2004 Daniel Pearl Intern: Ramin Setoodeh

Ramin Setoodeh

A Stanford Daily editor majoring in English has been chosen as the 2004 Daniel Pearl Memorial Journalism Intern.

Ramin Setoodeh, a senior who is minoring in political science, was selected from among 13 applicants for the position. Setoodeh 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, 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, Setoodeh described his affinity for Pearl’s work: “He traveled the world and told the stories of ordinary people. Other journalists might associate culture with ethnicity. But Pearl’s stories seemed to understand that culture went deeper than skin color — there was the world of beauty pageant contestants in Jonesboro, Georgia; pharmacists in Bombay, India; carpet weavers in Ben, Iran.”

Setoodeh was editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily during the fall and winter. He has had previous internships at U.S. News & World Report, Stanford Magazine and the Menlo Park Country Almanac. He is from Fresno, California.

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 January 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.

Storytellers

By Ramin Setoodeh

Last summer, as an intern in the Culture section of U.S. News & World Report, I wrote about Persian novelists, a teenage screenplay writer and the man who invented the deep-fried Twinkie. But I first pitched an article on soccer fans that went to multiplex screenings of sporting events.

“Soccer fans?” asked another intern, puzzled. “Do they really have their own culture?”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s not so black and white.” So to speak.

Daniel Pearl knew this. He traveled the world and told the stories of ordinary people. Other journalists might associate culture with ethnicity. But Pearl’s stories seemed to understand that culture went deeper than skin color–there was the world of beauty pageant contestants in Jonesboro, Georgia; pharmacists in Bombay, India; carpet weavers in Ben, Iran.

Storytelling is a trait I inherit from my grandmother, wise with experience, who smelled of saffron and fabric softener. She occupied idle time in Fresno, California by describing her life in Iran. At first, I could only pick up a few words. But as I became more fluent in Farsi, I discovered that her most vivid stories were about people: the hungry beggar who lay with his mouth open under apple trees, the mother who rescued her son from a kitchen fire.

This was the lesson I carried with me as a journalist, writing about a family of plumbers in Menlo Park or a cop who assembled car seats on his days off. But after reading Pearl’s stories, I realized that the best journalists don’t just find people to write about–they submerge themselves in the culture of the people they write about. Only then, can real stories be told.

After I pitched a story last summer about extravagant Halloween decorations, I knew the true hook wasn’t the decorations at all: It was the people who turned their homes into haunted mausoleums. I spent two hours on the phone with a man from Wichita, Kansas, and asked him to walk through his house and describe, in great detail, what he saw. I cared about his culture–the whole picture, not just bits and pieces.

When I think about my future as a journalist, I think about Daniel Pearl–and all that he was able to accomplish with his life and death. He wasn’t just a brilliant writer, but a sympathetic human being, who, as Daniel’s father Judea eulogized, talked to “strangers in jazz bars, on soccer fields, in barbershops and in train stations.” He knew that there was value in ordinary people’s stories.

If selected as intern at the Journal, I’d be honored to follow in his footsteps.