December 2, 2021

People Column


Kimon de Greef, the 2020 David R. Schweisberg Scholarship winner, on Dec. 14 wrote for The New York Times about updates in the case of a white South African farmer who was shot dead in his home last year. Police arrested three suspects in the June 2019 murder of Stefan Smit, including his widow, Zurenah Smit, and two Cape Town men, one of which is a former police officer the farmer had hired to help with security. The case gained international attention and had been a rallying point among local white minority rights groups and their allies in the United States who blamed Black squatters and saw the case as evidence that white farmers were targeted. De Greef wrote that the arrests upended a narrative that became “a flash point in a wider political fight over land in South Africa.”

A book by Jeff John Roberts, the Reuters Scholarship winner in 2010 and a staff writer at FORTUNE, was published on Dec. 15 by Harvard Business Review Press. Kings of Crypto: One Startup’s Quest to Take Cryptocurrency Out of Silicon Valley and Onto Wall Street, traces “the rise, fall, and rebirth of cryptocurrency through the experiences of major players across the globe.” Roberts had an OPC Foundation fellowship in Paris.

J.p. Lawrence, the 2015 H.L. Stevenson Fellowship winner, wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review on Dec. 9 about his experience as war correspondent in Afghanistan for Stars and Stripes, and the Pentagon campaign and decision on Sept. 20 to scuttle the 159-year-old paper. The paper is partially funded by the military but has maintained editorial independence. Clashes with the military in recent years have “significantly curtailed transparency and access,” Lawrence wrote. Public outrage over the move and a change of posture under the incoming administration of President-Elect Joe Biden appears to have averted the paper’s closure. Lawrence, who served in the military for nine years as a public affairs specialist, outlined several examples of how the paper’s independent coverage provides crucial reporting on issues including “veteran suicides, sexual assault, and military housing problems, among other thorny topics.” As an example, he said lack of transparency in U.S. military operations in Afghanistan “is not good for democracy or for military service members and their families.”

Annie Rosenthal, the 2020 Sally Jacobsen Fellowship winner, interviewed multimedia journalist Andalusia Knoll Soloff in late November for the Los Angeles Review of Books about her graphic novel, Vivos se los llevaron (Alive You Took Them), a five-year collaboration between Soloff and Mexican artists Marco Parra and Anahí H. Galaviz about the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping where 43 students were abducted and disappeared. The interview covers journalist safety issues for freelancers who lack backing from large media outlets, about which Soloff said “if we are attacked or detained or kidnapped, there’s often no one really paying attention. So that’s why I’ve gone on to found an organization called Frontline Freelance México, which is a combination between a press freedom organization, a somewhat informal trade union, and a mutual aid network for freelance journalists.”

Dake Kang, the 2016 Fritz Beebe Fellowship winner, filed a piece from Wuhan, China for The Associated Press on Dec. 3 that investigated the early days of the coronavirus outbreak and found that “widespread test shortages and problems at a time when the virus could have been slowed were caused largely by secrecy and cronyism at China’s top disease control agency.” He wrote that flawed testing prevented health officials from seeing an accurate picture of the disease’s spread, a factor that combined with delayed public warnings in China and information withheld by the World Health Organization helped the virus to spread globally.

Uliana Pavlova, the Theo Wilson Scholarship winner in 2017, is now a news reporter with the Moscow Times. Before she returned to her native Russia this fall, Pavlova studied journalism at the University of Missouri and had internships with CNN, Bloomberg and Politico Europe. More recently Pavlova had been a reporter for a regulatory news wire called MLex on the trade and financial services desks.


OPC member Steve Stecklow was part of a Reuters team that won a British Journalism Award for Best Science Journalism for its reporting on COVID-19 and the U.K. government’s responses, which judges called “probably the most important series of reports into public health policy during the pandemic.” Stecklow shared the award with colleagues Stephen Grey, Andrew MacAskill, Ryan McNeill and Tommy Wilkes.

OPC Governor Vivienne Walt received an honorable mention in the print category of the National Press Club awards for 2020, which were announced in November. Walt’s honored piece for FORTUNE, titled “Boxed In at the Docks,” outlines China’s effort to dominate global trade by controlling strategic harbors around the world, with a focus on the Chinese shipping company Cosco’s acquisition of the historic port of Piraeus in Greece.

Azam Ahmed of The New York Times, winner of the OPC’s Robert Spiers Benjamin Award, has received the 2020 Michael Kelly Award for “Kill, or Be Killed: Latin America’s Homicide Crisis,” the same work that garnered the OPC’s award. The Kelly Award comes with a $25,000 prize. Judges wrote that Ahmed, the Times bureau chief for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, “moves beyond the numbers to paint memorable portraits: a brave Honduran pastor, a remorseful Mexican killer, a teenage Guatemalan mother.” See above or click here for details of his upcoming Dec. 10 chat with the OPC.

The OPC award-winning documentary For Sama won this year’s International Emmy Award for the documentary category. The film also won the OPC’s Peter Jennings Award this year. Click here to watch a playlist of video clips from the OPC’s conversation in October with Waad Al-Kateab and FRONTLINE executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath.


The Los Angeles Times announced on Dec. 14 that OPC member Norman Pearlstine, the executive editor for the paper, has moved into a role as senior adviser during the ongoing search for his successor. As noted in a previous People item, Pearlstein announced on Oct. 5 that he would soon resign and planned to stay on during the search. As part of the move, two managing editors including Scott Kraft, OPC Governor and head awards judge, will take over daily newsroom operations along with Kimi Yoshino. Pearlstine has been an OPC member since October 1995 and is sponsor of the OPC’s Hal Boyle Award. The photo above of Pearlstine, on left, is by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Rodale, with Kraft on the right.

OPC member Amanda Sperber published the results of her massive investigation into Uber’s practices in Kenya for NBC News in late November. Her story, which she called her biggest of the year, involved interviews with more than 80 taxi drivers, as well as “dozens corporate sources, academics, historians, labor activists, bank tellers, car sales people, lawyers and union leaders in Nairobi and Mombasa.” Sperber found that Uber had lured drivers with promises of good pay, but slashed its fares four years later, after many had taken out loans to pay for vehicles. Saddled with debt, in many cases through loan programs Uber itself had set up, some drivers were living out of their cars after selling off belongings to keep their vehicles from being repossessed. The story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

A photograph by Joshua Irwandi, a newly joined OPC member and National Geographic photojournalist based in Jakarta, received widespread attention and controversy. His photo from July depicts the body of a suspected COVID-19 victim lying on a hospital bed in Indonesia, wrapped in layers of plastic to prevent the spread of the virus. The photo, taken as part of a National Geographic Society grant, prompted more than a million “likes” on Instagram and was spread on social media via screenshot without Irwandi’s consent and widely used by television news and government agencies. A popular Indonesian singer falsely accused Irwandi of staging the image and even using a mannequin, while downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic. The Indonesian government, which has been very slow to recognize the severity of infection rates in the country, questioned Irwandi’s ethics and said he should reveal the name of the hospital where the photo was taken. The country’s association of photojournalists backed Irwandi and asked the singer to apologize, which he has done. “It’s clear that the power of this image has galvanized discussion about coronavirus,” Irwandi said in an article about the photo. Longtime OPC member David Hume Kennerly, who was White House photographer during the Gerald Ford administration, encouraged Irwandi to become an OPC member.

OPC member Lucy Sherriff, after searching for a media partner in November to secure a $10,000 grant, has partnered with the Los Angeles Times to produce a short documentary about environmental racism in a Central Californian Latino community, focusing on a family fighting a toxic waste facility that was recently given approval to expand.

New York Times op-ed columnist and OPC member Nicholas Kristof on Dec. 4 filed an extensive piece about videos of exploitation and assault hosted on the Canadian website Pornhub. Since then, the investigation spurred the company to announce new measures meant to curb abuses by changing its policies to ban unverified uploaders, to remove millions of videos, and Mastercard and Visa dropped the platform. Kristof cheered those moves, but said continued monitoring and pressure would be needed, and he hoped to see other porn video companies pressured to follow suit.

OPC member Borzou Daragahi, international correspondent for the Independent based in Istanbul, talked to WBUR’s flagship show Here and Now on Dec. 2 about the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian nuclear scientist whose death Iran blamed on Israel. Daragahi told host Robin Young that the timing of the shooting during a transition of leadership in the U.S. suggests careful planning. Asked to assess the current risk of Iran developing nuclear weapons, he said it was “an unrealistic fear. I think that Iran is content with just reaching the maximum available capabilities, in terms of its nuclear program, without ever taking that final step.” More recently, he wrote for The Independent on Dec. 12 about the secretive security court trial and execution of Paris-based journalist Ruhollah Zam, who ran one of Iran’s most popular news outlets. Daragahi is a veteran correspondent who had covered the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, including Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey, for English-language news organizations. He won an OPC Citation for Excellence in the Bob Considine category for 2017 coverage of Iran-U.S. relations for BuzzFeed.

The Washington Post has named Gerry Shih, the recipient of the OPC’s Citation for Excellence in the Hal Boyle category this year, as the paper’s next India bureau chief. A Dec. 11 announcement by Post senior staff, including foreign editor and OPC Governor Douglas Jehl, said Shih “has already demonstrated his ability to tackle big stories that play out on a staggering scale.” He previously served as China correspondent for the Post since September 2018, most recently following the coronavirus outbreak from the beginning of the crisis before he was effectively expelled from China in March along with a dozen U.S. correspondents who were stripped of accreditation amid U.S.-Beijing tensions.

The Washington Post has named OPC member Sudarsan Raghavan as Europe-based correspondent “who can be deployed quickly to trouble spots around the world.” Raghavan is a veteran correspondent who has won three OPC awards for international coverage, including a 2001 Joe and Laurie Dine Award, a 2008 Bob Considine Award for coverage of Iraq, and a 2018 Hal Boyle Award for reporting on Yemen. A Post release said he will “travel extensively in the role, which is new to The Post and is intended to add more agility to our international coverage. His deployments – to Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and other parts of the world – will be driven by the need for timely, on-the-ground reporting that fills the newsroom’s most urgent needs.”

OPC member and former CNN Beijing correspondent Jaime FlorCruz told aspiring journalists in the Philippines during a panel hosted by The Manila Times early last month that fake news and disinformation could be “as deadly” as the coronavirus. During the panel, titled “Critical Thinking in Pursuit of Journalism Amid Critical Times,” FlorCruz said rigorous journalism and critical thinking was needed to help combat misinformation, adding “that’s why we need to support credible media groups; that’s why we have to pay for some of the journalism we consume; and that’s why we need top-rated journalism courses in schools. That’s why we give credit to the journalists who cover the news tenaciously and fearlessly because they are our frontline heroes, too.”

The Baltimore Sun interviewed OPC member and FRONTLINE PBS executive producer Raney Aronson-Rath on Nov. 27 in a piece that lauded the show’s documentary programming, which writer David Zurawik said “has always operated with a heightened sense of social consciousness.” Aronson-Rath said “corruption can run wild if there aren’t journalists on the case. And we take that really seriously … That’s actually what drives us.” She talked about the show’s “Transparency Project,” which allows viewers to see interviews without editing, aside from accuracy and libel issues, so that people can determine for themselves if actualities are taken out of context, a common accusation from those who want to discredit mainstream TV journalism. She said that since joining the FRONTLINE team five years ago, she has dedicated herself to building trust with viewers.

OPC Members Covering COVID-19

OPC member and two-time award winner Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times contributed to a Dec. 12 article that said healthcare workers in California are set to begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine this week. Health officials warned that the first batch of more than 300,000 doses would not likely curb the burden on state hospitals struggling to keep up with runaway infection rates. “It’s a welcome glimmer of hope,” the article said. “But it is expected to be months before the vaccine hits the general population in significant numbers.” Wilkinson and her colleagues won the 2014 Robert Spiers Benjamin Award and the 2008 Hal Boyle Award.

OPC member Ceylan Yeginsu wrote on Dec. 8 about the coronavirus lockdown in Istanbul and the government’s exemption for tourists, who are not subject to the same strict weekend curfews and restrictions as residents. Despite a spike in viral cases across Turkey, foreign tourists are allowed to sightsee and roam the streets, while Turkish residents could be fined for being outside from Friday evening to early Monday morning. She wrote that the country’s tourism sector is on pace to drop by 70 percent this year. Yeginsu looked at regulations across the EU and found that no other country had similar exemptions for tourists. Yeginsu is a London-based reporter for The New York Times.

On Dec. 1, OPC member Kim Hjelmgaard covered the early stages of vaccine rollout, writing for USA Today about the British government’s announcement that the U.K. would become the first western country to approve widespread use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech. The move was ahead of vaccine distribution in the U.S. and European Union, while China and Russia had already started a mass rollout of their own vaccines.

OPC member Annalisa Quinn wrote a piece published on Nov. 25 for The Boston Globe Magazine about why things have gone so differently this year in Germany and the U.S. It’s about how similar numbers of people in each country are actually willing to follow social distancing requirements and wear masks — but Germany is better structured to protect its weakest citizens. The story was funded by a COVID reporting grant from the National Geographic Society.

OPC member and 2014 Reuters Fellowship winner Portia Crowe shared a dispatch she wrote for The Independent from Zurich on Nov. 24 about Switzerland’s soaring number of second-wave coronavirus cases and how “federalist politics, an aversion to big government and even snobbishness prevent Switzerland from adopting stricter pandemic measures.”

Chriss Swaney, an OPC member and freelancer, continues to cover the intersection of COVID-19 and workers rights for with a piece on Nov. 19 about concerns from bus drivers across the country as a spike in holiday travel and national infection rates put them at risk. She wrote that several California-based drivers complained that “some companies are overpacking buses and not enforcing mask policies.”