A childhood dream comes true for Yale senior Amelia Nierenberg
As a child, one of Amelia Nierenberg’s favorite games was to play “journalist,” during which she would stage interviews with her grandmother.
During her time on campus, the Yale senior became a journalist for real, writing opinion pieces for the Yale Daily News (and serving as editor of the Opinion section in her junior year) as well as articles for The New Journal. As a recipient of Yale’s Paul Block Journalism Internship, she spent last summer writing news stories for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; the previous summer, she served as a production intern for “Israel Story,” a national radio podcast in that country highlighting “everyday” stories told by and about Israelis.
Nierenberg is one of 16 aspiring foreign correspondents recently announced as winners of the 2018 Overseas Press Club (OPC) Foundation Scholar Award. As such, she will spend next fall working as a reporter at the Associated Press bureau in Dakar, Senegal.
Nierenberg was selected by a panel of leading journalists from a pool of 175 applicants from 50 different colleges and universities. In March, she attended the OPC awards luncheon at the Yale Club in New York City; CBS Evening News anchor Jeff Glor was the keynote speaker. She was presented the OPC’s Flora Lewis Fellowship, which was endowed by the Pierre F. Simon Charitable Trust and named in honor of the Paris-based commentator on international events for The New York Times for over 25 years. Nierenberg received her award from Lewis’ friend, journalist and political writer Jackie Albert-Simon. She is one of only four current undergraduates this year to receive the OPC Foundation Scholar Award.
During their time in New York City, the OPC Foundation Scholar awardees also met with editors and journalists, and took part in risk management and situational awareness training from the Washington, D.C.-based organization Global Journalist Security at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
“It was so exciting,” says Nierenberg. “We learned about such things as digital safety, how to cover civil unrest, what to do if you are being shot at and still have to do reporting, and how to get tear gas out of your eyes. A lot of the reporting I’ve done has been with two people sitting together and talking. I’ve never been in a dangerous situation. This event made it all very real.”
As part of her application for the OPC award, Nierenberg submitted an article about a support group for mothers of opioid addicts in rural Pennsylvania, a story she covered in a series for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Nierenberg says she chose to write about the topic while working for the Pittsburgh newspaper because “the ‘opioid crisis’ can be such an abstract phrase to a lot of people,” she says. “Even though a lot of people in Pittsburgh are affected by the crisis, there is a tendency for people in the city to think of it as a rural problem. I wanted to go to talk to readers who aren’t necessarily featured in the paper; that felt really important to me.” The day after her piece was published, Nierenberg says, she received many calls about her story.
“Of everything I’ve written, that story feels like the one that has had the most resonance for the community I was working for,” Nierenberg says. “I would travel an hour north out of Pittsburgh County to talk to people for this series, and that was when I really realized that this is what I want to do. I was seeing the civic good of storytelling from a journalist’s perspective.”
The Yale student, who will graduate with both a B.A. and an M.A. in history and is a Journalism Scholar, has focused much of her academic work studying postcolonial history. Her thesis explores French anti-Semitism and postcolonialism, and during her summer in Israel, Nierenberg conducted independent research on the experiences of French Jews who moved to that country.
Nierenberg grew up New York but has traveled widely, both with her family and independently. Her desire to pursue a career as a foreign correspondent is due in part, she says, to the fact that she is “increasingly concerned about an America that has not globalized its own consciousness yet.
“I think that good foreign reporting would be almost patriotic — to invite American readers to consider or to get to know briefly people outside of our borders, because I’m aware of a contemporary insularity that is a little worrisome,” she adds. “I think that journalism fundamentally makes human ‘the stranger.’”
Her Yale coursework, Nierenberg says, helped fuel her interest in the world and in writing. Among her favorite courses are one on nonfiction writing taught by Fred Strebeigh, whose instruction and “superb” editing she credits with “eradicating” any doubts she had about making a career of journalism; a course on modern Africa taught by historian Dan Magaziner, whom she appreciated for his “intellectual energy” and for assigning readings by authors who were “assertive” in their pioneering scholarship about the continent; and most of all, by the seminar “Oil and Empire,” taught by Middle East historian Rosie Bsheer.
“This course defined my world view in many ways,” says Nierenberg. “It was the most important class I’ve taken at Yale. Every day, I would walk out class so excited that I would call my mom and say ‘Did you know [such and such]?’”
Nierenberg says she is also grateful for classes in English, history, and humanities in which she learned the value of the close readings of texts and the intricacies of “pulling words apart,” among other lessons.
One aspect of Yale she has most appreciated is “it is a place that prioritizes conversation,” Nierenberg says, noting that it is one of the reasons she chose the school over others.
“The central social and intellectual backbone of this place is a conversation — people really talk to each other here and want to talk to each other. Also, I think people are kind here,” she says.
After graduating in May, Nierenberg will work during the summer as a reporter at The Boston Globe. She will then spend about a month traveling across country before beginning her job in Dakar in November. While her $2,000 fellowship award will cover about four months of living in Senegal, the Yale student would like eventually to be hired by the Associated Press. She says that in any case she hopes her time in Africa will just be the start of her career as a foreign correspondent.
“I’m buying a one-way ticket,” she says. “I’m starting with the assumption that I won’t be back here in a permanent way, which seems like a good place to start.”
Down the road, Nierenberg says, she hopes to continue to be a foreign correspondent, perhaps in in Jerusalem.
“Empathy in reporting is necessary in that politically complicated place,” she says, explaining that in her view, all reporting is ultimately about empathy.
“Nothing is news if no one cares about it,” says Nierenberg. “I’ve realized that if you are covering something, it means it matters to someone; someone cares about it. It means you have to care about what you are covering because they do. And the only thing in a story that people really care about is other people, whether you are talking about a water main break or a school board meeting. … I feel really lucky that I’m being given this opportunity — that someone thinks I can do this and they are letting me.”