R. Reese Fuller

Rayne native to head Harvard project

by R. Reese Fuller

Joshua Benton has been named the founding director of Harvard University's Nieman Digital Journalism Project. The 32-year-old Rayne native made the announcement last week on his blog, crabwalk.com.

After graduating from the Episcopal School of Acadiana in 1993, Benton went on to attend Yale University, where he was the editor of The Yale Herald. For three years he was a reporter for in The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, and his last eight years have been spent at the Dallas Morning News as a reporter and columnist covering education. Between 2003 and 2007, Benton received seven National Awards for Education Reporting.

In 2003, as a Pew Fellow in International Journalism, Benton spent six weeks in Zambia, reporting on the the high rate of teachers infected with HIV/AIDS and its subsequent drain on the nation's schools. He chronicled his experiences through the Web site, www.zambiastories.com, which he created.

On crabwalk.com, Benton explains that he was online in 1990 via BBS, created his first webpages in 1994 and started his first blog in 1999. Over the years, Benton has painstakingly cultivated what's become known as The Benton Curve of Journalistic Interestingness.

In his announcement last week, Benton acknowledged his love for both print journalism and the Internet.
I love the Internet. How ironic then, that one of my loves is killing the other. And there’s another irony, this one personal: I’ve kept my two loves separate. I tried to keep my blogging secret from my employer for years; I was never "the web guy" at my newspaper. I was an enthusiast for both sides, but never the twain did meet. Neither side seemed to understand the other, and it seemed like too much bother to try to play translator.
Since August, Benton has been on hiatus from his regular duties at the Dallas Morning News as a Neiman Fellow at Harvard University. He starts at his new job on July 1 and explains the new project:
It's the Nieman Foundation's attempt to help the journalism business figure out its future. How do reporters use the tools the Internet provides to improve their journalism? How do newsrooms have to change their values, their mindsets, and their procedures to adapt to the new era? And, maybe most important of all, can anyone make a decent living doing good journalism? We'll be asking — and, hopefully, possibly, maybe, helping to answer — big questions like that. We've got some great partners, and I hope we can do good work.