Reporter portrait: Andrea Elliott

By Lindsey Anderson

Born: Dec. 14, 1972

Nationality: American

Country where worked: United States

Andrea Elliott has worked for the New York Times since May 2003, most recently as an investigative reporter. Elliott is an “ethically courageous” journalist because she has tackled ethically complicated subjects in thoughtful yet thought-provoking ways.

One of Elliott’s most recognized projects is “Invisible Child,” a series published in 2013 about a homeless girl and her family living in Brooklyn. The project could have been an ethical land mine. Elliott spent more than a year following the family and documenting their lives on the margins of New York society. The parents are addicts and have limited education; the children are very young; the family is poor and largely powerless to find permanent housing—all ingredients that could allow a reporter to exploit the dramatic details of their personal lives.

Elliott’s series handled the potential ethical pitfalls respectfully. Elliott told the Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, “that she worked very hard to prepare Dasani, the 12-year-old girl at the center of the story, and her family for the impact of the series. ‘I would go over things again and again,’ she said. ‘They were familiar with the narrative. They are O.K. with it. They find it accurate.’” I think that care and dedication with the story of a marginalized family is extremely important, especially considering how the story about their private troubles and successes was seen by readers across the globe. Elliott showed some unflattering moments and interactions, yet always did so in a professional, courteous way.

Elliott also intervened in a physical fight that she witnessed between the girl, Dasani, and her classmate—a choice I think is ethically responsible. By intervening only when the fight turned physical, Elliott possibly prevented major injuries the girls could have suffered while limiting her impact on the events.

It is ethically courageous to tell a story that often goes unheard, and to tell it so well that it captivates and galvanizes readers. (After the series was published, New York officials removed 400 children from two squalid homeless shelters.) It was a story that lent itself to ethical pitfalls, but I think Elliott navigated them professionally.

It wasn’t the first time that she tackled untold stories that had ethical quandaries. She created an “Islam in America” beat and won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for her reporting on an imam in America trying to reconcile Muslim traditions with American life in a post-9/11 world.

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