The topics may often be bleak, but the Overseas Press Club awards are always inspirational. In spite of the shadow cast by budget and staff cuts at newspapers, magazines and broadcast networks, this year’s entries continued to underscore the integrity, quality—and sheer courage—of the reporters who bring us the stories that should not be buried. The 2009 entries are notable for their focus on Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Many convey the tragedy and poignancy of the conflict in these and other countries by putting human faces on those caught up in far-flung political agendas. Those like Associated Press photographer Khalil Hamra and The New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson risked their lives to get reports and pictures from Gaza and the favelas of Brazil. Others confronted the drug wars in Afghanistan and Mexico to bring us harrowing and insightful analyses.
The winners, though, did not just focus on blood and conflict. Vanity Fair’s Michael Lewis burrowed beneath the statistics to provide a richly reported account of the bursting of Iceland’s financial bubble. Jason Gale, writing for Bloomberg Markets magazine, took a decidedly unglamorous look at how a toilet shortage affects India. The New York Times’ Keith Bradsher examined the contradictions in China’s race to go green. Especially heartening: this year’s awards attracted 436 submissions, signaling an editorial commitment to in-depth international reporting. Our scores of judges demonstrated their own commitment, dedicating hours of their time to read the entries and make difficult choices from the top entries. We thank the committee chairs and judges for their generosity, and we salute all of our award winners.
A searchable list of all winners in OPC Award history is available in the OPC Awards Archive. Click on blue text links on the winner’s names below to see the journalist’s photo, links to their work and photo slideshows of the winning photographs and illustrations.
1. THE HAL BOYLE AWARD
Best newspaper or news service reporting from abroad
The Wall Street Journal
“Hearts, Minds and Blood: The Battle for Iran”
Fassihi’s courageous reporting under tremendous pressure gave us an inside view of the unfolding drama in Iran, from perspectives we found nowhere else. From the account of the Basij member to detailed stories of doctors and students, Fassihi put a human face on the story of Iran and went beyond the pack.
The New York Times
“Held by the Taliban”
2. THE BOB CONSIDINE AWARD
Best newspaper or news service interpretation of international affairs
RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, KAREN DeYOUNG, BOB WOODWARD
The Washington Post
This series of pieces about how the Obama administration searched for a new strategy in Afghanistan included strong on-the-ground reporting, smart analysis and a great scoop in obtaining an advance copy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s assessment of the war. Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Karen de Young and Bob Woodward contributed in different ways, from Kabul and Washington, to a brilliantly executed interpretation of evolving policy decisions and military strategy on what was one of the most important international stories of the year.
The New York Times Staff
The New York Times
“Upheaval in Iran”
3. THE ROBERT CAPA GOLD MEDAL AWARD
Best published photographic reporting from abroad
requiring exceptional courage and enterprise
“War in Gaza”
Khalil Hamra’s pictures of the Israeli military incursion into Gaza showed exceptional courage and enterprise by a committed local photographer during a sustained and highly dangerous conflict. His images are close up, powerful and direct and taken at considerable risk due to the nature of the conflict which had combatants mingling amongst the civilian population. Hamra also had to worry about his wife, pregnant with twins, during the Israeli incursion.
Agence France-Presse / Getty Images
“Bloodbath in Madagascar”
4. THE OLIVIER REBBOT AWARD
Best photographic reporting from abroad in magazines or books
DAVID BURNETT, photographer
ROBERT PLEDGE and JACQUES MENASCHE, editors
National Geographic Books / Focal Point in cooperation with
Contact Press Images
“44 Days: Iran and the Remaking of the World”
David Burnett, Robert Pledge and Jacques Menasche won for their book “44 Days; Iran and the Remaking of the World” which contained historically important and unforgettable images from the Iranian Revolution which have taken on new relevance in light of the current political situation in Iran. Burnett’s imagery brings back to life the full drama of the Iranian revolution through a series of beautifully presented pages which draw the reader into the complexities of this important story.
ALVARO YBARRA ZAVALA
Reportage by Getty Images
“The Gunmen of the Bolivarian Revolution”
Alvaro Ybarra Zavaca received recognition from the judges for his coverage of the dangerous and murky underworld of political violence in the increasingly polarized nation of Venezuela. Zavaca worked hard to gain access to the paramilitary groups allegedly responsible for extrajudicial killings and once his work was complete he left the country before it was published fearing deadly consequences if he remained in Venezuela. It is unlikely he will be able to visit Venezuela again as a journalist in the near future.
5. THE JOHN FABER AWARD
Best photographic reporting from abroad in newspapers or news services
SARAH L. VOISIN
The Washington Post
“In Mexico’s War on Drugs, Battle Lines are Drawn in Chalk”
The raw and direct visual investigation and reporting of the violent and complex “drug war” in Mexico earned Voisin this award. Her perspective on the often horrifying violence leaves very little to the imagination and shows great courage and tenacity as she navigated the crime scenes and daily life of Mexican communities ravaged by drugs, gangs and the human costs they exact. Her use of color was very effective towards this end.
The New York Times
6. FEATURE PHOTOGRAPHY AWARD
Best feature photography published in any medium on an international theme
“Xinjiang: Shifting Sands”
Q. Sakamaki’s lyrical and poetic imagery from Xinjiang, China was a fresh vision from of a region of the world often spoken about but seldom seem. By using black and white photography and through his inherent creative approach, Sakamaki transports the viewer to the heart of an age-old tensions between Han Chinese and the Uighur population of Western China. His images are timeless but immediate.
7. THE LOWELL THOMAS AWARD
Best radio news or interpretation of international affairs
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, LAUREN JENKINS, DOUGLAS ROBERTS
National Public Radio
“Afghanistan: Nightmares and Dreams of a Nation at War”
Her original, untold and poignant stories about the lives of the Afghan people, made Soraya Nelson’s work standout. Her enterprise and ability to penetrate a complicated society is exceptional. Perhaps even more noteworthy, because she is a woman working in a traditional male dominated society. Amidst a gathering of drug addicts, she tells us, “Like most life in Afghanistan, drug abuse is strictly segregated.” We hear the cigarette lighters heating the heroin in foil. We feel the utter desperation of a mother who sends one of six children out to find her daily drug dose. Over many months, Nelson traveled the length and breadth of an extremely dangerous land, a true demonstration of courage and dedication. She embedded with both Afghan and American forces to tell the military story. But mostly, she used her fluency of the language, and compassion for the people she met, to make her listeners take notice, and care about the people caught in a ravaged place, so often tuned out, after so many years of a seemingly endless war.
Eric Westervelt and David Gilkey
National Public Radio
8. THE DAVID KAPLAN AWARD
Best TV spot news reporting from abroad
DAVID MARTIN, MARY WALSH, ROB BLACHE, KEN CRUMP, WARD SLOANE, RICK KAPLAN
CBS Evening News
“The Battle of Wanat”
In a category with several excellent entries, two stood above the rest this year, and “The Battle of Wanat” by the staff of the CBS Evening News took our top honors in a split decision. CBS Correspondent David Martin delves into the circumstances of a deadly ambush suffered by U.S. troops in the exposed valley in Wanat, where U.S. military tactics came under Army investigation following the deaths of nine soldiers. The exclusively obtained video, interviews with survivors and parents of those killed, and documentary evidence obtained by CBS News exposed the challenges and pitfalls of fighting a guerrilla war in far-flung villages. Beautifully crafted and well-reported.
Orla Guerin, Rome Hartman, Richard Colebourn, Kamil Dayan Khan
BBC World News America
9.THE EDWARD R. MURROW AWARD
Best TV interpretation or documentary on international affairs
MARCELA GAVIRIA and MARTIN SMITH for Rain Media
DAVID FANNING for Frontline
“Frontline: Obama’s War” flawlessly captures a special moment in the fog of the Afghan War. As the surge takes that conflict to a new level, with a pledge to use battlefield resources to win hearts and minds, the producers of Front Line expose just what is involved in nation building there and this complex, often hopeless process–village by village in Afghanistan and across the border in an equally flawed nation of Pakistan. While this broadcast tells us that there is no quick fix, it also shows us in a deeply personal manner just what the consequences of failure might be.
Pamela Yates, Paco de Onis, Peter Kinoy
Skylight Pictures for American Documentary / POV on PBS
“The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court”
10. THE ED CUNNINGHAM AWARD
Best magazine reporting from abroad
ALISSA J. RUBIN
The New York Times Magazine
“How Baida Wanted to Die”
Alissa Rubin’s “How Baida Wanted to Die” explores the background, motivation and training of one of 16 would-be female suicide bomber suspects or accomplices captured by the police in Diyala Province since the beginning of 2008 (almost as many have blown themselves up). Rubin’s meticulously researched and artfully crafted narrative begins in Baquba in a darkened Iraqi police office with bombs going off in the distance, and ends with a shocking and intimate revelation.
Freelance for The New York Review of Books
“Rape of the Congo”
11. THE THOMAS NAST AWARD
Best cartoons on international affairs
The Washington Examiner
Powerful and vivid composition that brings the message home – whether the cartoon centers on a conversation or a visual punchline. Excellent use of color.
As his editor points out “He treats each cartoon like a painting.”
Chattanooga Times Free Press
12. THE MORTON FRANK AWARD
Best business reporting from abroad in magazines
“Wall Street on the Tundra”
A richly reported and engaging account of Iceland’s incredible financial bubble. Lewis calls Iceland’s experiment with hedge funds and other Wall Street-inspired financial engineering instruments “one of the single greatest acts of madness in financial history.” The country’s economy traditionally was based on fishing, aluminum and geothermal energy. When men who had worked on fishing boats put down their rods and took up banking overnight, they set the stage for the economy’s ultimate collapse. Lewis also distinguished his story by demonstrating that Iceland’s gender-segregated male-dominated culture played a role in the reckless risk-taking.
13. THE MALCOLM FORBES AWARD
Best business reporting from abroad in newspapers or news services
The New York Times
With Washington having sidelined efforts to control carbon emissions and the lack of a global accord coming out of the Copenhagen Summit, all eyes have now turned to China. The country is racing ahead with an all-out effort to win the race to go green. As New York Times reporter Keith Bradsher shows in his compelling coverage over the past year, this push is complicated by the juxtaposition between China’s hopes – to own and define the world’s new green economic future – and its reality, as the world’s largest polluter. While it has the power and resources to radically reduce carbon emissions, the country’s desire for rapid growth often takes it in the opposite direction. The world’s largest polluter can thus become the world’s largest consumer of wind. A country on the cutting edge of green technologies can nevertheless tolerate toxic runoff and substandard incinerators that damage the health of its own people. For his insightful, enterprising and nuanced look at the contradictions and promise of China’s green push, the OPC is pleased to give its Malcolm Forbes Award to Keith Bradsher.
The New York Times Staff
The New York Times
“China’s Uneasy Engagement”
14. THE CORNELIUS RYAN AWARD
Best non-fiction book on international affairs
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
“The Good Soldiers”
In the classic combat reporting tradition of Ernie Pyle, Michael Herr and Dexter Filkins, Pulitzer Prize winner David Finkel has written a harrowing account of one U.S. Army Battalion’s experience of the surge, that desperate last-minute effort to win the war in Iraq. The Washington Post’s Finkel spent eight months with the 800 men and women of the 2-16, as the Battalion was called. He went on patrols, ate in the mess, met General Petraeus, entered the houses of terrified civilians, and saw up front the handiwork of war—men cut in half, soldiers medicated to the max so they could continue the mission, Iraqi infants wounded beyond repair. What comes through is the courage and decency of American troops, the strength of the Iraqi people, and a deep abiding sense of sorrow and loss that will endure for years.
Patrick Radden Keefe
15. THE MADELINE DANE ROSS AWARD
Best international reporting in the print medium showing a concern
for the human condition
“Forced to be Fat”
In a world where the 24/7 media seems omnipresent, Abigail Haworth clearly went where no one else thought to go. Her riveting, well-sourced and fascinating story explored a topic that was unique, introduced readers to a different world view in a non-judgmental way, and clearly told us much that we did not know. The custom of fattening that was reported not only brought to light the human condition of women in Mauritania – which is both a big concern to the people whose lives are governed by it – but also the broader issue of those in societies where absolute power can be used for better or worse.
Virginia Quarterly Review
16. THE CARL SPIELVOGEL AWARD
Best international reporting in the broadcast media showing a concern
for the human condition
LEON GELLER, MARCUS VETTER, TOM CASCIATO, NINA CHAUDRY, JEFF SEELBACH, AARON BROWN
“Wide Angle: Heart of Jenin”
Heart of Jenin gently turns attention away from the screaming survivors, blaring sirens and angry mobs that so often define the conflict between Israel and Palestine to a father who finds a way to turn the tragic death of his son into a way of saving lives. The understated normalcy of this documentary illustrates humankind’s capacity for reconciliation and renewal.
Jon Alpert, Peter Kwong, Michelle Mi, Matthew O’Neill, Ming Xia
HBO and Downtown Community Television Center
“China’s Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province”
17. THE JOE and LAURIE DINE AWARD
Best international reporting in any medium dealing with human rights
“118 Days in Hell”
Reporting for Newsweek on Iran’s contested 2009 presidential polls, Maziar Bahari was arrested by Iran’s notorious security forces and ended up as part of the story. His cover feature for Newsweek based on his incarceration tells of his harrowing experience in Evin prison, long known for torture of political prisoners, executions, and forced confessions. Bahari’s piece breaks down how Evin prison operates, the paranoid framework of the hardliners now in charge in Iran, and how international pressure on the regime actually does work. Even as he is forced to falsely confess, Bahari writes with humor and insight into his interrogators’ mindset, giving the world an accessible portrait of Iran’s leaders, people and future. His courageous and eloquent reporting helps Iran’s struggle come alive.
Monica Garnsey, Arash Sahami, Ken Dornstein, David Fanning, Sharon Tiller
Frontline / WGBH
“A Death in Tehran”
Los Angeles Times
“China’s Broken Families”
“Sri Lanka’s Civil War”
18. THE WHITMAN BASSOW AWARD
Best reporting in any medium on international environmental issues
In “Sanitation Nightmare,” Jason Gale kicks in the door without knocking to show the stark human, environmental, social, health and economic costs of a problem so obvious and basic that many journalists might choose to ignore it — the
lack of toilets in more than half of India’s households. Gale draws upon an impressive array of sources — almost all of them Indian, compelling statistics and excellent photography to support a well-written expose of a distinctly unglamorous issue that leaves a deep impression on the reader.
Des Moines Register/International Reporting Project
“Renewal in Rwanda”
19. THE ROBERT SPIERS BENJAMIN AWARD
Best reporting in any medium on Latin America
JON LEE ANDERSON
The New Yorker
Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker goes deep inside some of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous and impenetrable slums, or “favelas,” to portray a world of brazen lawlessness and stunning violence. Well ahead of the world’s focus on Rio hosting the 2016 Olympics, Anderson courageously tackles a subject that has seen other journalists killed or beaten when they have tried to investigate the drug gangs that control Rio’s shantytowns. He has a remarkable interview with Fernandinho, the powerful boss of most of the eighteen favelas on Ilha do Governador, the largest island in Guanabara Bay. Anderson’s reporting combines vivid details and superb portraits: “Iara had a tattoo of a scorpion on her left arm, surrounded by the initials of the people who were closest to her: her three daughters, her mother, her sister, and a niece and a nephew,” he writes of a woman who handles “community relations” for the gang boss. Anderson sheds light on a society that has become deeply corrupted in the face of almost unstoppable violence. A police officer admits to Anderson that police execute criminals. “It’s because we are men!” the officer tells Anderson. “We have feelings, you know? And these guys shoot us.” Anderson’s remarkable reporting shows what happens when one of the world’s great cities – and society as a whole – is powerless against the forces of lawlessness and unchecked violence.
William Booth and Steve Fainaru
The Washington Post
“Mexico at War”
20. ONLINE JOURNALISM AWARD
Best web coverage of international affairs
T. CHRISTIAN MILLER, DOUG SMITH, PRATAP CHATTERJEE
Propublica’s “Disposable Army” is a remarkable piece of investigative journalism. If not for this thoroughly reported and well-written series, the true plight of the civilian contractors who have been injured or killed in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan may not have come to light. Working alongside troops, these contractors “drove trucks with fuel and ammunition through battle zones, “protected American diplomats from insurgent attacks,” “fed and housed troops as mortars fell,” and “translated for soldiers on dangerous raids.” And yet once these civilians returned home, they found getting appropriate medical care and insurance benefits difficult or impossible to obtain, or even completely lacking. At the end of 2009, the Labor Department reported 1,757 civilians dead, and 39,794 injured. More than 200,000 remain.
CFR.org and MediaStorm
“Crisis Guide: The Global Economy”