And the winners are…
If by now you are exhausted trying to dance at the speed of invisible algorithms and outsmart artificial trolls and bots shooting endless false news, we hope this edition of our annual series about award-winning journalism will reignite your belief in the profession. While it is true that journalism is still on its quest to find its future, this sample, drawn from a selection of 15 global and regional journalism awards, will provide you with an inspiring selection of storytelling, investigative techniques, collaborative enterprises and fearless reporting against all odds.
Told in different languages from different places, the celebrated stories report on the main challenges of our time, such as the odyssey of migrants and refugees, from Brazil to the Greek island of Lesvos. Others examine the living conditions of vulnerable and marginalized people, like women victims of sex trafficking in Egypt, or the gruesome hanging of a woman that shocked Tibet. Some report on children, investigating child sex slavery in Afghanistan, or babies for sale in Malaysia. A few stories deal with LGBT communities — the lack of transgender toilets in Hong Kong, and the ordeal of a homosexual man living in acute poverty in Cuba. Also giving voice to the voiceless, an AP story reveals the torture of prisoners in Yemen’s secret detention centers.
Many stories honoured this year courageously expose corrupt or abusive authorities. Indian reporter Rana Ayyub went undercover for nine months to record top officials speaking about the 2002 riots in Gujarat, which left at least 1,000 Muslims dead. However, when one of the investigation’s targets was poised to become the country’s new prime minister, Indian media houses refused to run the story. Despite threats, Ayyub decided to self-publish the transcripts and to unearth the complicity of top officials in the attacks. On the other side of the world, Sarah Ryley uncovered widespread abuse of eviction rules in New York City that resulted in the forced removal of hundreds of people, most of them from poor minorities.
Although there are fewer awards for opinion pieces, those recognized in 2017 are powerful commentaries calling for justice and unity in the face of divisive political rhetoric. Zhao Sole wrote about the heroism of civic NGOs in China, and Peggy Noonan “rose to the moment with beautifully rendered columns that connected readers to the shared virtues of Americans during one of the US’ most divisive political campaigns”, according to the judges’ citation.
Daniel Berehulak’s work reminds us that powerful storytelling can also be conveyed through photography. In the words of the jury, it illustrates “the callous disregard for human life in the Philippines brought about by a government assault on drug dealers and users”. Film is another engaging format to tell difficult investigative stories, such as Mohammad Abu Deif’s Return Licensing, which documents the process of forging ownership papers and chassis numbers of Libyan cars and then turning them into Egyptian vehicles.
The combination of different formats in multimedia reporting is a clear trend. Outstanding examples include, The Impunity Series with photos by Carlo Gabuco and text by Patricia Evangelista to investigate the drug war as it continues to be fought across Duterte’s presidency in the Philippines. The habit of the gag (El hábito de la mordaza) by Honduran journalist Germán Andino is an almost 100-meter long comic strip that experiments with new forms of reading. It documents the phenomenon of gangs in Honduras, building on very personal stories that come to life through image and audio.
Some stories that used open source investigations (investigative journalism’s newest technique) were also celebrated, like Christiaan Triebert’s The Turkish Coup through the Eyes of its Plotters, published by Bellingcat, which pieced together the social media comments posted by the protagonists of the failed coup. Another winner in the investigative journalism field, Loopholes in Egyptian and Greek Airports, explores how flaws in safety systems allow human trafficking. From Romania, the DoR team was praised for its excellent reporting of the Colectiv club fire that broke out in Bucharest on 30 October 2015. The team managed to reconstruct this horrendous night by speaking with nearly 30 survivors and by consulting testimonies, videos, photos, officials and reports. The BBC Arabic’s Nawal Al-Maghafi was recognized for her long-form investigation Weapons of Mass Surveillance in which she documented how governments in Algeria, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates use high-tech mass surveillance to monitor citizens.
Data journalism, another rapidly advancing area of the profession, has its own special awards. Among the winners were: an open database of assets of Serbian politicians created by KRIK in; a human rights database in Colombia, Rutas del Conflicto; and Ctrl+X and Abraji’s database about lawsuits filed in Brazil by companies and politicians who wanted to stop stories from being published. Winners in data visualization were the map Want to fix gun violence in America? Go local and the visual narrative The Stories Behind a Line, among others.
A further takeaway from this 2017 review is that difficult circumstances can breed the best journalism. In the U.S., Eric Eyre of Charleston Gazette-Mailwon a Pulitzer “for courageous reporting, performed in the face of powerful opposition, to expose the flood of opioids flowing into depressed West Virginia counties with the highest overdose death rates in the country”. And freelance video journalist Waad Al Kateab’s Inside Aleppo: The Last Hospital was among the best war reporting; while correspondent for Radio France Internationale’s Hausa service Ahmed Abba published reportages from Cameroon that rattled the regime so much that it sentenced him to jail in 2017 on sham charges of terrorism.
These awards show not only great storytelling and investigative techniques, but also how some stories lead to concrete positive outcomes for society. This was the case of Project №1 by Asaad Al Zalzali who unearthed the misappropriation of $200 million from an education project in Iraq and tracked the money to a bank, with the result that the country could recover half the money. Similarly, the joint story Making a Killing by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) exposed an arms pipeline between Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East worth €1.2 billion. After the story was published, the European Union announced it would monitor the flow of weapons and several countries reviewed their policies. In Nigeria, a two-month long investigation by Emmanuel Mayah uncovered multiple mass graves, lending support to allegations that police and military forces have been committing extrajudicial killings of opposition groups. Following reports that included photo evidence, human rights groups called for an independent probe and the army announced a new investigation.
There lies the essence of journalism, today and tomorrow. May you find the renewed energy to follow the path of these inspiring journalists in 2018 and beyond.
Happy reading and happy holidays from all of us at the Program on Independent Journalism!
Program on Independent Journalism
Major regional and global journalism awards
Human Rights Press Awards (Asia)
The award recognizes top reporting from Asia in English and Chinese languages. It aims to identify and encourage excellent, investigative and original reporting.
Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism Prize (Middle East)
The ARIJ prize recognizes the best journalistic investigations across the Arab region in print, film and cross-border reporting. It aims to enhance excellence in investigative journalism, based on documented facts, research and multiple sources.
Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press (Middle East)
The award, named after the assassinated Lebanese journalist, recognizes Arab journalists’ efforts in defending press freedom and contributing to public debate.
European Press Prize (Europe)
The award honours quality journalism playing a part in defining the vital importance of fine reporting, shrewd analysis and outspoken comment in Europe.
El Instituto Prensa y Sociedad Investigative Journalism Award (Latin America)
The IPYS award recognizes the best of investigative journalism in Latin America and aims to motivate journalistic work focused on scrutinizing and exposing information of public interest.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez Journalism Award (Spanish and Portuguese speakers)
Named after Colombian novelist and journalist Gabriel García Márquez, the award aims at encouraging the pursuit of excellence, innovation and ethical coherence by journalists and media that work in Spanish and Portuguese languages in the Americas and the Iberian peninsula.
Maria Moors Cabot Award (Americas)
Presented by the trustees of Columbia University, the award recognizes journalists for outstanding reporting and contributions to Inter-American understanding.
Pulitzer’s Prize (United States)
Established at Columbia University in the will of the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, the prize honours excellence in journalism, books, drama and music in the United States.
Global Investigative Journalism Network Shining Light Award
The GIJN award honours investigative journalism in a developing or transitioning country, done under threat, duress, or in the direst of conditions.
Committee to Protect Journalists’s International Press Freedom Awards
CPJ honours journalists who show courage in defending press freedom around the world despite facing threats, legal action, and imprisonment.
Rory Peck Awards for Freelance Journalists
Named after Northern-Irish cameraman killed in crossfire while on duty, the awards celebrate the outstanding work of freelance video journalists in news and current affairs.
Global Editors Network Data Journalism Awards
The GEN data journalism awards celebrate outstanding work in the field of data journalism worldwide produced by big or small media organizations.
Information is Beautiful Data Visualization Awards
The awards celebrate excellence and beauty in data visualizations, infographics and information art. They are open to students, individual practitioners, established studios, media brands and NGOs.
Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards
The awards celebrate individuals or groups who have had a significant impact fighting censorship anywhere in the world.
UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize
Named after assassinated Colombian journalist, the prize honours a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, and especially when this has been achieved in the face of danger.