My Summer Pursuing Forbidden Stories

By: REYNA IWAMOTO / MANAGING EDITOR


“Bonjour,” “merci,” and “parlez-vous anglais?” were my most repeated phrases this past summer, as I lived in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, France as a journalism intern.


During the Fall of 2021, I was selected for the Theodore Kruglak Fellowship in International Reporting. This award gave me the chance to travel abroad for a journalism internship, and for me, the opportunity I landed was at Forbidden Stories, a non-profit investigative journalism organization.


So, at the end of last school year in May, I packed all that I could fit in two suitcases and boarded a plane to spend two months living in Rive Gauche, experiencing what it is like to be an investigative journalist firsthand.


Forbidden Stories is an international consortium of journalists whose mission is to protect, pursue, and publish the work of other journalists who are facing threat, prison, or murder. The organization’s past projects have gained much recognition, including winning a 2021 Polk Award for its work on the Pegasus Project and a 2020 Polk Award for the Cartel Project.


Iwamoto with Sandrine Rigaud and Laurent Richard, the Editor-In-Chief and founder of Forbidden Stories at the 2021 Polk Awards. (Photo: Ryan Kelley)

As my career as a student-journalist here at LIU has progressed, I realized that I was most interested in investigative reporting. Thus, as the only existing program with this mission, I felt incredibly lucky to be able to work at Forbidden Stories and learn from journalists who pursue such inspiring work.


Due to the dangerous nature of this organization’s work, I am unable to detail exactly what I did while interning at Forbidden Stories. While I cannot specify what I worked on for the organization’s upcoming project, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to help them in researching potential leads, gathering data, and reaching out to potential sources.


My days at their office consisted of creating Excel sheet after Excel sheet of data, deep dives of open-source intelligence gathering, and training myself to comb through information to detect what could be a potential lead.


I quickly learned that working in investigative reporting is like looking for a needle in a haystack, only if there were multiple haystacks and you are not quite certain that there is a needle in any of them. While tiring and quite frustrating at times, it was comforting to know that the work I was helping with would have a much larger impact and keep stories alive that need to be told.


In addition to learning the various methods of investigative reporting, being in a country and work environment where I did not speak the native language was difficult to say the least. Although I knew some basic French, it was still difficult to get around and spend time in environments where I had a hard time discerning what was going on.


Luckily, my coworkers could speak English and were more than welcoming in helping me navigate some of my day-to-day obstacles. It was nerve-wracking to live and work in France without knowing how to communicate with others, but the people I was able to meet through this internship helped to mitigate these anxieties through their extended kindness.


While at Forbidden Stories, I was also lucky enough to meet other reporters from different media outlets, as I attended a meeting of the organization’s consortium of journalists. Although I am unable to detail those who were in attendance, I had the opportunity to engage with and learn from inspiring journalists from well-known news organizations around the world.


Although my internship entailed hard work, my time in Paris was also a chance for me to explore Europe. On the weekends I was able to visit all the postcard destinations: I saw the Eiffel Tower, walked along the banks of the Seine, spent time in the Jardin de Tuileries, climbed the Arc de Triomphe, sat on the steps leading to Sacre-Coeur, and visited countless museums including the Musee Marmottan Monet and Musee d’Orsay.


The Eiffel Tower was among the various tourist destinations Iwamoto was able to see in Paris. (Photo: Reyna Iwamoto)

I also had the chance to visit Melissa Fishman, another recipient of the same journalism fellowship, interning in London, where my trip included tours of Tower Bridge, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and even an excursion to Hampstead in a failed pursuit of finding Harry Styles’ house — just to say we saw it.


This past summer was the opportunity of a lifetime and I will be forever grateful to the George Polk School of Communications for this opportunity and to my professors Dr. Donald Allport Bird, Dr. Mandy Zhang, and Dr. Ralph Engelman for their continued support throughout this process.


My time working at Forbidden Stories was not only an experience that showed me what investigative journalism truly entails, but an opportunity that taught me bravery in navigating obstacles in a foreign environment. This past summer pursuing forbidden stories was truly unparalleled and I will never forget the invaluable lessons I learned and the remarkable people who made my time in Paris so meaningful.

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