MEET SAJA SPEAKER TINA ROSENBERG
Journalism was always in Tina Rosenberg’s family— her grandfather was a reporter and editor for the Yiddish leftist newspaper The Forward. Growing up, Rosenberg would accompany him to the newsroom; she even had original pieces of the machinery that are now long gone.
Now, Rosenberg, born in New York and spent much of her childhood outside Lansing, Michigan, is a Pulitzer-Prize winning writer, creator of a journalism network and co-author of a New York Times column.
Her career began to take shape abroad— she spent six years in Nicaragua. She spent time in Chile as well. Her work outside the United States also helped give her perspective when she was writing her Pulitzer-Prize winning nonfiction book, The Haunted Land: Facing Europe's Ghosts After Communism.
She heard the story itself first from NPR about the border guards in Berlin who shot people who attempted to climb over the wall. Their defense, she explained, was that they were “only following orders.”
“And I thought, ‘Gee, that sounds familiar,’” she remarked, explaining she wanted to explore the question of what is legal, who gets to say what is crime and what isn’t crime. “And that was really interesting to me, after coming to the U.S. from living under two dictatorships in Nicaragua and Chile.”
Much of Rosenberg's journalism and editorial writing falls under “solution journalism.” In 2013, she co-founded the Solution Journalism Network. She also writes for the New York Times column “Fixes”, that “looks at solutions to social problems and why they work.”
Her inspiration for SJN came from her experience pitching a story to her editor for the Sunday New York Times magazine in 2000. Rosenberg wanted to investigate the price of AIDS medication in poor countries— detailing why AIDS was a death sentence for those in these countries as opposed to a more manageable case in wealthier countries. She said this was because there was collusion between the Clinton Administration and pharmaceutical companies that brought upon this issue.
“...I pitched it to my editor and he said no. He said, ‘We can’t inflict another 7,000 word story on how everyone is going to die in Maui. It’s just too depressing, it’s just not fresh. Everybody knows everyone is going to die in Maui,’” she recalled.
Rosenberg went back to the drawing board, hoping to reframe the story. Then she found out about Brazil, and how the country was telling Washington that they were making providing medication a priority.
“So the piece got turned inside out, through the lens what Brazil was fending off and what they were doing,” she explained. “It was a much, much, much more successful piece this way. A, it got into the paper. But it was B, it was much fresher. And people did know everyone was going to die in Maui but they didn't know they didn’t have to die, because in Brazil, people weren’t dying of AIDs because they were getting these medicines.”
The piece was her first foray into looking at situations in a new light.
“Whenever I wrote about a depressing subject— which I have to say was all the time — I would think if there was a possible solution to take on this. Because that’s what makes it accessible to the reader,” she said.
Such a mindset follows her into SJN. Rosenberg emphasized the importance of trust— something now hard to find between journalists and the public during the current political situation. Moving away from the pathologies of community coverage, she said, allows to build trust in journalism. Trying to seek the possible solutions to problems are also a good key, she added.
“If you are a big city newspaper and the only way you cover minorities communities is through the lens of crime and violence or when people do terrible things, they don’t trust you from the world they see,” she said. “They know that that exist in their world, but there are other things and those other things don’t get into the newspaper at all. They are never covered and you lose their trust.“
Rosenberg is one of the three speakers for the upcoming 2017 South Asian Journalist Association conference. She notes on the vital role journalist organizations made for people of color, women, and other groups play.
“I think (groups such as SAJA) are super important morale boosters,” she said. “We are under siege in this profession, so gathering with people who have similar experiences to yours in newsrooms and who have been treated the same way you’ve been (can let you) sort of plot together on how we keep our careers going and how we keep journalism going.”