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Journalist finds ‘striking’ stories, inspiring people on global reporting trip

Aneri Pattani, AMD'17, poses for a portrait in February 2017. She recently wrapped up a weeklong reporting trip in Liberia with New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Aneri Pattani’s first foray into international reporting was eye opening, motivating, and unforgettable.

The recent Northeastern graduate spent a week in June traveling across Liberia with New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof, taking sharp note of his interviewing skills and pursuing a variety of stories—including those tied to her particular interest in global health. She interviewed a range of inspiring individuals there and also saw firsthand the everyday challenges many people in rural villages face—from mothers struggling to feed their children or get to the hospital in time to give birth, to doctors without resources to treat their patients.

She said it’s one thing to read about the living conditions of people far from home. It’s another to experience them firsthand. “I see journalism as a way to learn more every day and try to work on my own ignorance and understand the different ways people live,” said Pattani, AMD’17. “In a lot of ways that’s what I took away from this trip, but on an international scale.”

Pattani, the recipient of the Times’ annual “Win a Trip with Nick” Contest this year, wrote a number of blog posts about these experiences. The Times has already published seven of them, including two this week. A blog post published Wednesday morning focused on the chief carver at an artisan craft shop who produces masterful work despite having lost all his fingers, one foot, and most of his toes on the other foot due to leprosy. And on Thursday, The Times published her post on the fight against a flesh-eating bacteria.

New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof and Northeastern graduate Aneri Pattani, AMD’17, talk while on their recent reporting trip in Liberia. Photo by Geoffrey Kristof

Another “striking moment” Pattani blogged about was realizing that she had more medications in her suitcase than a Rivercess County hospital that serves 75,000 people. “My suitcase had antimalarials,” she wrote. “The hospital did not. My suitcase had ibuprofen. The hospital did not. My suitcase had acetaminophen. The hospital did not.”

‘The perfect opportunity to learn’

In an interview with News@Northeastern in March, Pattani looked ahead to her first reporting experience outside the U.S. with both excitement and trepidation. “Because it’s intimidating to me, this is the perfect opportunity to learn from someone who does this for a living, and who clearly does it well,” Pattani said at the time.

That opportunity came to fruition on her first reporting day when she and Kristof visited a village to interview people with clubfoot, a birth defect in which the foot is twisted out of shape or position. She described feeling very overwhelmed when the villagers flocked to them upon arrival, forcing them to work through a translator. “So I just sat and watched Nick, and saw how he makes people feel comfortable. And I picked up on certain things—like instead of trying to spell someone’s name and talk it through, he just handed the person his notepad to write it out. That removes the language and pronunciation barriers.”

That moment, Pattani explained, underscored how simply being able to talk to people is at the core of good journalism.

“I see journalism as a way to learn more every day and try to work on my own ignorance and understand the different ways people live. In a lot of ways that’s what I took away from this trip, but on an international scale.”

Aneri Pattani AMD'17

Pattani’s first blog post from her trip highlighted Mae Azango, an investigative journalist at FrontPage Africa. Pattani described how Azango had exposed “countless cases of corruption and human rights violations” throughout her career, covering controversial stories that have led her to receive death threats. “She’s so fierce and amazing,” Pattani said of Azango. “She’s in it because she sees wrongdoings and human rights abuses and wants to make a difference. As a young journalist, it was really inspiring and motivating to me.”

In another blog post, Pattani highlighted seven other people she met there who inspired her. One was an 18-year-old who built a fully functional fan out of cardboard; another was a community health worker who “pioneered a program to bring villagers together on the first Saturday of each month to reduce potential mosquito habitats and decrease the risk of malaria.”

Since returning from her trip to Liberia, Pattani has been working on The New York Times’ health and science desk as part of her James Reston Reporting Fellowship—another prestigious opportunity she applied for and received separate from her reporting trip with Kristof. Earlier this week, the Times published a story she wrote based on her reporting in Liberia on a policy for enticing pregnant women there to give birth in health centers, as part of an effort to curb maternal deaths.

Pattani’s work as part of her fellowship, which concludes Sept. 1, runs the gamut. One day she might be working collaboratively on a data project, another she might be focusing on one of her own stories. “There’s a lot to learn,” she said, adding that the Times’ extensive editing process is forcing her to think more critically about her own reporting and improve her writing by anticipating questions her editors might ask.