Event Coverage Highlight
Gannon Urges Foundation Scholars to Follow Curiosity
The OPC Foundation Scholar Awards Luncheon this year highlighted a diverse crop of winners with on-the-ground reporting experience that spans the globe.
OPC Foundation President Bill Holstein, in his introductory remarks, said the panel of judges selected winners who had the right “motivations and attitudes” that align with key values for a good journalist.
“We ask ourselves, if you were a foreign editor, would you send this person out to get the story?”
For the second time, the OPC Foundation offered a day of risk assessment and situational training for scholars at the Associated Press headquarters. Frank Smyth, president and founder of Global Journalist Security, a hostile environment training outfit based in Washington DC, lead the program.
The event featured a keynote speech from Kathy Gannon, who has covered Pakistan and Afghanistan for The Associated Press as a correspondent and bureau chief.
Gannon is all too familiar with reporting in hostile conditions. She survived an attack while covering elections in Pakistan in April 2014, but her friend, AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus, was shot and killed.
Her message for luncheon guests focused on the need for more objectivity in journalism, and lamented the blurring of lines. She said many journalists have become advocates or champions for one side of a conflict.
“When we look at a story through the prism of good and evil, our stories are colored, or questions are weak and in the end it impacts the information the reader receives, it skews the recording of history.”
Gannon urged the scholars to follow their curiosity and focus on the journalist’s “primary mission to investigate, question and report.”
Scholars spoke about some of the stories that first piqued their interest, and about their ambitions for future work.
H.L Stvenson winner Gabrielle Paluch talked about her reporting on the opium trade in Myanmar that funds a longstanding civil war between ethnic groups. She said while reporting she interviewed a woman named Olive, the “octogenarian bisexual war lady of royal Chinese descent, the first drug lord of the Golden Triangle, [who] is in fact still alive and not dead as erroneously presumed.”
Paluch plans to revisit Olive when she reports for The Associated Press in Bangkok on an OPC Foundation Fellowship.
Annika Hammerschlag received the Irene Corbally Kuhn Scholarship. She wrote about “untouchables” in the Hindu caste system who have left the faith and converted to Buddhism and Christianity, and found that Buddhism converts were better able to escape their past. She’ll be going to Senegal to write about polygamy and gender issues.
Roy Rowan Scholarship winner Isma’il Kushkush recounted his experience in his ancestral homeland of Sudan, where he lived for 8 years and worked as a stringer for The New York Times, CNN and others. He said he was inspired by coverage of the Arab Spring, but grew concerned about the lack of coverage of the refugee crisis in eastern Sudan.
He recalled talking to a man who expressed despair that summed up Kushkush’s reporting on the story: “‘I’m not respected. I have no life, because I’m a refugee,’” the man told him.
Flora Lewis Fellowship winner Katie Riordan traveled to Somaliland to report on how climate change is worsening the effects of drought.
“Part of the story is how the traditional pastoral way of life in Somaliland is being imperiled as global temperatures rise,” she said. Riordan has an OPC Foundation fellowship in London for The Wall Street Journal this summer.
Neha Thirani Bagri won the Jerry Flint Fellowship for International Business Reporting. She spent four years as a staff reporter in the South Asia bureau of The New York Times. Her essay focused on Agnelo Valdaris, a man suspected of stealing a gold chain who was tortured and killed in police custody in Mumbai. She said the case “shed light on the pervasive use of torture in police custody in India and also on the widespread culture of impunity.”
She said she wants to tell stories of marginalized communities for a global audience, “a task that seems ever more pressing in the face of the crackdown on dissent in India today.”
Nathan S. Bienstock Memorial Scholarship winner Russel Midori, who learned skills while serving as a Marine Corps videographer, submitted a short documentary about security issues surrounding the presidential election in Haiti.
He recalled first being inspired about international journalism during a conversation with Getty Images photographer Chris Hondros, who was killed in Libya in a mortar attack in 2011. Midori told Hondros he wanted to try reporting overseas, but wasn’t sure how to start.
“If you can’t figure out how to get there, you really don’t belong there,” he remembered Hondros saying.