May 17, 2021

People Column


Jacob Kushner, the 2013 Nathan S. Bienstock Memorial Scholarship winner, landed a major feature for National Geographic that he said in an email was made possible by an OPC micro-grant he received last year. The Jan. 29 story credits the OPC’s support. “Back when I had lost all my work due to COVID, I was able to make an initial reporting trip to Lake Naivasha to investigate rumors about hippo attacks, job loss, and the lake’s uncontrollable rise,” Kushner wrote to the OPC. Due to a 100-year flood at the lake and waning demand in Europe for flowers from Kenya, thousands of laid off workers resorted to fishing on the lake, putting them in closer range of the deadly animals. In addition, Kushner filed a story in January for the BBC about researchers in northern Kenya trying to prevent a dangerous coronavirus known as Mers from jumping from camels to humans again, as climate change causes greater challenges to that effort.

Simon Akam, the Emmanuel R. Freedman Scholarship winner in 2009, has just published his new book, The Changing of the Guard: The British Army Since 9/11. His controversial account of the Army’s two-decade long evolution was published on Feb. 11. In a piece published on Jan. 13 for the Book Brunch website, he talked about how his experience in 2003 and 2004 serving a one-year commission for the Army informed his reporting, as a “military insider-outsider“ who could “speak fluent Army.” He also wrote about facing considerable institutional resistance and inertia against the book’s publishing.

Alizeh Kohari, the 2016 Walter and Betsy Cronkite fellow, wrote about preserving a place for Urdu in the tech age for Rest of World City on Feb. 9. Urdu, spoken by nearly 170 million people in South Asia and the South Asian diaspora, is written in an alphabet derived from Arabic but uses a more ornate script. Kohari wrote about a developer who created an Urdu keyboard application in 2010, and is pushing for better software to help preserve the language, which is endangered as so much contemporary communication is in the digital realm. Kohari now divides her time between Karachi and Mexico City, where she had an OPC Foundation fellowship in the Reuters bureau.


OPC member Simcha Jacobovici has been nominated for a 2021 NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Directing in a Documentary in Television or Motion Picture for his series Enslaved: The Lost History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The series, hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, retraces 400 years of human trafficking from Africa to the New World, and includes the efforts of scuba divers to locate six sunken slave ships. The series, which premiered on EPIX last September, also recently won the Outstanding Achievement award from the Impact DOCS Awards. The NAACP Image Award winners will be announced on March 27 during a ceremony broadcast on several networks.


The New York Times announced on Feb. 9 that OPC member Rebecca Blumenstein, one of the paper’s deputy managing editors, will take on a newly created role and report directly to publisher A. G. Sulzberger. As deputy managing editor, she has overseen the paper’s website. Her new title will be deputy editor, publisher’s office. She joined the Times in 2016, and previously served as deputy editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal, as well as China bureau chief, international editor, page one editor and managing editor of the Journal’s website. In a Times story about her new role, Blumenstein said she would miss the newsroom but wants to help the paper face challenges. “We have to do whatever we can to see around the corner of what’s coming and make sure The Times is the best place for our people and our journalists,” she said.

OPC member and Canadian journalist Mellissa Fung’s new film Captive is set to premiere on the TVO network on Feb. 16. For the documentary, she traveled with a crew into Boko Haram-occupied territory in Nigeria to interview some of the young girls who escaped after being held hostage in 2018. In an article about her film on the Toronto news website City News, she said the film in part is a personal reflection on her experience being kidnapped and held captive for 28 days in Afghanistan in 2008. She told City News that experience informed her reporting for the documentary and how she approached survivors but added that while she had access to mental health services to help process her trauma, for Boko Haram survivors in Nigera, trauma treatment is a luxury. Captive is a TVO network original and is set to premier on Feb. 16 at 9:30 Eastern Time but will be available to stream on the network’s website and YouTube Channel afterwards.

OPC member Anne-Elisabeth Moutet was a guest on the Jan. 28 episode of The Edition, the podcast of The Spectator magazine, to discuss a story about allegations of sexual abuse against French professor and political commentator Olivier Duhamel. His step daughter published a book earlier this year detailing abuse against her twin brother at the ages of 13 or 14, as well as a network of protective silence among the country’s academic elites. Duhamel resigned as head of a foundation that oversees the prestigious Sciences Po in Paris, among other posts. The book was among other sexual abuse and incest allegations that has sparked a mirror of the #metoo movement, marked with its own hashtag of #metooinceste. In her interview, Moutet described Duhamel as a powerful man in every way, “in French society, in his own family, within his circle of relations and the interlocking circles of power, that very obviously he felt that he could do anything, everything was possible.” To hear the segment featuring Moutet, skip to the 17-minute mark of the episode. She is a Paris-based columnist for The Telegraph.

OPC member Lila Hassan contributed to a ProPublica/FRONTLINE story tracking down more than 20 Boogaloo Bois members with ties to the armed forces. The Feb. 1 piece, with a byline shared among A.C. Thompson of ProPublica and Karim Hajj of FRONTLINE, examined case studies from the list and looked into previous domestic terror investigations of the identified members.


Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron on Jan. 26 announced plans to retire at the end of February. Baron has led the paper’s newsroom for the last eight years. Post publisher Fred Ryan said in a letter to employees that during his tenure Baron had “significantly expanded our coverage areas, inspired great reporting, managed an awesome digital transformation and grown the number of readers and subscribers to unprecedented levels.” Baron wrote to colleagues that “I am proud to have joined you in ambitious, high-impact work that is essential to a democracy. You stood up time and again against vilification and vile threats. You stood firm against cynical, never-ending assaults on objective fact.” Baron delivered the keynote speech at the OPC’s Annual Awards Dinner in April 2019, telling attendees that “while this is journalism we admire, even more important, it is work we need.” A video clip of his remarks can be found here.