Announcing the 2017 James W. Foley Middle East Fellowship recipient

James Foley Libya
Alex Potter is the 2017 James W. Foley Middle East Fellowship recipient.
Alex Potter is the 2017 James W. Foley Middle East Fellowship recipient.

The GroundTruth Project is pleased to announce that its 2017 James W. Foley Middle East reporting fellow is Alex Potter, a photographer and writer who has worked extensively in the Middle East.

The James W. Foley Fellowship is awarded in memory of the late journalist, whom ISIS captured while he was reporting on the Syrian civil war and murdered in 2014. The fellowship seeks to enable young journalists to continue Foley’s legacy of reporting on people living through conflict, not just covering the conflict itself.

This year’s winner, Alex Potter, will use the fellowship to pursue a project shedding light on the suffering of  children in the Middle East, in the aftermath of conflicts that have impacted the region.

After requesting applicants to submit proposals about “education, health, culture, art, food, faith and other expressions of life in a region where too often reporters cover only conflict,” GroundTruth received an extraordinary outpouring of interest with more than 250 emerging journalists applying.

“I warmly congratulate Alex Potter for receiving the first GroundTruth Project James W. Foley Middle East fellowship,” said Diane Foley, Jim Foley’s mother and the founder and executive director of the James W. Foley Foundation, which provides funding for the fellowship. “I am delighted that she will be continuing Jim’s legacy of moral courage and commitment to the truth.”

Potter’s proposal resonated with the selection committee for its thoughtful approach and its focus on the victims of the fighting, particularly children, and how they are recovering. Potter, who is also a trained nurse, has worked not only as a journalist in the Middle East, but also as an emergency caregiver.

“I graduated with a degree in nursing, but had always been drawn to journalism. Throughout the years, both have served as careers that fulfill me, both in very different ways,” Potter said. “Journalism gives me the ability to make connections, discover new things, and help connect communities across the globe, and nursing gives a much more tangible outcome. You can see the physical results of your work with each patient, to make a physical impact on the ground level. Both are honorable and difficult professions, I admire my colleagues in both worlds: I function best when I’m able to work in both, even if it’s spending half my year on assignments and projects, and half my year in the field as a nurse.”

Alex Potter works as a journalist and as a nurse in the Middle East. (Photo by Zach Lowry. Courtesy of Alex Potter)
Alex Potter works as a journalist and as a nurse in the Middle East. (Photo by Zach Lowry. Courtesy of Alex Potter)

GroundTruth founder Charles Sennott, who worked with Foley in the years before he was captured, said, “Alex’s way of blending human compassion with her journalism reminded us of Jim’s spirit to want to help others.”

Sennott continued, “Jim was more than just a great journalist, he was also a great humanitarian with an extraordinary level of commitment and courage to bear witness to those suffering through war. We know Alex will go forward in the same spirit and we are very honored to have her be part of Jim Foley’s living legacy.”

Foley covered human stories in conflict zones in Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. He approached journalism as a public service. Before he went to the Middle East as a reporter, Foley was a teacher in the United States. He spent four years as a corps member with Teach for America, and while pursuing his MFA and journalism degrees, he continued to volunteer as an educator — teaching English to prisoners in Cook County jail and helping single mothers living in poverty earn their GEDs.

Potter has worked extensively in Yemen, where she photographed and documented daily life in an ongoing conflict Doctors without Borders has called a “war on civilians.” She has also documented the lives of Guantanamo detainees who are transferred to third-party countries and expected to re-establish their lives in a strange land far from their homes.

The fellowship was offered in past years in the spirit of foreign correspondents who died on assignment, including Anthony Shadid and Marie Colvin. This is the first year that it is being offered in James Foley’s name, and GroundTruth’s partnership with the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation will extend the fellowship for five more years. Additional funding for this fellowship comes from The Correspondents’ Fund.