The Open Society Foundations (OSF) Programme on Independent Journalism has published a collection of the best journalism stories which are drawn from 16 major global and regional journalism awards that were bestowed in 2016. They are meant to serve as an inspiration and a reminder to media outlets facing challenges in the United States and Europe that quality journalism continues to be relevant today in calling power to account.
The stories in the collection deal with six general subjects, which also reflect some of the major issues facing societies. Some examine the plight of immigrants: from unofficial detention camps of African immigrants in Tripoli to the terrible experience of a family fleeing from ISIS-controlled territory to Germany.
Some other articles deal with abuses committed by security forces and state officials in various countries: from the killing of demonstrators in Xinjiang, China to the massacre of civilians in Apatzingán, Mexico, by the policeman and the violence committed against Egyptian security forces by their superiors.
Many of the acclaimed stories reported ongoing social struggles, such as those of the second and third ‘ghost’ children of Chinese families who could not be registered and whose fathers denied them entering school during official policy of one child per couple; or the tragedy of people born albino who are murdered by superstitious neighbors in Mozambique.
Among them are also, many stories about corruption: one of them is an exposé of deputies in the Jordanian Parliament who won public tenders worth millions of dollars in exchange for government enacting specific laws or opaque negotiations for young football players in Nigeria or the abusive financial practices that have made some churches very rich in Zimbabwe.
A review of the awards showed that producing good journalism does not come easy; there are cost in terms of time, money and even personal risks involved.
Some documentaries took months to produce, such as one that tells of environmental degradation and human suffering caused by the construction of a huge dam in the Brazilian Amazon forest.
There have also been investigative pieces that involved dangerous reporting, such as the acclaimed (Pulitzer and Hong Kong Human Rights Press) AP story about the slave-like conditions of workers in the seafood industry in South East Asia that supplies supermarkets and restaurants in the United States of America.
Some other reports required months of preparatory work to create digital platforms that could, not only enable the extraction of information from millions of documents such as the ICIJ Panama Papers, but also the simultaneous collaboration of hundreds of journalists.
These stories, frequently reported under duress and published with fear of retaliation, illustrate how journalism grows when the atmosphere becomes uncertain, as happens today even in countries where freedom of expression has been taken for granted. In quiet or calmer times, some media players may get too close to power, too condescending with someone who is not part of his inner circle. Then, when self-proclaimed anti-establishment presidents get to power, they can easily tag the media as their enemy, and thus try to destroy the legitimacy of journalists.
As these stories remind us, journalism does not thrive through privileged access to power brokers or comfortable cushions of presidential palaces. Journalism blooms in the trenches, where people need megaphones to express their pain and pride; this is where great stories are cooked. It is through the meticulous research of documents and the presentation of uncomfortable questions that journalism derives its legitimacy.
Another excellent discovery of this revision of the International Journalism Awards of 2016 is the fact that of the 77 media houses whose reporters received awards, 32 were outlets or project points created in the last five to seven years. The vast majority was produced by small teams with limited resources but with great passion.
Some are not media outlets but civic initiatives such as the Marshall Project, of which the reporter won a joint Pulitzer prize with a journalist from ProPublica, for exposing the failures of United State agencies to investigate reports of rape; or the Spanish Civio Foundation, with its data journalism site Medicamentalia, that investigated the gaps in access to 14 essential drugs in 61 countries.
Freelance reporters actually did three stories published in traditional mainstream media. Eight, out of the 12 journalists honoured for their outstanding or courageous careers were freelancers or reporters who work for small digital outlets.