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Post's Watergate Editor to Lead Nieman Project

By Lauren A.E. Schuker, Crimson Staff Writer

The man who oversaw the news coverage of one of the most important political scandals of the 20th century has joined the Nieman Foundation to help build an online resource for journalists.

Barry Sussman, the former special editor for The Washington Post’s daily coverage of the Watergate scandal will lead the foundation’s “Watchdog Project,” spearhaeading the creation of a website to encourage watchdog journalism around the world.

Sussman said that he hopes that the site, which will be up and running within a few months, will bolster coverage of public life, especially in the political sphere.

“The idea is that there is a lot of reporting not being done in the world—either with entire beats that are not covered at all or smaller stories—and [the website] should encourage reporters and editors to feel more of a sense of community about what they are doing,” Sussman said.

“And we want to engage not just newspeople, but also authorities in other fields to contribute.”

Sussman hopes to find experts on different issues—possibly professors at Harvard—who can contribute to the website, as a resource for journalists who may not be as knowledgeable in specific areas.

“We want to stress that this will not just be an eastern establishment, but a national and international resource that will involve professors and other experts,” he added.

Sussman said that reporting and news media are “very, very weak” in many areas of public interest, including corporations, race relations and the legal justice system.

“The main purpose of the project is to raise questions that the press should be asking today and is not,” said Robert H. Giles, the foundation’s curator.  “In the beginning, we plan to focus on the national government. A lot of questions remain to be asked about the war in Iraq, as well as the upcoming presidential candidates. We want to help journalists out to ask the right questions through building a group of authoritative sources on the news.”

Murrey Marder, a 1950 Nieman Fellow who funds the project and was the chief diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Post, met Sussman through a mutual friend.

Sussman, who still lives in the Washington D.C. area, was an editor at the Washington Post from 1965 to 1987, first as the suburban editor, and then the city editor, a post he held during the initial Watergate break-in.

Soon afterward, he was named special Watergate editor, keeping tabs on the growing scandal which eventually won the Post a Pulitzer Prize.

Sussman went on to write The Great Coverup: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate and founded the Washington Post poll and the Washington Post/ABC News poll. He also wrote What Americans Really Think, published in 1988, and Maverick, A Life in Politics, published in 1995.

He will continue to serve as a news media consultant with the Innovation International Media Consulting Group.

In his book, The Powers That Be, David Halberstam ’55 praises Sussman for his editorial skills and journalistic judgement.

“From the start, the Post was unusually lucky. It had the perfect working editor at exactly the right level,” the former Crimson editor writes. “Sussman was not simply encouraging, he brainstormed the story, trying to put the pieces together, fitting them and refitting them until, finally, slowly, there was the beginning of a pattern.”

The Nieman Foundation has offered fellowships for mid-career journalists since 1938, and more than 1,000 journalists have studied at Harvard with the program. The Nieman Foundation also publishes Nieman Reports, the oldest magazine that focuses critically on professional journalism.

—Staff writer Lauren A. E. Schuker can be reached at schuker@fas.harvard.edu.

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