Catherine Elton: “The fellowship helped me grow as a journalist”
2005-2006 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow
freelance journalist, United States
In 2005, Catherine Elton was working as a freelance journalist covering human rights issues as well as trade, labor and migration in Guatemala. She was contemplating a return to the United States when she found out that she had received the IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship.
“I was thrilled,” Elton recalls. “When I first read about Elizabeth Neuffer I saw a lot of myself in her. I felt like we shared a motivation to be a voice for the voiceless and tell their stories. So I was very excited.”
Elton became the first recipient of the fellowship which is named for Elizabeth Neuffer, the 1998 winner of the IWMF Courage in Journalism Award and The Boston Globe correspondent who was killed in Iraq in 2003.
Raised in New York and Connecticut, Elton graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in political science. She covered Latin America as a freelance reporter, working in Peru from 1997-2000 and spending four years in Guatemala prior to returning to the United States.
Elton embarked on the first days of the fellowship in September of 2005, moving to Boston where she began writing for The Boston Globe and The New York Times while pursuing academic research with access to MIT’s Center for International Studies.
As a freelance journalist, Elton says, the fellowship provided her with a unique opportunity to deepen her skills and expand her writing – without the pressure to sell articles.
“The fellowship came at a good moment in my career,” she explains. “It gave me time to slow down and explore new topics, as well as try out some different areas of my profession.”
Elton says she discovered an interest in covering health issues soon after receiving the fellowship.
Broadening her focus to include health research, Elton soon produced a wide array of health stories with a human rights focus, covering medical ethics and women’s health issues.
“I quickly discovered that the world of human rights and justice is much broader than just international issues,” she says.
Along with covering new and diverse topics, Elton experienced some different forms of journalism, briefly taking on a role as a staff writer at The Boston Globe. With a background in freelancing, Elton says, working at a daily paper provided a completely different experience and perspective.
“I had never been a staff reporter before, and I loved the daily reporting at The Boston Globe – but it also showed me that working at a daily wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term,” she says.
Instead, Elton says the fellowship helped her to discover something else: a passion for long form journalism.
“Having those months to slow down and work on one project showed me that this is the level of focus I want to put into my work,” she says.
Today Elton is based in Lima, Peru, where she enjoys putting her passion for long form journalism to work writing for a wide variety of publications. Her work has appeared in The Miami Herald, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Boston Magazine, Mother Jones magazines, and National Public Radio, among other outlets.
Elton remains committed to producing lengthy, in-depth pieces that provide her readers with the context for more deeply understanding a topic or situation. In Latin America, she says, this level of thorough description is particularly crucial for helping readers grasp little-known or under-reported topics.
“My primary goal as a journalist today is to tell stories of social consequence in long form, from South America,” she says.
“There are pressing environmental, indigenous and development stories to be told from all over what has become a largely forgotten continent in US media,” she adds. “I think many of these stories are best told in long form, as people need more context, more narrative and more characters to enable them to engage with a continent that isn’t producing as many headlines in daily papers.”
Elton credits the Elizabeth Neuffer Fellowship for helping to shape her current trajectory as a writer. “It is rare for a journalist to have the opportunities and financial support that this kind of fellowship offers,” she says. “The fellowship helped me grow as a journalist because it gave me time to slow down and experiment with different areas within journalism, enabling me to really hone in on what it is that I most liked to do in journalism and where I had the most to offer.”