2007 Daniel Pearl Intern: Niraj Sheth

Niraj Sheth
Niraj Sheth

A Stanford Daily reporter majoring in history has been chosen as the 2007 Daniel Pearl Memorial Journalism Intern.

Niraj Sheth is a senior who is minoring in philosophy. He will work in the London bureau of the Wall Street Journal next fall.

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, Sheth said that Pearl knew that reporters must sometimes confront intolerance: “…it is a risk inherent to doing the job right. Not only did Pearl accept this risk with courage and determination, he did so for a purpose: to give voice to the untold stories of different peoples — wherever they come from — and to bring an understanding of these individual struggles to distant readers.”

Sheth is a senior staff writer at the Stanford Daily. He has had a previous journalism internship at the Sacramento Valley Mirror in Willows, California. He is from New Jersey.

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.

Untold Stories

By Niraj Sheth

“So, what are you — a Muslim or something?”

I turned to look at the man who had just spoken. He towered over me, easily twice my size and obviously drunk. His eyes — clearly hostile — were only inches from mine. 

Reporting on a weekend festival for a small newspaper last summer, I was the only dark-skinned person in a rural town of 200. I knew that trying to explain that I was Indian, but not Muslim, would have been a futile endeavor.

“No,” I replied instead. “I’m a reporter.”

I hope that answer would have made Daniel Pearl proud. Of all people, he knew that a reporter must sometimes confront intolerance — it is a risk inherent to doing the job right. Not only did Pearl accept this risk with courage and determination, he did so for a purpose: to give voice to the untold stories of different peoples — wherever they come from — and to bring an understanding of these individual struggles to distant readers.

In each pocket of the globe he visited, Pearl’s work exposed the intimate and personal accounts often hidden behind the “bigger picture.” But it is Pearl’s work in India that holds the most significance for me. Like Pearl, who served as the Mumbai bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal, I plan on becoming a reporter there, hopefully with the same insight that Pearl brought to this country’s often-untold stories. Instead of focusing only on the booming technological sector to explain the Indian economy, Pearl looked at the more complicated social underpinnings of commerce in India, investigating how a leather industry could exist in a country where the cow is sacred to the majority of the population. And when Indian pharmacies started overstocking medicines, Pearl described the heavy incentives offered to Indian pharmacists, explaining the contours of the Indian pharmaceutical industry to his American readers along the way.

As a student reporter, whether in California’s agricultural Central Valley or on Stanford’s campus, I have tried, like Pearl, to tell the stories of people sometimes lost in the crowd. When an environmentalist won an award for his long-unrecognized work along the Sacramento River, it was my job to understand why a man with a Harvard pedigree would sacrifice fame and fortune to return to his farming roots. When medical students from less privileged backgrounds found Stanford to be elitist and alienating, it was my job to give voice to their sense of isolation. When city soccer fields promised to a Hispanic community never materialized, it was my job to tell their story of disappointment and betrayal. And when the local high school football coach’s son died suddenly during practice, it was my job to express the shock of a tight-knit community at losing one of their own.

Unfortunately, in trying to tell the stories of a culture and a people different from his own, a reporter often risks facing animosity, hostility, or worse. I experienced this first hand, fortunately escaping unscathed from one man’s intolerance. But it was in this line of duty — and because of such intolerance — that Pearl’s life abruptly and tragically came to an end. As a journalist, I hope to keep his spirit and mission alive, by helping to build understanding through the untold stories of people living in times of change.