2005 Daniel Pearl Intern: Will Oremus

Will Oremus
Will Oremus

A Stanford Daily editor majoring in philosophy has been chosen as the 2005 Daniel Pearl Memorial Journalism Intern.

Will Oremus, a senior, was selected from among 12 applicants for the position. Oremus will work in the London bureau of the Wall Street Journal this autumn.

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, Oremus described his affinity for Pearl’s work: “In a time of red states and blue states – a time when televised shouting matches between liberal and conservative ideologues pass for political journalism – the world could benefit from having more people like Daniel Pearl. He didn’t approach controversial topics by getting quotes from the loudest and most intractable voices on each side of the debate. He approached regular people. He learned their hopes and fears and conveyed their struggles in his articles. In doing so, he gave readers fuller, deeper and more human stories than they could ever get from the talking heads.

Oremus was editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily during the fall and winter. He has had previous internships at the San Jose Mercury News and the Las Vegas Sun. He is from Columbus, Ohio.

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.

More Than Talking Heads

By Will Oremus

Living in a time of red states and blue states – a time when a televised shouting match between liberal and conservative ideologues passes for political journalism – this country could benefit from having a few more people like Daniel Pearl. He didn’t approach controversial topics by getting quotes from the loudest and most intractable voices on each side of the debate. He approached regular people, those who are trying to make up their minds, find their place. He learned their hopes and fears and conveyed their struggles in his articles. In doing so, he gave readers fuller, deeper and more human stories than they could ever get from the talking heads.

A theme that echoes in Pearl’s articles is: “It may seem simple, but it’s not. The stereotypes are only fragments of the truth.” Writing about popular music in Iran in June of 2000, it would have been relatively easy to focus on the obvious conflict: reformist and revolutionary artists versus government censors. But rather than plunge in and start gathering quotes and anecdotes with this framework in mind, Pearl listened and observed, and found a more nuanced story: The government was actually sponsoring progressive Iranian pop acts that it considered benign, in an attempt to undercut the truly subversive influence of American pop music. Pearl wrote, “On the surface, this nation’s hardliners are doing all they can to prevent cultural change, but the reality is more complex.”

Pearl also understood that it wasn’t enough to write about the Big Issues. As a correspondent in the Middle East and in Pakistan, he wrote not only about the governments, but about the people. His May 1996 story on the resurgence of pearl-diving songs and a debate over whether singing them causes blindness shed light on an aspect of Persian Gulf history and culture that few in the West knew anything about. On the surface, the article had nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy, but as Pearl would say, the reality is more complex. Too often Americans judge foreigners’ actions and attitudes without knowing much about the people. Hearing their stories, through Pearl’s articles, gives insight into their values and traditions that can’t be gleaned from an encyclopedia, a CIA briefing or a ClearChannel world news update.

I am still just learning to do journalism of this sort. I’ve worked at several papers, including metropolitan dailies, and I’ve eagerly picked up new skills and learned new lessons everywhere I’ve gone. But one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had was at the small-town Granville Sentinel and Licking Co. Community Booster in the summer of 2002. In rural Ohio, I did not have the opportunity to cover fires or floods, murders or mayhem. All I had were people’s stories. A senior citizen who embarked on a solo cross-country bicycle trip, retracing the path of Lewis and Clark. A young student, marginal in the classroom, who excelled at photography and who dealt with the shock of Sept. 11 by traveling to ground zero to take snapshots of altars. A police officer who could have ascended the ranks but preferred to work with children as a D.A.R.E. officer.

My goals in journalism are more ambitious than just writing profiles of interesting small-town residents. I want to write about national and global issues; I would love to someday be a foreign correspondent. On the surface, it may seem that a summer spent writing profiles about residents of Granville, Ohio would have little relevance to such a career. But in Granville, Tehran or Islamabad, there are people with compelling stories that defy stereotypes, and it is the journalist’s job to convey their complexity.