After this year’s student fellows discussed their projects and bounced ideas off one another and off panelists for two full days, the final capstone came Saturday night with dinner at the Cosmos Club, a chance for students, advisers, editors and Pulitzer Center grantees to sit together and digest the program.
Photojournalist, graduate of Southern Illinois Carbondale and former student fellow Julia Rendleman spoke first. As a student, she’d reported for the Pulitzer Center from Jamaica where certain stipulations of international debt relief would cripple the ability of local farmers to earn a living.
A recent project first raised its head not far from home. In April, Julia and a colleague from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Moriah Balingit, got wind of a slumlord in the south hills of Pittsburgh. Residents of Carrick, Pittsburgh—all under the same landlord—suffered months as problems went on unabated. “No water, sewage in the yards, broken windows.”
The area was home to a large number of refugees from Bhutan, resettled from Nepali camps where they’d lived for nearly twenty years. After the Allegheny County health department issued an order to vacate, they moved in with relatives.
Many still had family back in the camps. Asked whether troubles of their new lives in America were something ever talked about with those back in Nepal, they replied that, no, those back home needed to stay focused on coming to America.
With a grant from the Pulitzer Center, Rendleman and Balingit went to eastern Nepal to report on the third-country resettlement of refugees from Bhutan, still living in Nepali camps.
80,000 Bhutanese refugees have already resettled in the United States. Now that applications for resettlement are no longer accepted, 20,000 refugees still remain. Most striking are the people left “hopeless” and lonely, as friends and family continued to move on.
Stories like this one that look at both sides of a coin, sometimes on opposite sides of the earth, represent a larger theme driven by the Pulitzer Center.
Later Saturday evening we heard from Bill Freivogal, former director of the School of Journalism at Southern Illinois Carbondale and longtime partner of the Pulitzer Center. Freivogel told us never to be satisfied with merely printing news—an edict coined by the first Joseph Pulitzer.
When a police shooting in a Missouri suburb drove headlines through the summer, it seemed a dam had finally burst on talk across America of police militarization, violence, prejudice and racism.
In Ferguson this year, American media came to define itself by actions markedly histrionic and self-serving. One student journalist, Ryan Schuessler of the University of Missouri, wrote openly of his distaste, of how, in the aftermath of a terrible loss, journalists acted like a braying mob—aggressive, territorial, and with superficial treatment of the deeper issues of the story.
A half-decade on, the Pulitzer Center now welcomes student fellows from a consortium of 19 colleges and universities across the country every year, each working in the Pulitzer tradition. “Today’s media is chaotic, anarchic, often wrong and full of hate and disinformation,” Freivogel said. But it offers many avenues for people seeking social justice or a breadth of voices—140 character statements inclusive.