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2016 Daniel Pearl Intern: Alexa Liautaud

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Alexa Liautaud

Alexa Liautaud has been chosen as the 2016 Daniel Pearl Memorial Journalism Intern.

Liautaud is a senior majoring in History with a minor in Middle Eastern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. She is fluent in French and has spent all four years at Stanford studying Arabic. She interned at Bloomberg News her sophomore and junior summers, and is writing an honors thesis on military cultural sensitivity training and American counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

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

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.  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.

The Heartbeat Behind the Headlines

By Alexa Liautaud

Walking through a refugee camp in Jordan in 2011 ­ an Israeli clasped to one of my arms and a Palestinian refugee linking with my other, I paused and contemplated how simple the world would be if only world leaders got along so well.

I had met these two during a summer program in Maine run by Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing together youth from the Middle East, the U.S. and UK, in an effort to construct mutual understanding between countries divided by politics. We ate together, hung out together, fought over world issues together, fought over toothpaste together, played soccer, fought some more, cried, laughed, and everything in between.

The teenagers I had met — Rima, Hashem, Lina, and countless others, gave the seemingly distant and cold politics a heartbeat. This rich heartbeat — one that is so often clouded by prejudice and stereotypes in public dialogue — is what inspired me to pursue journalism as a means of further exploring our humanity.

I believe that Daniel Pearl truly understood this in his work. When you get to know ordinary people beyond their pre­prescribed politicized character, the conflict becomes personal and the story becomes real. Whether reporting on the tapestry trade in Iran or the war atrocities in Kosovo, Pearl always sought out the human heartbeat. In his stories, more than political analysis or economic forecasts, Pearl’s ability to illuminate the power of the human spirit, even in the most complex environments, made him the inspirational journalist that he was.

Being French and American, having grown up in London with a passion for collecting stories from the Middle East, I was hesitant about data ­driven journalism. Before I started writing for Bloomberg News, I assumed cutting ­edge data and statistics would be the antithesis to the colorful mosaic of human experiences that I had collected in my travels and research.

Yet through my reporting, whether it was looking at the personalities running Fortune 500 companies, understanding daily events behind stock market decisions, or analyzing how products affected people, I found that hard data and human stories are not mutually exclusive. Rather ­ they inform and uplift each other, validating each experience with an entire database of others.

Behind the headlines on the Middle East — the war in Syria, the Arab ­Israeli conflict, and the underlying humanitarian crisis — there are people; there are facts; there are authentic stories, waiting to be uncovered and leveraged into positive change.

As a journalist with a passion for research, conflict, and languages, my goal is to channel Daniel Pearl’s unbounding empathy to understand the dynamics of our existence beyond the visual façade. I aspire to bridge seemingly unconnectable worlds and use the information we have at our fingertips to create mutual understanding between previously divided groups. I believe Daniel Pearl truly accomplished this in his own work and I strive to pursue this understanding in mine.