Event Coverage Highlight
Clare Baldwin Tells OPC Scholars to Fight Impunity
by Chad Bouchard
Clare Baldwin, award-winning special correspondent for Reuters based in Hong Kong, urged journalists embarking on new careers to balance hard data with ground-level human stories during the OPC Foundation’s Scholar Awards Luncheon on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020.
“The data allows you to prove something in a way this incontrovertible and impossible to contradict, and the field reporting makes people care, and gives your story a heart and a soul,” Baldwin told scholars at the Yale Club during her keynote speech. Baldwin was part of a Reuters team that won the 2017 Roy Rowan Award as well as a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for exposing violence in Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war. She was also part of a team that garnered the 2018 Bob Considine Award last year, along with colleagues Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, for reporting on systematic expulsion and murder of Rohingyas in Myanmar. That story also won a Pulitzer Prize.
This year, the foundation presented 16 scholarship awards to winners, including a new scholarship in the name of Rick Davis and his wife Deb Amos of NPR, who serves as first vice president of the OPC. Davis died in 2019.
OPC Foundation President Bill Holstein said during opening remarks that the awards help the next wave of foreign correspondents to embark on what he called the sacred path of “being on the ground to discover the truth, and then telling the world no matter the odds.”
The reception before the luncheon featured an exhibit of iconic images by the noted Time Life photographer Ben Martin, who died in 2017. At the luncheon, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Martin’s widow and business partner (also known for her role in the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows), announced that archives of his photographs would find a home at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.
During her keynote, Baldwin cited examples of how linking data with stake holders bolstered her own stories. In the award-winning piece about Duterte’s drug war, Baldwin and her team used law enforcement and hospital records to zero in on police killings and reveal a pattern of using ambulances to move bodies and strip evidence from execution sites. They used leaked documents, video surveillance and dozens of witness interviews to back up the data and to humanize families’ losses.
Other examples included a story about Duterte’s death squads that used social media posts from paramilitary police, and a project on the Rohingya minority in Myanmar that followed refugees’ efforts to track Rohingya deaths in displacement camps.
She said that journalism that uses data and human reporting can be a crucial tool to “pierce the bubble of impunity.”
Host Karen Toulon, senior editor at Bloomberg, said this year’s winners would be sent to Mexico City, Tokyo, Singapore, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Bogota and Beirut, and supporting reporting projects in the Brazilian rainforest and Spain. Five will serve in Associated Press bureaus, four with Reuters, and one each with GroundTruth and The Wall Street Journal.
Winners included four students from Columbia University, four from New York University, two from Stanford, and one each from DePauw, UC-Berkeley, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, Yale and UCLA.
The first recipient of the new Rick Davis-Deb Amos Scholarship is Mateo Nelson of NYU, who started out as a translator in Jordan and Syria and was soon working for a non-profit journalism organization in Amman, where he covered Syria and learned from a team of Syrian journalists who all had been displaced by war.
“Over the next three years, I witnessed and learned from their dedication to the truth and refusal to be silent as a flood of war crimes and violence swallowed their country,” he said. “In my future career, I hope to show if only a small measure of that conviction.” Mateo has a fellowship this summer in the Reuters bureau in Beirut.
Marta Orosz of NYU, in accepting the Emanuel R. Freedman Scholarship, opened with a question she’s been asked while working in an investigative newsroom. “What’s the point of year-long investigations if nothing ever changes?”
She said the question haunted her as she worked on a massive project on VAT tax fraud in Europe, which costs taxpayers up to $60 billion a year. Orosz said after two years working on the story, which involved 35 newsrooms in 30 counties, the issue ended up back on the European Commission’s agenda, as well as that of German and Polish parliaments.
“It’s not always about immediate impact. Stories need to be told again and again when things take a longer time to change. We have to stick to these stories.”
Accepting the Nathan S. Bienstock Memorial Scholarship was Thomas Nocera of Columbia University. He focused on a story rooted in Brooklyn, where he is from, about the impacts of Lebanese Civil War on immigrants. Nocera said he learned lessons about the impact of international affairs on local communities, and from elders and community leaders who lived those events.
“When reporting on the grand conflicts around the world, some of the best stories to be told are those from the hyperlocal perspective, from the men and women who live the realities.” Nocera has a fellowship with the GroundTruth Project.
Meghan Sullivan received this year’s Walter and Betsy Cronkite Scholarship. She said that as an Alaskan, she had seen signs of climate change in her home state long before it was a widely reported topic, such as mass animal migration and wildfires that caused some native Alaskan villages to relocate from traditional lands.
Inspired to investigate more subtle geopolitical consequences of climate change, she turned her attention to Russia’s and China’s expansion into new waterways in the thawing arctic, where both countries are investing and prospecting for opportunities, putting the U.S. Coast Guard on the front lines of a slow but growing territorial rivalry. By interviewing Coast Guard members, she linked broad global trends with people on the ground, she said.
“I hope to continue to search for these hidden international implications, while simultaneously highlighting the local voices that live these experiences every day and understand the matter best.” Sullivan has an OPC fellowship with the AP bureau in Bangkok.