On Friday, October 13, 2023, acclaimed foreign correspondent Nick Schifrin delivered virtual remarks to the 2023 cohort of Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellows during the program’s annual Washington Weekend event.
Schifrin’s solemn observations centered on the mental toll of war correspondence. He detailed his experiences interviewing people who had experienced trauma and the death of loved ones, in Ukraine and beyond. Ethical questions abound, Schifrin acknowledged.
“How do we best understand and communicate her story without making her experience her trauma once again?” Schifrin posed the question after sharing an anecdote from an interview with a grieving mother in Ukraine. “How do we stay resilient while exposing ourselves to this kind of pain?”
As journalists, he said these questions should be at the forefront of honest and diligent reporting that can “humanize what has been dehumanized.”
Originally scheduled to appear in person at the Reporting Fellows dinner, Schifrin was sent that day on assignment to Israel, where he has been reporting since. Schifrin is no stranger to conflict zones—he led Al Jazeera America’s coverage of the 2014 war in Gaza and was the first reporter to deliver video from inside Osama bin Laden’s compound for ABC in 2011. Most recently, he has been reporting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a Pulitzer Center-supported project for PBS NewsHour.
Schifrin was frank about his personal struggle with the trauma on which he had reported. Reporting the human stories behind the horrors and statistics of war requires deep empathy, Schifrin said, which he termed “traveling into the pain” of the people he spoke with. He is consistently shocked by “what some armies or people are capable of unleashing onto other people.”
“I have come to believe that the same empathy that made me vulnerable has helped steel me,” Schifrin said. “I've come to believe that empathy has provided me purpose.”
To a room of young reporters, some of whom have already reported on trauma, Schifrin highlighted the role of journalists in fostering empathy, awareness, and human connection.
He ultimately offered hope: “To do what we do and remain resilient, we must believe in the catharsis of storytelling,” Schifrin said.