August 17, 2022

People Column


Kantaro Komiya, the Stan Swinton Fellowship winner in 2020, has started his OPC Foundation Fellowship with The Associated Press in Tokyo. His first byline appears in a May 20 item about Japan’s health ministry giving preliminary approval to coronavirus vaccines developed by Moderna and AstraZeneca, a move that marked an expansion of the country’s slow-paced immunization program before the Tokyo Olympics.

Sandali Handagama, winner of the 2020 Jerry Flint Fellowship for International Business Reporting, wrote a piece published in Popular Science on June 1 about new airborne imaging technology used to spot bleached coral reefs that are submerged up to 70 feet below the surface. The images allow scientists to map reefs in detail that could not be seen with traditional methods of diving or satellite imagery. The story, co-written with colleague Agostino Petroni, was originally featured on Nexus Media News.

Diana Kruzman, winner of the 2021 Harper’s Magazine Scholarship in memory of I.F. Stone, wrote a piece for Undark on May 31 that was reprinted in Mother Jones magazine about worsening water issues in the Southwest U.S. Kruzman wrote that as much as 17 percent of the alfalfa grown in Arizona and elsewhere in the western states is exported around the world, mainly to China, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Alfalfa is a water-intensive crop, which means that significant water resources, already strained by drought and increasing demands on the Colorado River, are absorbed in crops that are then shipped out of the country.


Mellissa Fung, an OPC member and filmmaker, won several Golden Sheaf Awards at the Yorkton Film Festival, including Best of Festival, for her film Captive, which focuses on survivors of the Boko Haram terrorist group in Nigeria. The film won Golden Sheaf awards in the category of Documentary Social/Political, as well as the Emerging Filmmaker, Research and Mental Health categories. Separately, Fung talked with The Guardian for a May 23 article in which she discussed her abduction while on assignment in Afghanistan, an experience she said causes an intense bond with the teenage girls who were held captive by Boko Haram.


OPC member Brady Ng has been named chief editor for China and Southeast Asia for tech media outlet KrASIA. Ng will lead the site’s coverage of the region with a focus on “the intersection of tech, policy, culture and ingenuity.” He started his career as a photojournalist in the Middle East in 2009 and later reported in print and audio media during the Arab Spring, then in East and Southeast Asia. His work has appeared in VICE, The Guardian and Nikkei Asia.

OPC member Cassandra Vinograd shared a video on May 25 from her father, Serge Vinograd, a holocaust survivor, condemning U.S. Representative Majorie Taylor Greene for comments equating wearing a mask and vaccination badges to Nazis forcing Jews to wear yellow stars. Serge described his experience in France during World War II, when most of his family members were arrested and killed. “I saw Jews being arrested, jailed, shot, deported, he said. “Six million Jews were arrested, killed, and never came back. I would like to find a way to explain to Representative Greene that you cannot, should not, compare the two.” Serge’s comments were shared widely on social media and got a mention in a Business Insider article about Greene’s comments. Cassandra is a freelancer based in London who previously worked for 60 Minutes, NBC News, The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.

OPC member Abigail Pesta wrote a piece published in People magazine on May 19 following up with two 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping survivors who are now pursuing master’s degrees and plan to fight for girls’ education. Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu were among 276 teenage girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from their school in the Nigerian town of Chibok. Bishara, now 24, is graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in social work, and Pogu, 23, has earned a degree in legal studies. They will both pursue master’s degrees at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida.

Martin Smith, an OPC member and veteran journalist who produces and reports for FRONTLINE PBS, co-produced a documentary with his partner, Marcela Gaviria, that aired on June 1, with the first interview of former Al Qaeda commander Abu Mohammad al-Jolani by a Western journalist. “The Jihadist” retraces al-Jolani’s 20-year campaign of Islamist militancy in Iraq and Syria. He is the leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Islamist group that opposes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Smith interviewed al-Jolani in Syria. The interview marks the first time an Al Qaeda leader has participated in a televised interview with a Western reporter since Osama bin Laden in 1998. Smith and Gaviria won the OPC’s 2009 Edward R. Murrow Award along with colleague David Fanning for their coverage of the Afghan War.

OPC member Robert Nickelsberg’s photographs are featured in a National Geographic feature published on May 20 about the fate of Afghanistan’s cultural artifacts as NATO forces prepare to leave the country in September and the Taliban gains footing. When the Taliban were last in power in 2001, they demolished giant Buddha statues and wrecked and looted the National Museum in Kabul. For the story, written by Andrew Lawler, Nickelsberg photographed workers at the National Museum piecing together the remains of destroyed artifacts, the ruins of shrines and other pre-Islamic sites, and heritage conservation efforts across the country.

Newly joined OPC member Nicolas Niarchos, who is based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, wrote a piece for the New Yorker published on May 24 about booming demand for cobalt for high-tech components and its effect on Congolese communities. He wrote that Southern Congo sits atop almost half the world’s known supply of cobalt, a discovery that has sparked mass movement, child labor and conflict among neighbors. Niarchos has contributed to The New Yorker since 2014 and is currently working on a book about the global cobalt industry.

Two OPC award winners who work for the Los Angeles Times are suing Minnesota State Patrol officers over attacks during a May 30 protest last year following the police killing of George Floyd. Molly Hennessy-Fiske, a staff writer for the Times since 2006, Carolyn Cole, a veteran photojournalist, are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for attacks they said violated their 1st Amendment rights. The lawsuit says police backed the two women and other journalists into a wall, pepper-sprayed them and struck the group with blunt projectiles despite group members identifying themselves as press and waving press credentials. Cole was pepper-sprayed in both eyes, temporarily blinding her and causing a corneal abrasion in her left eye. Hennessy-Fiske was hit at least five times by blunt projectiles and a tear gas canister on her left leg, according to the journalists’ complaint. Hennessy-Fiske was part of a team that won the OPC’s 2014 Robert Spiers Benjamin Award for coverage of migration from Central America to the U.S. Cole won two OPC Robert Capa Gold Medal Awards for coverage of conflict in Iraq and Liberia in 2003 and for photographs of a siege on a church in Bethlehem in 2002.


Clarence A. Robinson Jr., a Marine Corps combat veteran, journalist and winner of OPC accolades, died on May 27 at the age of 87. Robinson was editor-in-chief of SIGNAL magazine, retiring from there in 1998. He won a 1983 Citation for Excellence from the OPC for best business reporting from abroad in magazines and books for his report on “Middle East Aerospace” for Aviation Week & Space Technology, where he served as senior military editor.