Photograph by Julia Harte
Photograph by Anna Ozbek
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
My first stated career goals were to be an actress, a scientist, and a writer. Also, at various stages, a professional mountain climber, an astronaut, and a politician. When I realized I'd have to specialize, of course, writer won out. But I think journalism appealed to me in part because it allows me to immerse myself in and live vicariously through people from all walks of life.
How did you get started in your field of work?
The journalism bug bit me in high school when I started reporting for the student newspaper. I knew I'd found a good vocation when I was appointed editor of the sports page, a subject in which I had no interest, and nevertheless loved the work. I wrote for student newspapers and interned and freelanced for other publications throughout college, then moved to Turkey to freelance from there. At first I covered energy and environmental issues for sites such as Inside Climate News. Eventually, the political scene drew me in and I started reporting more on foreign affairs and domestic Turkish politics.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to journalism?
Some call journalism the first draft of history. Some see it as the best way to draw attention to societal problems and spur solutions. I am inspired by these lofty descriptions to some extent. I'm drawn to investigative reporting because it's all about uncovering wrongdoing, and that has always struck me as the most essential purpose of journalism. But the things that keep me motivated on a daily basis to continue working as a reporter are little pleasures, like the thrill of discovering a secret or writing a really well-crafted sentence.
What's a normal day like for you?
In my current job, a normal day mostly consists of reading reports, checking the news, making calls, and writing or revising stories, with ideally at least one out-of-office interview or speaker event every day or two. Reporting on national security doesn't afford quite as many opportunities to be outdoors as I'd like, but the subject matter is usually fascinating enough to make up for it.
Do you have a hero?
Anna Politkovskaya is one of my heroes. She embodied the best qualities of investigative reporting: a willingness to call out corruption as she saw it, an unflinching devotion to getting the story right, and a compassion for the victims of wrongdoing that shone out of everything she wrote. At a time when journalists around the world face so much political persecution and censorship, she remains one of the more inspiring—and tragic—examples of an investigative reporter continuing to do her job in the face of overwhelming pressure to be silent.
What's been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?
One of my favorite experiences on my National Geographic Young Explorers Grant expedition along the Tigris River was getting the surprise opportunity to cross the Tigris River from Iraqi Kurdistan into Kurdish-controlled Syria for a day, at the point where the river forms the border between the two countries. We were interviewing the deacon of a 1,400-year-old Chaldean Christian church on the Iraqi side when he pointed across the river at a Syrian town and said, "You should go talk to them, they have problems with Turkey's dams as well." So with the help of our fixer, we took a boat over and did just that.
The most challenging experience was when I contracted some ailment (possibly malaria, possibly dengue fever) in southeastern Turkey at the end of the trip and was completely incapacitated for a couple of weeks. We left a little ahead of schedule to get to the nearest city with a hospital. While I was recuperating, Anna Ozbek made a final trip to a village that had been on our expedition itinerary, and to add insult to injury, she came back with tales of these rare, delectable dishes—kebabs prepared with poppy seeds, handmade ice cream—that her hosts had made for her. Meanwhile, I'd been living on water and bananas.
What are your other passions?
Languages, history, magical realism, maps
In Their Words
Journalism allows me to immerse myself in and live vicariously through people from all walks of life.