2010 Daniel Pearl Intern: Devin Banerjee

Devin Banerjee

The editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily has been chosen as the 2010 Daniel Pearl Memorial Journalism Intern.

Devin Banerjee is working toward a bachelor’s degree in management science and engineering, with a concentration in technology and policy, which he expects to complete in 2011. He will work in a foreign bureau of The Wall Street Journal this summer.

The internship was established to commemorate the work and ideals of Pearl, a Stanford graduate and Wall Street Journal foreign correspondent who was kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan in 2002.

In an essay written as part of the application process, Banerjee noted that Pearl rooted his stories in conversations with everyday people, “for it often was their absence from the larger conversation that yielded a nature of misunderstanding—the failure to connect the dots.” Banerjee wrote that he strives in his reporting to learn from everyone: “not just the CEO or executive director, but the Indian teen whose skin peels from her hands due to industrial contamination, the 76-year-old Iranian American still fighting for democracy in his homeland, the Korean mother who forgoes tutoring for her daughter to save money during the recession, the African-American students who accuse a white police chief of racial profiling—and the accomplished 34-year police veteran whose job is put on the line by those very accusations.”

Banerjee is from Calabasas, in Southern California, and he has previously had internships at the San Jose Mercury News and JoongAng Daily in Seoul, Korea.

A committee of Communication Department faculty members evaluated applicants for the internship. The final decision was made by The Wall Street Journal.

Pearl, a 1985 graduate of Stanford’s Department of Communication, was kidnapped in Karachi on Jan. 23, 2002, while working on a story retracing the steps of “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. A month later, on Feb. 21, his captors released a videotape of his slaying. He was 38.

Human Intricacies

By Devin Banerjee

In a sweltering, steam-filled room 30 miles south of the North Korean border, nuclear weapons were on my mind. Dodging pots and pans, I navigated the bustling kitchen in search of the restaurant owner, who had agreed to discuss her perception of North Korean threats for a story I pitched earlier in the morning.

Talking to locals on the subway a day earlier, a seemingly counterintuitive realization had dawned on me: While the perception in the West is that South Koreans sit in the crosshairs of their northern neighbors—and therefore should be in near-constant fear of attack—most in the southern capital simply turn their heads the other way, choosing instead to live free of trepidation. A few locals even laughed when I raised the question of danger. Clearly, things were different here.

As Mariane Pearl tells it, her husband loved counterintuitive stories, particularly such cross-cultural ones. Uncovering them and exposing them in his writing, Daniel Pearl consistently was inspired to debunk conventional wisdom. He skillfully explored Iranians’ hesitant embrace of Western culture in 1996, the booming leather industry in Hindu India in 2001, and the problem with dialing 9-1-1 from a mobile phone in 1995. In 1997, he even dared probe the question: When, really, is the start of Ramadan?

In his best reporting, Daniel Pearl found and rooted his stories in conversations with everyday people, for it often was their absence from the larger conversation that yielded a nature of misunderstanding—the failure to connect the dots. This is why, in every story I pursue, I aim to learn from everyone: not just the CEO or executive director, but the Indian teen whose skin peels from her hands due to industrial contamination, the 76-year-old Iranian American still fighting for democracy in his homeland, the Korean mother who forgoes tutoring for her daughter to save money during the recession, the African-American students who accuse a white police chief of racial profiling—and the accomplished 34-year police veteran whose job is put on the line by those very accusations.

Allowing the voices of dignified individuals to shine through my words has been a responsibility both heavy and incomparably gratifying, a responsibility I took on in early 2008 while documenting the hardships faced by Stanford’s Iranian population. For weeks, I worked tirelessly on the story, doggedly pursuing government officials, university administrators and accomplished scientists. But throughout, I knew the two-part series hinged on my conversations with normal students—young adults similar to me in more ways than I knew—who often went off the record just to bear tearful emotions. In the end, my work paid off, so to speak, and I was awarded the Stan Bohrman Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. Still, to this day, I hope the judges honored the series only as readers now remember it: telling the untold stories of dignified individuals.

I have come to view storytelling as a delicate craft honed in conversation with such people, unique in their own ways yet connected across innumerable borders. Human and societal intricacies abound in this grand place, and not only did Daniel Pearl relish in exposing them; he knew just how to shine a glimmering light on that individual whose voice—and with it, her or his dignity—was lost among those of the masses. If given the opportunity, I truly would be honored to continue that kind of storytelling and reporting at The Wall Street Journal.