Kem Knapp Sawyer and I were among the 250 journalists who dressed up for the fancy dinner in Lower Manhattan to celebrate the 22 projects honored this year by the Overseas Press Club. What a joy to reconnect in person with colleagues and friends (fully vaccinated!)—and how inspiring it was to hear from the individuals behind such an extraordinary range of work.
The honorees this year included four projects supported by the Pulitzer Center: the ProPublica/New York Times Magazine project on climate migration, the Latino USA project on Mexico’s militarization of its southern border, the BuzzFeed News project documenting China’s industrialized internment system for Muslim minorities, and Cheryl Diaz Meyer’s stunning photography for NPR of the so-called “comfort women,” the nearly 1,000 individuals held in sexual slavery by Japanese troops in the Philippines during World War II.
Meyer was uniquely suited, as a Filipina-American, to win the trust of the dwindling band of now-elderly women who suffered unspeakable abuse some eight decades ago. Applauding her turn on stage, I was reminded of an interview she did with the podcast A Decibel on the “superpowers” behind any great work of journalism.
In the interview Meyer recalled being a young journalism student at Western Kentucky University, asking a friend, “'How am I ever going to compete with photographers who were bigger, Anglo, and most of them men?' And my friend said, ‘Well, you’re a woman—all the better for you to connect with women and do stories about women’s issues.’ She said, ‘You’re a person of color: Think about all the immigrants and the people who are not like the people around you who need their stories told.’ And as for being small, 'all the better for you to sneak under their elbows and squeeze between their tripods, so that you can get to the front of the line.'"
“That was such a pivotal conversation for me,” Meyer said, “because I realized that who I am, in my entirety—as a person, my background, my experience, whether it’s my height, whether it’s my color—is what I bring to the table. Those are my superpowers. Because of my background I could go to Iraq and into places other people couldn’t go. Because of my coloring I could pass; people didn’t think I was a foreigner. Who I am, and the differences, are my strengths. I’ve learned to embrace them and celebrate them and use them.”
So here’s to the superpowers of Cheryl Diaz Meyer and the superpowers of journalists everywhere, on the OPC honors stage and beyond.
The ambitious Pulitzer Center-supported climate migration project, Refugees from the Earth, by ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine, has won a second award from the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ). The Nina Mason Pulliam Award, given yearly to one of the first-place SEJ winners in the awards for environmental reporting, is seen as signifying the “best of the best.”
This message first appeared in the October 26, 2021, edition of the Pulitzer Center's weekly newsletter. Subscribe today.