“You show why you care and why we should as well, knowing that it is important to tell stories, ” Kem Sawyer told the Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellows at Washington Weekend 2023. “That means something. Thank you for doing that. I’ve learned so much from all of you.”
Washington Weekend celebrates the culmination of the Pulitzer Center’s Campus Consortium Reporting Fellow program that sends students from partner universities around the world to cover underreported global issues.
This year, from October 13 to 15, 42 Reporting Fellows from journalism schools, state universities, liberal arts colleges, HBCUs, schools of public health, community colleges, and a law school gathered in the U.S. capital to share their work, get to know each other, and explore the city. Throughout the weekend they discussed their reporting, diving into a variety of subjects, from the impact of climate change in Mongolia to healthcare in Sierra Leone. The weekend allowed them to learn from each other’s experiences, successes, and challenges.
On Friday, October 13, Sawyer, who directs the Reporting Fellows program, introduced the Pulitzer Center staff, welcomed everyone to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Dupont Circle, and kicked off the annual Washington Weekend event with Get-to-Know-You Bingo. The rest of the afternoon featured Reporting Fellow panels on climate and environment in the Americas, and gender and identity issues. Fellows gave short presentations about their projects and took part in Q&A sessions.
The day ended with a formal dinner at the Cosmos Club for the Reporting Fellows, the Pulitzer Center team and special guests, including journalists and Campus Consortium partners and faculty.
“I am thankful we can all be together now,” Sawyer said. “And I am grateful to you and to all journalists for the work you do in telling stories, many of them difficult to tell. You’ve told me it is not easy when someone you interview, who leads a very different life from your own, cries out for help. You ask yourself not what it means to be a journalist, but what it means to be human, to be connected to others.”
Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellow Program Manager Libby Moeller introduced the first speaker of the night: 2018 LaGuardia Community College Reporting Fellow Jonathan Custodio.
Custodio recounted his journey as a journalist, from reporting on Afro-Mexican identity as a Reporting Fellow to becoming the Bronx reporter for THE CITY. “Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way,” he advised the Fellows.
Reporting Fellow Program Coordinator Jazzy Gray introduced PBS NewsHour’s Nick Schifrin, who was unable to join the event in person since he was on assignment in Israel. His pre-recorded remarks about reporting on conflict, trauma, and resilience were played on a video screen.
“To do what we do and remain resilient, we must believe in the catharsis of storytelling,” he said, adding that taking care of oneself on the job is paramount.
“Being there is what we do. And yet, doing that is exactly what makes us vulnerable to post-traumatic stress,” he said. “In my experience, the extent of my injury—and I do label it an injury—correlates directly to how deep I went, how far I traveled into people's pain. That strikes me as a genuine occupational hazard. That which allows us to do our jobs is the very thing that creates burnout. It’s the very thing that leads us to be overwhelmed, or even self-destructive.”
Some of his recommended coping mechanisms include practicing self-care, meditating, remembering to take breaks, and most importantly believing in the power of the story you’re telling.
“I have come to believe that the same empathy that made me vulnerable has helped steel me. I've come to believe that that empathy has provided me purpose,” he said.
The next day began at the Friends Meeting of Washington, a historic Quaker house, with a journalist panel on "How to Tell a Good Story and Get the Word Out.”
Peter Canellos, a Reporting Fellow adviser and managing editor of enterprise at POLITICO, speaking on the importance of fairness and objectivity in journalism, told the Fellows to “be rigorous” in their reporting. “A nuanced story is a more interesting story,” he said.
Jaime Joyce, a Campus Consortium Advisory Council member, journalist, and former executive editor at TIME for Kids, spoke next on her experience interviewing and working with children. In this role, she said she learned the importance of understanding and transparency. She told the Fellows to make their sources—especially children—comfortable in interviews.
"Use empathy,” she said. “Acknowledge them.”
Rhitu Chatterjee, a Reporting Fellow adviser, grantee, and NPR health correspondent, played a short clip from one of her 2015 Morning Edition stories about women in India who had been abused and later found work in school kitchens. Like Joyce, she emphasized the importance of using care while reporting on trauma survivors.
“Nobody’s just the trauma they experienced,” she said.
Julia Rendleman, a 2011 Reporting Fellow alum, current adviser, photojournalist, and journalism professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, wrapped up the journalist panel with a few key takeaways for this year’s Fellows: Be easy to work with, enjoy saying “yes” to projects, don’t give up, make your story unique, and keep pitching — even if you’re not always hitting.
Reporting Fellow presentations on global health; peace and conflict; and developments, city challenges, and identity followed the morning journalist panel.
After the four panels, the Reporting Fellows embarked on a scavenger hunt to explore the city and see the monuments. They started at Dupont Circle and made their way through D.C. to the White House and the Lincoln Memorial, with a beautiful sunset view before ending the two-mile walking tour at the Washington Harbor.
That evening, the Reporting Fellows joined Pulitzer Center staff at Nick’s Riverside Grill in Georgetown. They caught up on each other’s projects, traded stories from the field, and made connections.
Sunday panels took place at the National Press Club with Reporting Fellow presentations on climate and the environment in Asia and Africa; art, tech, and sustainability; and a second on global health. The Fellows parted ways that afternoon, promising to stay in touch with each other, as well as with the Pulitzer Center staff and professional journalists they met during the weekend.
As Rendleman said during Saturday’s panel, “We are all here to hold the door open for you.”
Thank you to the Reporting Fellows team, Kem Sawyer, Libby Moeller, and Jazzy Gray, as well as the University and Outreach team, Ann Peters, Mikaela Schmitt, and Ethan Widlansky; the Communications team, including Multimedia Coordinator Daniel Vasta and Design Manager Lucy Crelli, videographers Mark Sugg and Phillip Warfield, and Digital Production Assistant Grace Jensen; intern Alexandra Byrne, CFOO Mouhamad Alem; IT Manager Ash Guevara, and CEO Jon Sawyer for making the weekend possible. Communications Director Sarah Swan and Social Media Coordinator Alonso Balbuena also played key roles.
Watch the Weekend! Videos from the Cosmos Club dinner speakers and the journalist panel are below. You will find links to the Reporting Fellow presentations under Related Content.
This story has been updated; it was originally published on October 26.