. Hall against him and delay an appointment for three weeks.
But at the end of the meeting Rudenstine gave a "strong...unqualified reaffirmation of support" for Giles, the executive said.
Giles was hours away from being named curator in late June, before protests about his handling of the Detroit strike and his long association with Gannett, a giant media conglomerate that some accuse of dumbing down the news, reached Mass. Hall.
The appointment was put on hold until Rudenstine returned from vacation in Europe last week and could deal with the matter personally, Giles says. In the end it was the president who made the call.
"It was Rudenstine's decision all along," said a close Giles associate. "He always said it was going to be his and I think it was."
According to sources close to the Nieman Foundation, Rudenstine did not convene a formal search committee to assist him in the Nieman search, but consulted with a more loosely constructed group of faculty that did not interview the candidates.
Sources say that those who lobbied Mass. Hall on Giles's behalf included many of the heaviest hitters in American journalism.
Giles had major supporters at big city papers, including John Carroll, who turned down the curatorship himself to become editor of the Los Angeles Times, and Sandy Rowe, editor of The Oregonian of Portland, Ore.
Jim Naughton, president of the Poynter Institute, one of the nation's largest journalism think tanks, and Hodding Carter III, president of the Knight Foundation, a large foundation that supports a number of programs related to journalism, also actively supported Giles's candidacy.
Also weighing in with Mass. Hall on Giles's behalf were a group of top officials from the American Society of Newspaper Editors, of which he is a past president; a number of his Nieman classmates from the mid-'60s; and his three children, who wrote to describe the agonies the family went through during the Detroit strike.
Some of this support was the result of a deliberate campaign by the Giles family to get prominent figures in the media industry to lobby Mass. Hall.
Giles's son, David, who is a first amendment attorney in Denver, said that he phoned a number of colleagues in media law and journalists including the editor of a major East Coast paper to urge them to pressure Mass. Hall on his father's behalf.
Giles said that the delay was beneficial in that it allowed for everyone with a viewpoint on his candidacy to have their view considered.
"The delay...enabled those who had comments to offer about my candidacy a chance to have those comments be considered and gave an opportunity for others who thought I was a good candidate to bring their voices into the discussion," he said.
Giles will visit Cambridge next week to meet with Nieman staff. He will join the Foundation full-time in August.
The new curator says that he sees his responsibilities as head of the Nieman Foundation as two-fold.
"There are two major responsibilities," he said. "One is to do everything I possible can…to ensure that each of the fellows has an extraordinary year at Harvard and the second is to try to build on the great work that my predecessors have done in using the reputation of the Nieman Foundation and Harvard University to be an effective voice for journalism."
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