By Arianna Smith
The term “Pulitzer Prize winner” may conjure the image of a stiff and buttoned up, grizzled veteran reporter. Farah Stockman is indeed a veteran columnist and reporter, but speaking to an assembly of MIPA students Monday evening, she gave off the atmosphere of a calm and easy-going professional.
“When I was in high school, I thought I was going to write the great American novel. I didn’t know I was doing newspaper until after college,” Stockman said. “I’m glad I took the path that I did. I’m not sure I would have stayed in journalism if I didn’t. It would have been boring.”
Stockman addressed the conference to speak about her own experiences in the field of journalism, including her less conventional path of becoming a schoolteacher and later a “fixer” for the New York Times in Kenya, which led to further opportunities that resulted in groundbreaking stories. She spoke of her initial inspiration to become a journalist, her involvement in the coverage of events such as the U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Tanzania which she said were her “big break” and the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.
“It’s unfortunate, but journalism careers are often a mix of tragedy and luck. Sometimes you have to be in the right place at the right time, and I’ve been lucky enough on a few occasions to be just that,” Stockman said.
She also imparted her own words of wisdom to the students, mainly to challenge mainstream thinking and to open themselves and their viewpoints to the world to better become successful and to forge greater relationships with the subjects of their stories and beyond.
“Great journalists put themselves in a position to discover and understand the world,” Stockman said. “You have to develop empathy for others so you can be trusted to tell their stories, and you can’t believe everything you’re told. Sometimes a story is more complicated than you think.”
Stockman has written about and contributed to a variety of issues and topics: the gradual re-segregation of Boston school systems, which won her the Pulitzer, U.S. efforts to combat opium trade in the Middle East and the effect of that campaign on the opium farmers, and the investigative story she contributed to about pedophilia in the Boston Catholic church that’s findings inspired the movie “Spotlight” by Tom McCarthy.
“I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to talk about those kinds of things in Boston. I just knew there was a story that people needed to hear,” Stockman said.
And her reaction to winning the Pulitzer?
“It made me feel like I could really do it, you know?” Stockman said. “It was confirmation that I could write with the very best of them.”
After the initial presentation, MIPA students lined the staircases to ask Stockman questions about her experience as a woman journalist, the danger she’d faced as an embed with the U.S. Military, and the controversy her stories have evoked.
“I thought she was very nice,” said MIPA student Sydneah Burnett. “Very informative. I didn’t expect her to be so normal and relatable. And she had really good advice.”