Throughout his professional career, Robert L. Long had been concerned with the issues facing journalism in a rapidly changing world. After he started to teach at Bahçeşehir University in İstanbul, Robert became more familiar with Turkish journalists and their struggles in their profession. The award in his name honors his dedication to Turkish journalists and supports the work of exceptional Turkish journalists at Harvard University’s renowned Nieman Foundation. Robert would have been exceptionally pleased with the 2020 Robert L. Long Nieman Fellow, Gülsin Harman, who is deeply committed to promoting press freedom and works fearlessly and with integrity on stories that need to be shared.
The Nieman Fellowship is a huge deal in the journalism community. It is the Oscars of reporting. For Gülsin Harman, becoming a Robert L. Long Nieman Fellow has been about more than her chosen field. It has also been about discovering who she really is as a person. Even though all of the past Turkish Nieman Fellows unanimously told her that “it will be the best year of your life,” at first she couldn’t really imagine what that would be like. Once settled in, she understood what a life-changing experience being a Robert L. Long Nieman Fellow would be. “This was a year for real transformational change for me,” says Gülsin. She went into the fellowship thinking it would all be about skills development as a journalist, but she came out of it with so much more than that. Her experiential learning at Harvard which integrated shared contextual exploration with reflective thought processes with other fellows from around the world made it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Gülsin is an extraordinary journalist with “genuine leadership skills” says the curator of the Nieman Foundation, Ann Marie Lipinski. Yet, Gülsin notes that spending a year at Harvard turned her into a confident leader. “I have not only discovered new skills and techniques within my own style of journalism but also learned how I can be confident in my craft,” she says. Self-limiting beliefs prevented Gülsin from taking action in her career many times in the past. For Gülsin, winning the fellowship was the first step to thinking and acting bigger. “I was honestly shocked when I was accepted into the fellowship. This was a dream come true for me. At the kickoff, I was so uncertain of what skills I could contribute. In the past, I’ve definitely left opportunities on the table because I wasn’t confident enough to speak up or put myself out there. After completing the fellowship, I feel light years away from the person I was before. Plopping down in a different country and actually being able to add real value to journalism just blew the lid off of my self-limiting beliefs and grew my confidence far beyond what it’s been for years,” she further notes.
As a woman in journalism, the confirmation, validation, and recognition needed to build confidence can be really hard to find. Gülsin knew that successful transformations demand new capabilities. As a leader, she was ready to examine her strengths and shortcomings and use the experience as a springboard for personal development. Yet, at Harvard, Gülsin also learned to hold up a mirror to the perceptions of the society. When she scrutinized her own leadership traits and experiences, she realized that the problems are caused mostly by the environment in which she operates. Harvard leveraged the intimate link between cultural norms and experience for Gülsin. She notes that “hearing the same stories from women journalists across different countries and backgrounds, seeing that we have the same problems, and learning that we are all in this together showed me it’s not me or my talent. It’s the society and how the culture is built. Hearing this helped me.” This enabled Gülsin to take a step back and consider her life choices and what she can achieve further. This awakening enabled her to focus on her personal growth – not only as a journalist but as a woman.
This was not a regular year. Toward the end of the academic year at Harvard, Gülsin and many others had to face a global pandemic. She went from attending classes in person and collaborating on skills-building to working alone online. It happened so suddenly that one moment they were planning a meeting for dinner, and the next the facilities were shut down and no one could access any of the campus resources. Though this was a frustrating time for all the fellows, it was also a time to take a step back and appreciate everything that came out of being in the program and the people they had met. It highlighted friendships, bonds, and resilience. There was a sense of security brought on by knowing this. The pandemic also proved what Gülsin’s cohort has experienced throughout the fellowship: the world is more connected than we think and we exist because of others’ actions.
Gülsin’s experience as a Robert L. Long Nieman Fellow will definitely drive her future adventures. There is a new passion and confidence built into Gülsin Harman now, as a journalist, woman, and a Nieman Fellow. Her last piece of advice to anyone, especially women interested in applying for the Nieman Fellowship is to believe in themselves: “I would advise any journalist interested in applying to the fellowship to do so. Do not be discouraged or intimidated by this fellowship being at Harvard. Do not think to yourself ‘this is Harvard, it is prestigious, I don’t stand a chance.’ The Nieman Fellowship looks for a broad variety of journalists. You owe it to yourself to try! If you want to develop as a journalist, then you deserve a chance. Take time with your application. Try to focus on one single question throughout the process: ‘Why I do what I do.’ If you think you have a good answer to why you became a journalist in the first place and why you are eager to have a new toolkit for yourself to enhance your journalism career, then you’re a good fit for this fellowship.”