Journalism grad Luhmann embarks on trip of a lifetime

July 3, 2013

by Greg Bump

It’s the kind of trip many journalists dream about.

In February, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof selected UW-Madison journalism graduate student Erin Luhmann as the winner of this year's “Win a Trip with Nick Kristof” contest. Her application was picked from among 700 entries.

Photo: Erin Luhmann

Erin Luhmann

Kristof, whose op-ed pieces appear in the Times twice weekly, is known for his international reporting, covering six continents in his travels to more than 150 countries. He has been sponsoring “win-a-trip” since 2006.

The coveted prize is taking Luhmann overseas this month to report on and raise awareness of poverty and global health issues.

Since she graduated in May with her master’s degree, she’s embarked on her journey and is blogging for the Times.

Although security prevents her from revealing details of all of her destinations, she recently arrived in Timbuktu, Mali by way of New York City. Before leaving, she shared thoughts on what she hopes to accomplish during her time traveling, writing and reporting with Kristof.

Q: I know you can’t say much about where you’re going, but can you talk about the primary goal of the trip or what kind of issues will you be reporting on?

Luhmann: The primary goal of the trip is to give people afflicted by poverty, poor health and sanitation, and conflict an international platform to share their stories and voice their concerns.

While I’m not at liberty to say where we’ll be reporting from, the issues that we may cover are no secret: malnutrition, blindness, maternal health, and the plight of refugees. I’ve been reading up on local culture, politics and economics to develop better context for the issues we’ll be covering. But the real key is to thoughtfully capture personal accounts of extreme malnourishment, disease, and displacement that might resonate with readers and inspire social engagement.

Q: What reporting tools have you packed for the trip?

Luhmann: I’ve packed a voice recorder, notebooks, and pens, for recording interviews. I’ll also be toting a digital camera and a netbook, so I can type up my blog posts at night.

I consider safety preparedness an important reporting tool as well. Back in April, an alumni donor to the journalism school sponsored my participation in a workshop led by Global Journalist Security. This training was important to me because I want to avoid putting myself, and my sources, at risk. I don’t anticipate needing to use much of what I learned, but I consider it a necessary tool for future overseas reporting adventures.

Q: What role will social media play in your reporting while overseas?

Luhmann: Depending on Internet access at each location, I imagine we’ll do our best to live tweet (@erinluhmann) between blog posts. It’s an easy way to connect followers with opportunities to become part of a solution. Use #winatrip to join the conversation!

Q: What do you expect to learn on this trip that you can use in your career?

Luhmann: I think the main take-away, for me, may be a renewed sense of admiration for local journalists who consistently report on the issues that we’ll be covering during our stint in Africa. In spite of intimidating threats and impunity that hamper free press in their countries, they investigate corruption, human rights abuses, environmental degradation and humanitarian issues without the financial security or visibility afforded by The New York Times. Not only are they courageous, but they also know how to navigate cultural nuances and language barriers that sometimes inhibit foreign reporters from capturing the complexity of an issue.

I hope to one day make a career out of supporting local journalists by advocating for their safety, equipping them with the tools and training they need to be successful, and bringing their work to a wider audience. But first, I need to establish a point of reference for what it’s like to report on sensitive issues in difficult media environments. The opportunity to shadow Kristof on “win-a-trip” is an unbelievable way to get started.