The weekend of May 21-22, in spite of the fog, was wonderfully illuminating for those who attended the annual Nieman Fellows Weekend at Point Lookout, in Northport. The program was “Journalism, Media, and World Affairs.”

Since 1989, the Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations has invited Harvard University Nieman Fellows to Maine’s Midcoast for a weekend in May to enjoy our area and to share their journalistic experiences.

Nieman fellowships were developed in 1938 through a bequest from Agnes Wahl Nieman in memory of her husband, Lucius, founder and publisher of the Milwaukee Journal. Nieman fellowships are awarded to selected mid-career journalists from all over the world. They are awarded to particularly accomplished working journalists for one year of study in any program at Harvard University.

Each fellow invited to the Midcoast Nieman Weekend has experience in journalism from a country outside the U.S. Their expertise may be delivered by radio, television, newspapers, and the Internet and usually involves more than one of those media. Their Harvard experience is to help widen their horizons and aid in their continuing development as reliable providers of world news. We get our news from what we view first-hand, or reading about various items or issues that are considered significant by journalists. We, as the “viewers”, must have faith in the journalist, if his or her discourse is to inform our opinions and wisdom.

This year, there were 12 fellows, many with families. They arrived on Friday afternoon, May 20, on a bus. They stayed with local families and then departed the following Sunday after lunch, returning to Cambridge, Mass.

This year’s program began on Saturday morning with the fellows, three to a panel, addressing questions that concern their forms of journalism and the countries in which they perform their jobs. Questions included: 1) What is the impact of new or existing technologies on journalism and media, for better or worse? 2) What formative experiences shaped your life as a journalist? 3) What are the major foreign or domestic policy challenges facing your country or region? 4) What do you see as the coming roles for professional and amateur journalists in your media?

The Fellows came from a variety of areas and countries involved with current economic issues, power struggles, human rights concerns, and the evolving Arab Spring. They came from Romania, Ecuador, Cambodia, Iran, China (Hong Kong), France, Colombia, South Africa, East Africa and Afghanistan. We discovered that journalists are like every other human being: critical, wary, fun, suspicious, concerned.

They are also opinionated (so the reader has to also be critical), believe their reporting is responsible (so the viewer/listener has to be discerning), and respond to praise and criticism (as do all human beings). They believe their role is to get the “truth” out to the public so that an individual has information upon which to make a judgment.

The fun of the Nieman Weekend is getting to know those whose information we rely on for our knowledge of the continuing unfolding world around us.

I had an opportunity to chat with Fellow Abdul Waheed Wafa from Afghanistan who is stationed in Kabul. Abdul was accompanied by his wife and child. He confirmed that tribe is as important as state to the average Afghani, maybe more so for many. He was concerned about the American and NATO forces leaving, because his country would return to being a pawn in the hands of Afghanistan and India, as well as Iran, Russia, and China.

He believed his country needed more time to evolve into a fledgling democracy: Its ruling parties are immature, and the people need time to adapt. I had thought that the Afghans might want continuing U.S. presence because of our financial support; but Abdul wanted a U.S. presence to keep Afghanistan’s potentially marauding neighbors at bay until the Afghans are strong enough to guide and protect their future existence as a developing democracy.

At lunch, each table had a Fellow with whom to share the meal and conversation. My wife and I were fortunate to have lunch with Hui Siu Fun and her husband, Koon Man Ng, from China. Their home is in Hong Kong, but they met while on assignment in Taiwan. Hui Siu is a journalist and her husband is a news photographer. They have no children. Hui does not believe she has time at present with her career to raise a child. I saw no emotion in her eyes with that statement. She was a journalist and that was a full-time job.

In conversation, one could tell they were partial to Hong Kong over the rest of China. They accepted Hong Kong’s being a part of mainland China, but they preferred the judicial system and social services in Hong Kong, which are separate from those on the mainland since the reunification following British colonial rule. Did she ever think that Taiwan would ever unify with mainland China? She paused for a moment and then ventured that an opinion depended on the age of the person asked. She knew families in Taiwan where the grandparents believed they were Chinese and the grandchildren believed they were Taiwanese. She did not state an opinion. Yes, there is much intercourse between the two nations, and China is evolving into a world power.

She acknowledged that she had to be careful in public journal discussions about issues in China, especially with the current government angst about a potential Jasmine Revolution on the mainland.

Following a free afternoon to allow a break for the Fellows to prowl the Midcoast, all returned to the meeting area for an evening discussion by Anne Garrels, National Public Radio foreign correspondent, who has considerable experience in Iraq and Russia. Following Garrels’ presentation, we enjoyed a meal at our table with the Nieman Fellow journalist Gwen Thompkins, from East Africa.

Gwen actually was born in the U.S. and raised in Louisiana. She had a tremendous sense of humor and had an infectious and spontaneous laugh. I believe her experience in East Africa was as much for her own education as for her contributions to NPR. Following her Nieman Fellowship, Gwen is going to drive back to her native New Orleans. She wants to continue her education by studying the art of storytelling and do that through the use of music, film making, and poetry. She also wants to study the history of science.

So, if the above experiences are attractive to you as my reader, make a note on next year’s calendar in May and watch for newspaper ads concerning the Nieman Fellow’s weekend. Plan on attending. It will be rewarding, educational and fun.

Tom Putnam is a retired pediatric surgeon who lives with his wife, Barbara, in Rockland. He serves on a variety of nonprofit boards, as well as municipal committees, and is a communicant of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.