The press release concludes with this interesting statement (emphasis added):
A recurrent theme in Tehran Bureau’s coverage this year will be revolution and exile.
The blog still exists in part. But the only content remaining there is the text of the “fatwa” letter.
Curiously, the domain TehranBureau.com is owned not by Niknejad, but by Jason Rezaian. Even more curiously, that domain name was created on June 12, 2008 – exactly one year to the day before Iran’s presidential election, and months before Niknejad says she set up Tehran Bureau in 2008, which was several months before she actually announced the launch of Tehran Bureau on Blogspot, which was prior to its actual move to TehranBureau.com.
And yet, despite having had the name registered for a year before the election, there’s no indication the domain was actually in use before Niknejad’s Tehran Bureau came along. The site is new enough that it doesn’t show up in the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, and Alexa shows little to no traffic to that domain until April, with a sharp spike in June as a result of their coverage of the election.
“Not an opposition news organization”
Tehran Bureau’s About page states:
Tehran Bureau is an independent news organization. It is not affiliated with or funded by any government, religious organization, political party, lobby or interest group.
Yet it’s reporting has been most favorable to Mousavi. A prominent theme is that the election was stolen; a theme of which the alleged “fatwa” letter is but one example.
Either in spite or because of this, Niknejad and Tehran Bureau have gotten some prominent and positive media attention.
In a June 17 op-ed in the Guardian entitled “Diaspora Iranians spreading the message”, David Mattin speaks of “the ‘green wave’ that was sweeping” Iran, which, the author and his friends “thought” would “install Mir Hossein Mousavi as president”. He adds towards the end:
For diaspora Iranians, then, the answer may lie in projects such as the brilliant Tehran Bureau, a news website that connects journalists, bloggers and photographers in Iran with those in the diaspora, set up by American-Iranian journalist Kelly Golnoush Niknejad.
So Tehran Bureau is considered an “answer” for Iranians who support Mousavi and the “green” revolution, the color Mousavi chose to represent his reformist party for the campaign.
The Associated Press called Tehran bureau “a must-read for many who closely followed the disputed re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
NPR called Tehran Bureau “one of the most reliable sources for news” on Iran while “the government of Iran cracks down on journalists there”. Noting the site’s success, NPR notes, “Tehran Bureau gets quoted now in the New York Times and has become well-known and respected.”
In an interview with NPR, Niknejad explained that she “just started posting” information “as fast as I could.” “The information was raw,” she said, and she “didn’t have time to sculpt it into stories”, so she would “just copy and paste to put out information.”
This method of copying and pasting information was similarly used by prominent commentators Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic’s “Daily Dish” and Nico Pitney of the Huffington Post, both of whom were live-blogging events following the election and both of whom relied heavily on anonymous or unknown sources, such as Twitter users. The overriding theme of both Sullivan’s and Pitney’s blogs was the fraudulent nature of the election and the brutal response by the government attempting to silence those protesting the vote. Their respective blogs became rumor mills, flooded with completely unverifiable information, but always favorable to Mousavi and his supporters.
NPR notes that “Niknejad also knows her site is big enough now to be noticed by the Iranian government. She publishes most reports without bylines.” As noted previously, the piece on the “open letter” was published without author attribution. So here, despite being characterized as “one of the most reliable sources for news” by the mainstream media, we have an acknowledgment that Tehran Bureau would simply “copy and paste” information about events in Iran without attribution or sourcing.
A June 20 piece in the Boston Globe called Tehran Bureau “a go-to source” for news on Iran. It notes that the site is “edited from Niknejad’s parents’ living room in Newton”, a Boston suburb, and quotes Niknejad saying, “Everybody thinks this is some kind of extensive bureau, but it’s just me”.
But it’s not “just” Niknejad. As we’ve seen, the site is actually owned by someone else, who registered the domain months before Niknejad launched her blog, which then was only later moved to the domain owned by Jason Rezaian.
The Boston Globe article quotes Niknejad saying, “Tehran Bureau is not an opposition news organization.” The article explains:
The English-language site has generated a lot of attention over the past few weeks as tensions escalated over allegations of electoral fraud by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government. When demonstrators were shot and communication with the West was curtailed in a government clampdown, Tehran Bureau’s stream of news alerts and Twitter feeds became a valued source of information cited by The New York Times and other Western news organizations.
The Globe offers some further information about Niknejad:
Niknejad’s family emigrated from Iran to San Diego when she was 17, after living through the Iranian Revolution and the first stage of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. She went on to study law, and then got two master’s degrees from the Columbia Journalism School. Her parents moved to the Boston area seven years ago. She has not returned to Iran since she left in 1984, but she found herself pulled constantly toward her native land, especially after the Sept. 11 attacks. This past September, she returned to Boston from nearly a year of reporting for an English-language newspaper in Dubai – a major Persian Gulf listening post for events in Iran – and resolved to launch a blog.