2014 Daniel Pearl Intern: Edward Ngai

Edward Ngai

The editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily has been chosen as the 2014 Daniel Pearl Memorial Journalism Intern.

Edward Ngai is a junior majoring in political science. He will work in the Hong Kong 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 he wrote as part of the application process, Ngai described Pearl’s ability to share with Journal readers a humanistic awareness of “the world’s arbitrary generosity and cruelty.” Ngai explained: “The world may move and shake on the backs of the elite, but every motion in the ivory tower shapes everyday communities.”

Ngai is from Vancouver, British Columbia, where he began writing news and commentary. Last summer, he was an intern at the San Jose Mercury News and did research at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). He is now completing his senior honors thesis in political science, studying democratization and representation in Hong Kong.

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

Pearl, a 1985 graduate of the 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.

Igniting Our Communities

By Edward Ngai

One Thursday morning at the Mercury News, I got a pitch about a lost service dog. “How exactly do you write a story on a dog?” I replied derisively. I never knew that looking for Lobo the dog would cap off a summer that completely changed the way I understand journalism.

Over the summer, I met a columnist at the Merc, who writes a semi-regular column on the South Bay. He described it to me (paraphrasing, of course): “I cover stories from regular people, stories that wouldn’t normally make it onto the news.” I remember remarking on our different philosophies—I wasn’t interested in writing feel-good puff pieces. I wanted to report on real things: politics, legislation, things that affected people, things that mattered. No one cares about a lost dog, I thought.

But the day Lobo’s story ran, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. People called in tips and asked how they could help. Some just called to say they were looking out for him. When I wrote about the recovery of an amputee, I received an outpouring of gratitude from amputees and parents of disabled children. The day after I wrote about a little girl with cystic fibrosis, two private citizens and a foundation called asking to help pay her medical bills.

Fact is, a lost dog in Berryessa matters to people in Burlingame. Lobo’s story was about much more than finding a dog; it was about a veteran’s struggle to find companionship and a community’s adoption of a serviceman who suddenly found his world stripped of everything he knew in the military. People cared about this story, one that seldom finds itself in the pages of a newspaper.

Over the summer, I realized the many ways that journalism still remains the beating heart of our neighborhoods and communities. This is true on the macro level—when large institutions make their moves in Washington and Wall Street, people in Hayward are left to pick up the pieces—but also on a much smaller level. Daniel Pearl’s reports show a keen interest in the life and trials of regular people, no matter how large, small, poor or privileged their community may be.

In an article Pearl wrote about Serbians displaced by ethnic violence in 1999, he tugs at familiar heartstrings. Everyone can associate with being homesick, even if we cannot understand what it is like to be driven from our land by bombs and death threats. But how could one sympathize with a senior official at a corrupt bank? In another front-page article that year, Pearl describes the shame felt by senior managers at a firm convicted of fraud and money laundering. As the reader combs through paragraphs of injustice and the malice of our fellow man, Pearl imbues all of us—displaced Serb, corrupt official, college student—with indignation at the world’s arbitrary generosity and cruelty. The world may move and shake on the backs of the elite, but every motion in the ivory tower shapes everyday communities.

Pearl’s pursuit of the voices of the overlooked is one that I hope to emulate. The more of these voices we can find and speak for, the bigger impact the news can make in our communities.