New Yorker journalist Ben Taub: under 30 and uncovering the truth

Ben Taub speaks to a group of students in the Solarium. Photo by Tracey Eaton

By Katherine Hamilton |

Ben Taub, staff writer at The New Yorker and recipient of the ASME Next Award for Journalists Under 30, has traveled all over the globe following leads and exposing corruption.

His projects include covering Jihadi recruitment in Europe, battlefield medicine, war crimes in Syria and human trafficking routes from Nigeria to Italy along the trans-Saharan migration routes. He was also a third-season contestant on “The Voice” on Cee Lo Green’s team and used some of his earnings to fund his ISIS reporting project.

While already having gained some attention for his noteworthy career, Taub takes a humbler approach to his accomplishments.

“I don’t particularly care whether or not people are thinking about me,” Taub said. “I want them to think of the work and to read it and consider it, and hopefully it will shape the way they think about certain issues in the world.”

Taub studied philosophy at Princeton and graduated from the M.A. program of the Columbia Journalism School.

He first became interested in journalism when he was visiting a friend in Cairo who was working for a refugee rights organization during the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Demonstrations, plaza occupations, marches and civil resistance caught his attention, and he couldn’t help but wonder how the world could shift so quickly.

“I was so captivated by what was going on in Egypt,” Taub said. “It felt like the first time I was seeing something real.”

When he came back to the United States, he enrolled in his first journalism class.

“I started trying to learn how to write because I felt as if that was the only way to convey the information,” Taub said. “It became a sort of moral obligation. If you’re going to witness all of this stuff, you have to convey it publicly because it matters.”

As he was finishing school, he applied to many internships and was rejected by all of them because he didn’t have any clips. Ultimately, his thesis advisor in graduate school, who worked for the New Yorker, thought Taub’s project was fitting for the magazine and passed him along.

“I was lucky, and I had a really kind mentor,” Taub said.

Since then, he has worked has worked with the Pulitzer Center on his two most difficult projects and recommends taking advantage of grants and scholarships as much as possible.

Without the grants and scholarships he has received, his projects would not have been possible, he said,

“Apply for everything,” Taub said. “The most important thing is that it gets you to the location where you want to be.”

Taub has worked in Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, Niger, Nigeria, Chad and the Turkish/Syrian border. His pursuit of the truth often has often placed him in precarious circumstances.

One thing he has learned abroad that he wants Americans to understand is the difference between refugees and migrants. Refugees have a certain set of strict legal protections, and migrants have no protections.

Both, he said, are fleeing desperate poverty. The people he has met would rather die trying to have a better life than stay in poverty with no hope.

“The legal status isn’t a determinate of how much somebody has suffered,” Taub said.

From his past traveling experiences, he has learned the importance of scouting out safe locations and being prepared. He noted that some of the biggest risks he’s taken weren’t because he chose them purposefully, but because he hadn’t done the research to learn how dangerous the areas really were.

“What matters is the 200 meters around you,” Taub said. “It’s that particular street, alley, block of a camp—is that part safe? And that’s what I now spend a lot of my time plotting out when I am working on projects.”

When he was at the Turkish/Syrian border in 2015, there were a number of abstract abductions; people were simply disappearing. Around five or six weeks in, someone Taub knew was kidnapped, and he became extremely concerned and sensitive to risk.

Even though there is a great deal of danger, he said that he is still willing to take risks as long as he has the chance to heavily consider them first.

“There are things you can control, and there are things you can’t control, and I think it’s your responsibility to plan for everything you can control. Be aware of all of the things you are not in control of at any given time,” Taub said.

Projects can take anywhere between two to seven months at a time. He prefers magazine journalism because it allows him more time to go in depth with whatever he is covering.

Taub noted that journalistic integrity is one of the most important parts of an investigation. His projects often cover controversial and dangerous topics, so any misstep could place someone’s life in danger.

He always asks before recording and checks what the parameters are for using names and photographs.

“I always identify myself as a journalist. I think it’s unethical to try to deceive people and get things without telling people,” Taub said.

He hopes that his projects will hold people accountable for their actions and lead to broader knowledge for the public.

“Even if exposure doesn’t change in the immediate term, it does make it impossible for people who are in positions of power to claim that they didn’t know,” Taub said. “So retroactively, in the case of Syria for example, no one can claim that they didn’t know that the Syrian government was committing war crimes; therefore, anybody who was in a position of preventing further commission of those kinds will be judged by the historical record for having allowed that to go on.”

While he considers his goal a lofty one and says he won’t always achieve what he has set out to do, he has hope for his endeavors.

Currently, Taub is in the process of planning his next project.

“There’s nothing I’d rather be doing. Whether I’ll have exactly the same answer in 30 years, I have no idea,” he said. “But I love what I’m doing now.”

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