For this week’s Media Monday, we’d like you to meet Nicole Einbinder, freelance journalist based in New York City whose work has appeared in outlets such as Bustle, The Seattle Times and The Seattle Globalist.
1. How did you find yourself as a journalist?
I’ve been doing journalism since high school, when I needed an elective course to fill my schedule and reluctantly signed up for a journalism course. My mom had been a journalism major in college and English was always one of my favorite subjects in school, so I decided to give it a shot. I immediately fell in love. The rush of finding stories, interviewing my peers and shining light on campus issues was exciting. At the University of Washington, I immediately applied to join my campus newspaper my freshman year. And since then, i’ve never looked back — i’ve served as a reporter and editor at the Daily, held internships at KING 5, the Orange County Register and the Seattle Times, reported internationally in places like India and El Salvador and, as of last week, graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism with highest honors and as one of the top four students in the entire class. I also received a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship which will provide funding to go anywhere in the world to pursue a story I am passionate about. This summer, I will be a news and politics fellow at Bustle, in addition to doing freelance work in New York City. I’m excited to see where the future takes me and continue on a path i’ve been pursuing since I was a teenager.
2. Which of your stories are you most proud of?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one story I am especially proud of — i’ve met so many incredible people over the years who have been so gracious to share their stories with me. I recently published two stories with Bustle on New York City’s transgender Latina community and the uncertainty they face under the new presidential administration. The first article was a profile of Liaam Winslet, a transgender woman from Ecuador who came to the U.S. after suffering egregious human rights abuses in her home country. Today, she is an activist and leader working to bring visibility to her community. The second piece takes a look at the challenges faced by this community, the majority of whom are undocumented and terrified of being deported. Both of these stories were difficult — the folks are incredibly marginalized for being transgender and Latina. They only speak Spanish, work low-wage jobs and are used to the stares from those around them. For around two months, I embedded myself within the community to build trust. I went to their weekly Transgender support groups in Queens, attended events and brought a translator with me for interviews. The work was tough but, and especially in today’s political climate, I am proud to have shined some light on their community and struggles.
3. What is your favorite thing about your job?
Journalism is the best job in the world. Last week at my graduation ceremony, David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post told us this is the only job in the world where you get paid to tell the truth. And that’s absolutely true. This is the one job with the ability to shine light on injustice, to legitimize people’s narratives and prove that, at the end of the day and despite our differences, we are all human beings. Today, journalism is more important than ever. It is our mission to humanize the ‘other’ and educate readership on the critical issues of our day. We have the ability to stir social change, impact policy and create beauty through our words. We have the ability to write truth in an increasingly convoluted world while interacting with people of all walks of life. We have the ability to make the world a better place.
4. What is your interview style?
I’ve never really thought about my interview style. I always research the person I will be interviewing prior to our conversation. I also come up with a list of prepared questions. But, and to be completely honest, my interview style is simply talking with the person. I usually start with easier questions to build trust and gradually work my way up to the more difficult conversation. When the person has experienced trauma, I also make sure that they know they are in charge of the conversion and in control. Usually, the interview flows naturally. I prefer in-person interviews but often have to rely on phone conversations. For those interviews, I always record the conversation. At the end of the day, an interview is really just talking to the person. I ask follow-up questions, clarify certain facts and inquire about the small details — from the clothes they wore that day or food they ate to a special memory that particularly stands out. Those details are especially important. They are the anecdotes that bring color to my stories and humanize the people I interview.
5. What do you look for in a story?
As a journalist, I’ve always been drawn to stories related to human rights, immigration, gender, legal affairs and social justice issues. I look for stories that have never been told, of communities who have experienced injustice but continue to be ignored in the public sphere. Over the years, i’ve done stories on issues from the Hindu Dalit community in India converting to Buddhism to escape caste-based violence to an art exhibit in downtown Seattle created by folks living with Alzheimers and dementia. For my masters project at Columbia, I spent months going to Bronx Housing Court, to shine light on inequalities within the court house and city efforts to provide a right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction. I pursue various topics and issues, but at the end of the day am always looking for that human element. I want to educate my audience and find meaning in chaos. I want to do justice by the stories I hear and people I meet. And, ultimately, I want to create something with the ability to advance human understanding and bridge divides.
6. What is your day like as a freelancer?
Freelancing is tough. It consists of sending various pitch emails and, in the majority of cases, either never hearing back from an editor or facing rejection. But, every once in a while, an editor accepts your piece — they want to publish something you wrote. And, that’s an incredible feeling.
It’s difficult to sum up my day as a freelancer because I produced all of my freelance pieces for school. Typically, freelancers pitch a story idea to an editor and pursue the piece after it’s been accepted. In my case, however, I already had a completed draft. This past year, my days have consisted of class, interviews, walking the streets scouring for stories, shooting footage and spending hours and hours going through legal documents, regulatory documents, inspections, business filings and other documents for investigative projects. When it comes time to write the story, I open up a blank word document, blast my music and simply start to write.
7. Who do you most look up to in the journalism industry?
That’s a difficult question because there are so many incredible people in this industry. Last week, Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic spoke at my commencement ceremony. His work on social, cultural and political issues are poetic and nuanced. I also look up to Sarah Stillman of the New Yorker. I took an investigative seminar on gender and migration with her this past semester and that course was probably the highlight of my J-school experience. Her work humanizes marginalized communities and highlights incredibly important issues that are too often ignored in the public sphere. She writes in a long-form, narrative style that is compelling and haunting.
I also look up to journalists like Joan Didion, Katherine Boo and Nicholas Kristof. I recently read a piece, published in 2007 in Atlanta Magazine by Paige Williams of the New Yorker, that is as beautiful as it is chilling. My ultimate goal is to be an investigative journalist pursuing long-form, narrative-style pieces. All of these authors write with voice, clarity and originality. They are impressive journalists who have committed their careers to exposing social justice issues.
8. What is your favorite news outlet?
I read the New York Times every morning. I also enjoy the New Yorker, Buzzfeed News, Politico, the Atlantic, Mother Jones, Slate, Frontline, the Los Angeles Times and, of course, the Seattle Times. I also like scouring through digital media outlets like Mic, Quartz and Bustle. I think digital is the future of this industry and it’s interesting to look at these outlet’s business models and writing style.
9. Fill in the blank:
- If I am not reporting, I am…exploring New York City, hanging out with friends, binging on Netflix, working out at the gym
- If I could interview anyone, it would be…Hannah Senesh, an Israeli poet who joined the paratroopers in the 1940s and parachuted into Nazi-occupied Hungary to assist the Hungarian Jews about to be deported to Auschwitz. She was ultimately arrested by the Nazis, imprisoned and tortured. But, she wouldn’t release information about her squad. And, when it came time for her execution, she refused to be blindfolded, instead staring death in its’ face. I first learned about Hannah’s story while spending a month in Israel as a high school student. Her poetry has had profound impact on my work as a journalist and human being. In one of her poems, she wrote “the voice called, and I went. I went because the voice called.” She heard that voice — that call to action to help her people despite the risks. I’ve also heard that voice. It’s what inspires me to do the work I continue to pursue everyday as a journalist.
10. What is your guilty pleasure?
Netflix. For an insanely busy graduate student at Columbia, I got through a LOT of Netflix series over the past year…