Pulitzer Center Journalists Discuss Crisis Reporting at NU-Q


Written by Haya Khalid Al-Thani

Northwestern University in Qatar hosted three visitors from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting this week, who spoke on a panel held yesterday at the university.

The guests were Jon Sawyer, the center’s founding director, Kem Sawyer, a contributing editor, and Katherine Zoepf, one of the center’s grantees.

Approximately 60 people attended the event, during which the three experienced journalists shared some of the center’s work on crisis reporting.

Jon Sawyer started off the meeting by introducing the audience to some of the Pulitzer Center’s work, including stories on the absence of basic sanitation and clean water, discrimination against women and girls, and the exploitation of child labour in gold mines around the world.

“We are in the business of crisis,” he said. “And if you follow our reporting, I know it can sometimes feel like a heavy, steady load of doom and gloom.”

Even so, Jon Sawyer remains optimistic about the future of journalism.

“You are all the face of change,” he said, directly addressing the aspiring journalists in the room. He then said that he is “confident and excited” about the future of news reporting and the ways in which future journalists will change the world.

Kem Sawyer spoke in-depth about one of the center’s new media projects: an e-book that resulted from a collaboration among nine of the center’s grantees called, “Flight from Syria: Refugee Stories,” which explores the lives of Syrian refugees in several countries, including Germany, Greece, and Sweden, among others.

She shared some of the stories that exemplified the struggles of Syrian refugees, including one particularly heart-wrenching tale of a Syrian refugee in Jordan – a little girl who “drew a helicopter dropping bombs on a bleeding house,” Kem Sawyer said. The girl showed her drawing to a volunteer who was working with refugee children to find creative ways to teach non-violent problem solving, explaining that her aunt had died when her house was bombed.

“The volunteer is shaken when he sees the drawing, but he knows the art serves as therapy,” Kem Sawyer said. “A way to heal.”   

The e-book is one of several published by the Pulitzer Center, many of which are available to everyone for free on Amazon, she said: “We want readers and it’s part of our education mission.”

Zoepf discussed her article “Sisters in Law,” which was published in The New Yorker earlier this month and highlighted the first Saudi women lawyers, and the emergence of women in the Saudi Arabian workforce.

“I think a lot of readers were really surprised,” Zoepf said, regarding how something so small on the outside could look much bigger on the inside. She gave the example of Saudi’s first female lawyers, which she said is a seemingly small change to those outside the region but is in fact a very big change within Saudi Arabia. She advised journalism students not to overlook the little stories, because what might be little to them might be huge to somebody else.

Zoepf also spoke during Monday’s community hour at NU-Q, where she introduced her recently released book, “Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women Who are Transforming the Arab World.” Nearly 40 attendees listened to Zoepf’s recollections of the reporting that she had done in order to write her book, which she said was done on the side while she worked on her other stories.

“I tried to stay long enough that I’m basically blending in or becoming invisible,” said Zoepf, as she explained the methods she used for reporting on the lives of Arab women in various countries. Zoepf added, however, that she always tried to be clear that she was a reporter by always having her notebook and recorder visible.

Students appreciated the insight into the Pulitzer Center’s work.

“Their speech was very informative, and I learned a lot about getting a student grant at the Pulitzer Center,” said Aisha AlQadi, a journalism freshman.

“I was really interested with Katherine Zoepf’s lecture about her projects for the center,” said Lolwa Al-Thani, another journalism freshman. “It was helpful to hear more from a grantee.”



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