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Pulitzer Center Update February 9, 2016

Middle East Reporting: From Women's Roles in Saudi Arabia to Refugees from Syria

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In 2004, Saudi Arabia introduced reforms allowing women's colleges and universities to offer degree...

Media file: kate_brooks.jpg
In 2011, the Ministry of Labor ordered shops specializing in cosmetics, abayas, and wedding dresses, along with the women’s sections of department stores, to begin shifting to all-female Saudi sales staffs. The process is called “feminization.” Image by Kate Brooks. Saudi Arabia, 2013

The Pulitzer Center has become a catalyst for diverse conversations among students at Northwestern University in Qatar (NUQ) about the role of journalists, importance of international journalism and the idea of crisis reporting.

As part of the Pulitzer Center's most recent Campus Consortium visit to NUQ, grantee Katherine Zoepf, executive director Jon Sawyer and contributing editor Kem Knapp Sawyer participated in a "Bringing Middle East Stories to Life", a panel discussion on January 26, 2016, where they explored the challenges and opportunities facing journalists in the Middle East and beyond.

"We are in the business of crisis," Jon Sawyer said to an audience of about 60 at the panel discussion. "And if you follow our reporting, I know it can sometimes feel like a heavy, steady load of doom and gloom."

He expanded on some of the organization's work including stories about sanitation and clean water, discrimination against women and the exploitation of child labor. Despite the "doom and gloom" of today's media atmosphere, Sawyer said he is still excited and optimistic about the future of the news. As a journalist who reported from a range of countries, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey, he said he is confident in the ability of future journalists to change the world.

Kem Knapp Sawyer spoke about the importance of journalism in educating people about international issues. She discussed the center's e-book Flight from Syria: Refugee Stories, which resulted from a collaboration among nine Pulitzer Center grantees. The book explores the lives of Syrian refugees in various European countries such as Germany, Greece and Sweden.

Zoepf also mentioned the significance of reportage. She discussed her New Yorker article "Sisters in Law" about Saudi Arabia's first female lawyers, and explained that monumental changes in some societies, such as female lawyers in Saudi Arabia, can sometimes look small to the outside world. It is a journalist's duty to share these stories with the global community.

During another event during the three-day Campus Consortium visit, Zoepf spoke about her recently released book, Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women Who are Transforming the Arab World, based in part on some of her Pulitzer Center-supported reporting.

NUQ is part of the Pulitzer Center's Campus Consortium initiative that brings journalists to campuses and offers students fellowship opportunities to report on issues around the world. The Daily Q, NUQ's student newspaper, covered the January 2016 visit by the Pulitzer Center team.

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