Reporter’s Miracle: Interviewing Amartya Sen

Among the adepts of what is (quite snobbishly) called the Polish School of Reportage, we sometimes use the term “a reporter’s miracle”. I’m pretty sure it was coined by one of the School’s forefathers, Mariusz Szczygieł (whose non-fiction book “Gottland” was the reason why I became a reporter).

“A [reporter’s] miracle only takes place when I’m reporting a story about X. During this time (which I pretentiously have to call “magical”), I suddenly miraculously come across cases that fit perfectly into the story of X,”

Szczygieł wrote in his book “Project: Truth” (the clumsy translation is mine).

The origins of a reporter’s miracle are unknown, although Szczygieł has some suspictions:

“Maybe it is just (…) an award for mindfulness from the Great Screenwriter ? Perhaps when he realizes that we are sincerely devoting ourselves to something, he lays out in front of us what we wish for?”

I don’t believe in the Great Screenwriter, but I believe in reporter’s miracles. As esoteric as it may sound, whenever I was deeply committed to a subject and engaged in a story, things often had a way of working themselves out for me. I would meet the right people who would point me in the right directions. I suddenly came across suprising facts. Doors that were previously closed would all of a sudden open.

Just as they did in early December 2021.

I was at a meeting of the Boston Globe’s Ideas desk, and we were brainstorming one of my story proposals. I wanted to write about India’s “missing women” – which is the subject of my upcoming book – but from a different angle than I had so far. I told the team that I would love to interview the Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen who was the first person to have calculated that over 100 million women were missing from the world population. But, I added, he had already declined my interview request once – three years ago, when I started working on this subject. I was afraid that if I didn’t come up with a really good reason to contact him, I would blow my chances again. Especially as Sen had a reputation for being just as kind and fascinating as busy and unavailable. I knew quite a few reporters who had bounced off his door.

The team – made of the editors Brian Bergstein and Kelly Horan, and the staff writer David Scharfenberg – liked the idea, but we weren’t sure how I can approach Sen this time. I promised to think about it, and we moved on to another topic.

It was Tuesday and on Wednesday afternoon I received an email from David, which made me jump like popcorn in a frying pan. It was titled “Amartya Sen’s upcoming memoir”. It turned out that in the morning – not even 24 hours after our meeting – David was contacted by Liverlight, the publisher of Sen’s new book, with an info that Sen was available for interviews, because he would be promoting his memoir which was due to be released in two months. “I think that this is your best shot, Ada,” David added with a wink.

The outcome of this reporter’s miracle will be published soon in The Boston Globe. 

Interview with prof. Amartya Sen