At the Student Fellow Washington Weekend forum, Pulitzer Center Health Projects Director Zach Child moderated a panel discussion of three journalists—all former Pulitzer Center grantees—who have covered complex public health issues. Featured speakers were:
• Allison Shelley, independent documentary photographer and multimedia creator
• Julia Rendleman, reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and 2011 Pulitzer Center student fellow
• Daniella Zalcman, London and New York-based photojournalist
Shelley spoke eloquently to the importance of a journalist connecting and empathizing with his or her subjects before ever setting pen to paper. She argued that when we fail to do this, we “other-ize,” or “think of the subject as someone that is other than you.”
Shelley used Ebola reporting as a current example in which journalists rashly interview family members as if they’d recently lost an inanimate object. “If someone died from Ebola, they seem like an ‘other.’ But if they died because they hugged an infectious classmate on the walk to school, we can relate to that, can’t we?”
Rendleman described the role social media has played in furthering discussion of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. She recently posted an Instagram photo of a Nepali father holding his young daughter, who is resettling with family in Pittsburgh, for what may be their final farewell. A father in Pittsburgh posted the following comment: I got really upset with my daughter this morning for not eating her French toast fast enough. #heartbreaking #perspective
“That’s how you know you got your point across,” Rendleman said.
Zalcman opened up a difficult discussion about protecting the identities of subject who may be placed in danger by your work. She faced this reality firsthand in her project Kuchus in Uganda.
“Your responsibilities don’t end when you leave the country,” Zalcman said. "You have a responsibility to continue to earn trust even after you’ve reported the story.”
During the Q&A discussion that followed the presentations, student fellow Sascha Garrey from Boston University asked the journalists how to generate interest in chronic, ongoing public health issues that “just aren’t sexy.” Shelley encouraged the students to keep trying.
“Maternal health, for example, isn’t always a big seller. But it’s an important story…If you have the ears of the right people, there will be a place for it.”