(photographs by Jin Ding)
"I have admired your sense of adventure, your curiosity, your persistence, and also your flexibility when things didn't go as planned," Contributing Editor Kem Knapp Sawyer said as she welcomed the 2016 student fellows to a dinner held in their honor on October 7, at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C.
Sawyer, who mentors the Pulitzer Center student fellows, added, "You are 'illuminating dark places' in many areas: the environment, human rights, and global health. And you are providing new perspectives on the opportunities and challenges faced by women and children in developing countries, refugees and migrants—in a time of crisis and at a moment when the future of so many—Syrians, and Africans—hangs in the balance."
Two Pulitzer Center student fellow alums spoke of experiences gained and lessons learned from their own reporting projects.
Eleanor Klibanoff, a graduate of The George Washington University, is now working for Keystone Crossroads, a public radio project covering the challenges and solutions facing Rust Belt cities. She spoke of reporting on maternal health in El Salvador and Nicaragua as a 2013 student fellow. She emphasized how important it is for young journalists to gain international travel experience.
"The work that reporters do overseas is so important. You have a chance to take your audience to a place they will likely never go and tell them about a problem they didn't even know existed and to make them care about that problem," Klibanoff said. "Whenever I tell a story for a national audience, I try really hard to rely on the lessons I learned in Nicaragua and El Salvador and from the Pulitzer Center to tell a story that takes the audience to this place. I think that's the most important work a journalist can do."
This year's fellows also heard from Davidson College alum Anna Van Hollen, who reported on youth in Palestine and the West Bank in 2011. She worked on the Facebook Global Policy team and as a national security reporter for National Journal before joining Instagram as the Business Lead to the Chief Operating Officer.
Van Hollen touched on something all young journalists can relate to, and everyone can learn from: "For me, understanding the value of my inexperience was so important. I said yes to everything. A lot of things that would be considered non-starters to more seasoned journalists were my ticket to everything."
Van Hollen also talked about working in a culture that values the concept that the best ideas don't necessarily come from the most experienced person.
Lastly, author and journalist Jon Cohen spoke of his career covering science and medical issues from infectious diseases to bioterrorism for the last three decades. He produced a multi-part series for PBS NewsHour on the HIV/AIDS epidemic across the globe. His work has been included in the Pulitzer Center's newly released e-book "To End AIDS."
Cohen acknowledged the difficulties of pursuing journalism today and the ways in which the Pulitzer Center is combating those difficulties.
"In 2016 journalism is suffering tremendously, and the Pulitzer Center is reviving it in a way that, for me, is incredibly heartening."
Cohen recognized the inherent disconnects that often arise when working with other organizations, and nodded to the Pulitzer Center for having a mission as aligned with journalism as it is with promoting journalism.
"At Pulitzer, I'm dealing with people who have my agenda: tell the truth, get it right, be fair to people, and tell people things they don't know."
That mission is the heart of The Pulitzer Center, the task of all the student fellows sent across the world to learn and report, and it is the crux of journalism.