Popular Tehran Bureau site covers Iran from US

NEWTON, Massachusetts — The updates shot quickly onto the Tehran Bureau Web site as postelection chaos gripped Iran: angry street protests, random police beatings, a defiant warning from the ayatollah of more violence to come.

By (AP)

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Published: Tue 7 Jul 2009, 2:19 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:57 AM

In a matter of weeks, Kelly Golnous Niknejad’s news outlet became a must-read for many who closely followed the disputed re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yet Niknejad is not operating from a clandestine office in the Iranian capital, but from a laptop in the quaint living room of Niknejad’s parents’ suburban Boston home.

“People don’t come to the house and visit anymore,” her mother, Afsar Niknejad, 61, said in Farsi. “But this is important for Iran and I’m happy she’s involved in her work.”

The sleep-deprived 42-year-old, who created the site to fill a void she saw in fair journalism from and about her homeland, said she often works in the late hours of the night to follow Iran in real time. She has no staff and feeds the English-language site using Facebook updates, Flickr photos, reprinted material from news agencies and dispatches from about 20 or so volunteer correspondents in and near Iran, many risking their lives to send out what information they can. The site has no employees and is funded through donations.

“I read it every day,” said Robin Wright, author of “Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East” and a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. “It offers a variety of views and analyses of Iran and it’s extremely timely. It’s not the same garbage from others who don’t know what they are talking about.”

The Iranian-born Niknejad is a lawyer and holds two master’s degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her family fled during the Iranian Revolution in 1984 when she was in high school, and they settled in San Diego. She has worked as a reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, for PBS’ “Frontline” as an associated producer and in the United Arab Emirates as a reporter.

She launched the site two months before the Iranian elections with almost no resources. Her “office” consists of her laptop, a television with a satellite dish, a few books on Iran, and an iPod that regular blasts music from British punk band The Clash.

At first, Tehran Bureau was just a blog that reposted old stories. But then a volunteer helped design a Web site.

Away from the violence and government restrictions of Iran, Niknejad said she was able to take pieces of unfolding events in Iran and repackage them into quality stories. Correspondents and contacts inside Iran have been able to give her firsthand accounts to counter official state media reports.

When government security officials began opening fire on demonstrators, Tehran Bureau reported the number of dead and wounded from updates from her sources there through social networks like Facebook and Twitter. When the Guardian Council’s validated Ahmadinejad’s victory, the site reported that thousands of angry protesters took to the streets shouting “God is Great” — a nugget of information credited to the Tehran Bureau site when it was used in the Washington Post blog.

Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University, said Tehran Bureau has become one of the few places in the Western world where readers could get frequently updated information on Iran from the ground.

“It is true that the Web site is mainly of importance to those of us outside of Iran,” said Dabashi, who visits the site three to four times a day. “But I know for a fact that some people in Iran who speak English read it too. It’s on par with BBC Persia, I think. Maybe even better.”

Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, said Niknejad’s network has enabled her to cover what is happening from far away.

“The Internet allows people to do good journalism without the superstructure of a newspaper, for example,” Benton said “This is especially true with foreign reporting as more foreign bureaus close.” Wright has called the site “the Huffington Post of Iran,” but Niknejad doesn’t agree with that description.

“We’re not a news aggregator,” Niknejad said while sitting at her desk, a round table. “And second, we didn’t have $10 million to start off. We had myself, some volunteers and this laptop.”

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