NPR’s Nelson to earn Lovejoy
This year, the College will present the Elijah Parish Lovejoy award for courageous journalism to National Public Radio (NPR) journalist Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. Nelson has worked as a foreign correspondent for NPR since 2006 when she opened the NPR Kabul Bureau in Afghanistan.
The selection committee for the award made the decision this year to open it up to non-print journalists, greatly expanding the nomination possibilities. This is a decision the committee has been considering for the past three to four years, noted William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government Sandy Maisel, the director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement.
“I think the electronic and digital media have expanded so much in recent years that you are losing a lot of the people who are doing the kind of journalism for which the Lovejoy award was intended,” Maisel said.
Maisel also noted how much crossover there is amongst journalists between print and digital media. “There are so many journalists now who overlap, started in print, moved to non-print…or do both,” he said. Nelson worked as a newspaper reporter for 20 years prior to her employment at NPR. An editor and reporter for Newsday for three years, she shared with her team the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting for coverage of the crash of TWA Flight 800 and its aftermath.
Every year, the selection committee receives between 20-30 nominations, in addition to past nominees who were seriously considered but were not awarded in previous years. Nelson, considered primarily for more recent work in electronic media, was a new nomination.
The values considered when evaluating a potential candidate for the award are integrity, craftsmanship, intelligence and courage–-values that simulate and honor the achievements of Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a graduate of the College and a journalist who was killed in 1873 for his outspoken condemnation of slavery.
In Nelson’s case, “the clear courage of the opening of the Kabul Bureau and the reports she made [from Libya] were telling to everybody [on the committee] and the quality of her reporting…both its substance and the way in which it gets out of her were very persuasive [in the committee’s decision],” Maisel said.
Nelson reported from Benghazi, in eastern Libya, over the summer as rebel forces ousted Muammar Qaddafi. As a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, “she was basically there alone, she was doing her own work and doing her own reporting,” Maisel said. The committee found her bravery and self-reliance impressive.
Nelson will receive the Lovejoy award and an honorary doctorate from the College at a formal convocation, open to the public, on Sunday, Oct. 16, at 5:30 p.m. in Lorimer Chapel. She will also speak in a panel discussion, “Reflections on the Arab Spring,” that same day at 4 p.m. in the Ostrove Auditorium.