Alissa Rubin: Humble on the Front Lines

by Marissa Rosenberg-Carlson

Alissa Rubin has seen it all. A foreign correspondent for nearly twenty years, she has faced great peril in the name of great reporting. She became deputy chief of the New York Times bureau in Baghdad in 2007, and chief of the Times’ bureau in Kabul two years later. When she almost lost her life in a 2014 helicopter crash in northern Iraq, she dictated a report of the accident from her hospital bed. In her current position as chief of the New York Times bureau in Paris, she stays true to one lesson learned from past reporting: “You have to be humble about the unexpected.”

Rubin speaks softly but doesn’t mince words. During an informal dinner with Princeton University students, she dives right into France’s core political issues. As Paris bureau chief, she focuses on terrorism. But her team takes care in deciding when and whether to use the word terrorist, particularly when a given attacker is Muslim. She is cautious not to sensationalize. “We don’t do conjecture. We report a lot of details of each case, to paint a portrait,” she said. Without making premature conclusions, Rubin probes for causes. “Why? That’s the big question. Why do Muslim communities feel disenfranchised in France?” she said.

Rubin’s ability to suspend judgment makes her a flexible reporter. She also writes on the French presidential election. She gained insight from watching the U.S. election and the referendum on Brexit unfold last year. “This year is about absorbing the fact that we – the press – were wrong,” she said. “I don’t trust the polls. I don’t know what to believe. Wisdom is knowing what you don’t know.” Even as a seasoned journalist, she continues to grow in her craft. She takes criticism in stride and always responds to it. “If someone takes time to write to me, they deserve my engagement,” she believes.

Rubin views journalism as a privilege and a responsibility. “We’re paid to ask questions that other people can’t ask. We’re there because you can’t get there,” she said. For that reason, she worries about new journalism that values speed over accuracy. She believes nothing analytic can be done so quickly. “Thought happens at its own rate,” she said. Twenty years into her journalistic endeavors, thought remains Rubin’s forte. Her intellect continues to capture the world’s most poignant stories, and transmit them to readers eager for truth in an era of alternative facts.

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