Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

Sep 30

Telling Stories, Making a Difference: Media Rise 2014

By Jon Sawyer

image

We spent most of a gorgeous fall Saturday sitting in the Impact Hub near Gallery Place in DC, listening to a series of amazingly creative people engaged with the big issues that affect us all. It was the second annual Media Rise Forum, an opportunity for Kem Sawyer and me to share our work at the Pulitzer Center but, more importantly, to learn about the extraordinary work of the people recruited to speak by Erica Schlaikjer and her Media Rise colleagues.

Asher Jay, the fashion-designer-turned-activist on wildlife trafficking and related issues, shared the stark graphic designs that have forced people to make connections as to the consequences of what they consume, as in this presentation aimed at the Chinese consumers of rhinoceros horns that asks them to imagine the rhinos as cuddly pandas instead.

image

Vince Perone and Josh Ruben are the “College Humor” guys behind some of YouTube’s most tasteless—and wildly popular—videos. They were at Media Rise to share their unlikely collaboration with Save the Children USA on something totally different, an exercise in using humor to get people to focus on the distinctly unhumorous facts of water-related diseases, maternal mortality, and the consequences of armed conflict.

The result? “The most important ‘sexy’ model video ever,” with 3.95 million downloads as of this week and according to Save the Children USA its most successful messaging campaign ever.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOXMKEnra8w

Megan Gaiser talked about her experience as one of the first female CEO’s ever in the male-dominated gaming industry—and how the Nancy Drew interactive game she spearheaded went on to sell 9 million units. Washington Post staff writer Robert Samuels talked about his stories on homelessness and related poverty issues—but also about the “Press Pass Mentors” program that he and Post colleagues have created to help inner-city high school kids make it to college. Sean Southey, chief executive of PSI Media Impact, told how his colleagues are using television and radio soap operas to reach tens of millions of people on issues like safe sex, domestic abuse, and the empowerment of women.

Two big takeaways, for me: The importance of creativity and art, when it comes to engaging people in the heart and gut, and the primacy of stories over simple statistics.

Mary Jordan is a documentary filmmaker, for example, who has been working on water and sanitation issues for years. Her current initiative, the “Water Tank Project,” represents a radically different approach—wrapping some of the 17,000 water tanks on the rooftops  of New York City with colorful messages about the reality of water-access issues for a billion-plus poor people around the globe.

Jeff Orlowski is director/producer of  “Chasing Ice,” the Sundance-award-winning documentary that tells the story of climate change through dazzling time-lapse images of crashing glaciers. The key to its success? Focusing on the adventure of the filmmaking and spectacular natural beauty.

But at Media Rise Orlowski also shared his work on something decidedly less exotic but arguably just as important—a pilot project this summer that took the issues of “Chasing Ice” to churches, schools and other community groups in Columbus, Ohio, forging a social-media campaign that persuaded the district’s incumbent congressional representative, in a reversal of his previous position, to acknowledge that climate change is real.

As Sean Southey told us, in his discussion of Media Impact’s socially aware soap operas, “Stories work! We use stories to make sense of the world. We’re hard-wired for stories.”

For more info on this year’s Media Rise, including “pitch-night winners” and youth programming, I hope you’ll check out mediarisenow.org. The website says it all: This is an initiative that “celebrates the power of storytelling, art and design to make the world a better place.”

The world took little notice when, in the early 1990s, the peaceful Kingdom of Bhutan expelled some 100,000 ethnic Nepalis known as Lhotsampas, or “people from the south.” The Lhotsampas languished in refugee camps in Nepal until 2008 when the UN set the wheels in motion for one of the most ambitious refugee resettlement programs ever undertaken.
The U.S. has agreed to accept the largest number—about 75,000—and many of the new arrivals have ended up in the Pittsburgh area. Pulitzer Center grantees Julia Rendleman and Moriah Balingit, both staffers on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, tell the remarkable story of a journey that stretches from the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania to the foothills of the Himalayas.
Julia, a photojournalist and former Pulitzer Center student fellow, captures revealing moments in the lives of these refugees while Moriah tells the stories of those left behind in the squalid camps and of the others trying to find their way in America. 

The world took little notice when, in the early 1990s, the peaceful Kingdom of Bhutan expelled some 100,000 ethnic Nepalis known as Lhotsampas, or “people from the south.” The Lhotsampas languished in refugee camps in Nepal until 2008 when the UN set the wheels in motion for one of the most ambitious refugee resettlement programs ever undertaken.

The U.S. has agreed to accept the largest number—about 75,000—and many of the new arrivals have ended up in the Pittsburgh area. Pulitzer Center grantees Julia Rendleman and Moriah Balingit, both staffers on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, tell the remarkable story of a journey that stretches from the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania to the foothills of the Himalayas.

Julia, a photojournalist and former Pulitzer Center student fellow, captures revealing moments in the lives of these refugees while Moriah tells the stories of those left behind in the squalid camps and of the others trying to find their way in America. 

Sep 29

OUR ANCESTORS, OUR FUTURE
We are older than you might think. Pulitzer Center grantee Amy Maxmen reports from Ethiopia where a new generation of archeologists is pushing back the clock on the first use of tools by hundreds of thousands of years, based on fossil evidence found in the Great Rift Valley.
“Stone tools imply that our ancestors’ minds were developing,” says Amy, who is also gazing into the future, examining how humankind’s cleverness with tools and technology could lead us to the same fate as our earliest ancestors.
“As I traveled through Ethiopia with scientists and local guides, dodging thick sheets of rain in Addis Abada, driving past Chinese manufacturing plants outside the city, and into the Afar, where I was parched, hot, and hungry, I realized just how fragile the scattered remains of our past are,” writes Amy in this ground-breaking piece for Nautilus.
These ancient artifacts “are constantly under threat by development (as African countries mine and modernize), conflict (as political situations shift), and global warming (as floods and droughts increase in severity). Ironically, our exceptional tool-making skills now threaten to lead us toward eventual demise.”

TROUBLE BENEATH THE SURFACE
Last week marked the second anniversary of the end of South Africa’s six-week long Marikana miners’ strike. More than 30 miners were massacred by police at the start of the strike and, as Pulitzer Center grantee Jack Shenker writes in Foreign Policy, the episode “brought South Africa’s post-apartheid fault lines to the surface and shocked a nation.”
South Africa’s wealth lies beneath the surface, and for more than a century and half, the business of extracting this wealth has shaped the country’s political and economic fortunes. Jack and photojournalist Jason Larkin have been taking a deep look at the lasting impact of the mining industry’s exploitation of labor.
“Under apartheid, the African National Congress (ANC) declared that the wealth below South Africa’s soil belonged to the people and vowed to eject white monopoly capital from the mines,” Jack writes.
“Once in power though, the party’s rhetoric shifted dramatically. Although many well-connected black South Africans have joined the boards of major mining corporations, the traditional structure of the industry has remained intact and become part of what some critics say is a “co-dependent comfort zone” of power and wealth in the new South Africa, melding together certain business, political, police, and trade union interests in support of a lucrative—for some—status quo.”

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE
All of us here at the Pulitzer Center were relieved and gratified to learn of the safe release last week of grantee Michael Scott Moore, who had been held hostage by kidnappers in Somalia for more than 32 months.
Michael was working on a story about piracy in Somalia when he was taken captive in January 2012 near the Galkacyo airport. The kidnappers are believed to have been his own security guards who then sold him to a pirate gang. Michael has written for Der Spiegel in Germany and several U.S. publications and is the author of Sweetness and Blood, a book about how surfing spread from Hawaii and California to the rest of the world. A native of Southern California, he now lives in Berlin and holds dual American and German citizenship.
Michael’s mother Marlis Saunders tells us Michael is in good condition and delighted to be on his way back home.
We wish him and his family and friends a speedy recovery from this long ordeal. We also thank all of those who labored long and hard and quietly to secure his release.

OUR ANCESTORS, OUR FUTURE

We are older than you might think. Pulitzer Center grantee Amy Maxmen reports from Ethiopia where a new generation of archeologists is pushing back the clock on the first use of tools by hundreds of thousands of years, based on fossil evidence found in the Great Rift Valley.

“Stone tools imply that our ancestors’ minds were developing,” says Amy, who is also gazing into the future, examining how humankind’s cleverness with tools and technology could lead us to the same fate as our earliest ancestors.

“As I traveled through Ethiopia with scientists and local guides, dodging thick sheets of rain in Addis Abada, driving past Chinese manufacturing plants outside the city, and into the Afar, where I was parched, hot, and hungry, I realized just how fragile the scattered remains of our past are,” writes Amy in this ground-breaking piece for Nautilus.

These ancient artifacts “are constantly under threat by development (as African countries mine and modernize), conflict (as political situations shift), and global warming (as floods and droughts increase in severity). Ironically, our exceptional tool-making skills now threaten to lead us toward eventual demise.”

TROUBLE BENEATH THE SURFACE

Last week marked the second anniversary of the end of South Africa’s six-week long Marikana miners’ strike. More than 30 miners were massacred by police at the start of the strike and, as Pulitzer Center grantee Jack Shenker writes in Foreign Policy, the episode “brought South Africa’s post-apartheid fault lines to the surface and shocked a nation.”

South Africa’s wealth lies beneath the surface, and for more than a century and half, the business of extracting this wealth has shaped the country’s political and economic fortunes. Jack and photojournalist Jason Larkin have been taking a deep look at the lasting impact of the mining industry’s exploitation of labor.

“Under apartheid, the African National Congress (ANC) declared that the wealth below South Africa’s soil belonged to the people and vowed to eject white monopoly capital from the mines,” Jack writes.

“Once in power though, the party’s rhetoric shifted dramatically. Although many well-connected black South Africans have joined the boards of major mining corporations, the traditional structure of the industry has remained intact and become part of what some critics say is a “co-dependent comfort zone” of power and wealth in the new South Africa, melding together certain business, political, police, and trade union interests in support of a lucrative—for some—status quo.”

MICHAEL SCOTT MOORE

All of us here at the Pulitzer Center were relieved and gratified to learn of the safe release last week of grantee Michael Scott Moore, who had been held hostage by kidnappers in Somalia for more than 32 months.

Michael was working on a story about piracy in Somalia when he was taken captive in January 2012 near the Galkacyo airport. The kidnappers are believed to have been his own security guards who then sold him to a pirate gang. Michael has written for Der Spiegel in Germany and several U.S. publications and is the author of Sweetness and Blood, a book about how surfing spread from Hawaii and California to the rest of the world. A native of Southern California, he now lives in Berlin and holds dual American and German citizenship.

Michael’s mother Marlis Saunders tells us Michael is in good condition and delighted to be on his way back home.

We wish him and his family and friends a speedy recovery from this long ordeal. We also thank all of those who labored long and hard and quietly to secure his release.

image

The scale of this ecological disaster is daunting, and the potential scale and cost of any remediation or cleanup effort is mind-boggling. According to a geochemical survey conducted by the Ministry of Land and Resources between 2002 and 2008, 794 square miles in the area are polluted by heavy metals, an area that stretches from Zhuzhou, on the Xiang River, to Chengjingji. The report revealed that the area’s rice and vegetables—as well as reeds and mussels in its waterways—all contained elevated levels, mostly of cadmium.

Liu Shu—who is chair of the Shuguang Environmental Protection Organization, an NGO founded in 2013 in Changsha that works on soil pollution—has investigated soil pollution in Zhuzhou, Changsha, and Xiangtan. Her group found cadmium levels 49.5 times the limit in soil samples taken from the vicinity of a smelting plant in the municipality of Changning. At another site, an industrial park by the Xiang River in Henghan County, the group found levels 331 times the limit.

Read more from Pulitzer Center grantee He Guangwei’s project: Soil Pollution in China.

Sep 28

image

This was my first time witnessing India’s mid-day meal program in action. I was touched by the sight. There’s something about the sight of emaciated children eating hot, freshly cooked food that they wouldn’t otherwise get that doesn’t allow you to be the detached, distant observer that we journalists often are.

But it wasn’t until I ventured deeper into the state of Haryana, into one of its hunger-stricken areas, that I really understood the program’s impact on children. As I describe in this story, in a village in the district of Bhiwani, most children go to school having eaten just a left-over piece of bread and tea, or baasi roti aur chai, as mothers in the village would put it. Most families can’t afford vegetables or lentils or eggs.

As a journalist writing about health and development, I knew how widespread hunger and malnutrition still are in my country. But I’d never witnessed what that looks like for real people until I started reporting this series. And it was this project that helped me understand how a relatively simple idea of one freshly cooked meal a day benefits India’s millions of poor children.

Read more from Rhitu Chatterjee’s project, A Free Meal: India’s School Lunch Program.

image

On July 16, 2013, the death by pesticide of 23 Indian schoolchildren exposed the tragic shortcomings of India’s program of free school lunches. No one disputes that the program itself is essential.

The food was contaminated by pesticides, a case of negligence on the part of the school principal, who was tasked with overseeing the lunch program. The principal and her husband were later charged with murder.

The case horrified the country. And it put a spotlight on India’s mid-day meal program, perhaps the largest free lunch program in the world. First launched in 1995, it now feeds 120 million school children across India. But it’s been criticized for corruption, inefficiency and a lack of monitoring and enforcement of standards.

The program came with lofty goals: feed hungry children and boost school enrollment. So I set off to find out if it has been successful.

Read Rhitu Chatterjee’s articles about India’s school lunch program and its impact, especially on women and children here

Sep 27

image

“Kids are living in danger from gangs and the gangs extort people for money because the economy is crap and there is so much corruption,” Pulitzer Center grantee Carlos Javier Ortiz said in an interview with MSNBC that includes haunting black and white photographs from his Guatemala project El Sueño, “It’s all a chain reaction.”

Current coverage of the surge of children crossing the U.S.-Mexican border suggests that this mass immigration is occurring out of the blue. Carlos shows that what is happening now is in fact the predictable result of U.S. demand for drugs, the export of gang violence to Central America, and too many children caught in the middle.

image

The scale of this ecological disaster is daunting, and the potential scale and cost of any remediation or cleanup effort is mind-boggling. According to a geochemical survey conducted by the Ministry of Land and Resources between 2002 and 2008, 794 square miles in the area are polluted by heavy metals, an area that stretches from Zhuzhou, on the Xiang River, to Chengjingji. The report revealed that the area’s rice and vegetables—as well as reeds and mussels in its waterways—all contained elevated levels, mostly of cadmium.

Liu Shu—who is chair of the Shuguang Environmental Protection Organization, an NGO founded in 2013 in Changsha that works on soil pollution—has investigated soil pollution in Zhuzhou, Changsha, and Xiangtan. Her group found cadmium levels 49.5 times the limit in soil samples taken from the vicinity of a smelting plant in the municipality of Changning. At another site, an industrial park by the Xiang River in Henghan County, the group found levels 331 times the limit.

Read more from Pulitzer Center grantee He Guangwei’s project: Soil Pollution in China.

Sep 26

image

After a couple of years of relative quiet, Thailand’s political turmoil resumed again a few months ago when the Red Shirts’ mortal foes, the Yellow Shirts, mounted protests that effectively prevented the government from functioning, and this time the army took over in a coup d’état. The resilience of groups like the motorcycle taxi drivers, however, is likely to make it difficult, and perhaps impossible, for the new junta to maintain undisputed control—or to turn the government over to any civilian party that the drivers and others like them view as deadly rivals.

Motorcycle taxis are a large and, more important, representative constituency. If you want to get someplace quickly in traffic-choked Bangkok, your best bet is to take a two-wheeled motorcycle taxi, even if it doesn’t feel entirely safe to weave through traffic the way they do, squeezing in the tight spaces between slowly moving cars. There are some 200,000 motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok, most of them licensed, some of them not, recognizable by the orange vests they wear as they infiltrate the traffic, or wait for customers under corrugated metal awnings. They make 4 to 6 million trips a day, which means that the motorcycle taxis carry ten times as many passengers as Bangkok’s smooth-as-silk rapid transit system.

These drivers are, in other words, indispensable for local transportation.

Read more from Pulitzer Center grantee Richard Bernstein’s project, Thailand: Is Democracy Doomed? http://bit.ly/thailandmotorcycle

After a couple of years of relative quiet, Thailand’s political turmoil resumed again a few months ago when the Red Shirts’ mortal foes, the Yellow Shirts, mounted protests that effectively prevented the government from functioning, and this time the army took over in a coup d’état. The resilience of groups like the motorcycle taxi drivers, however, is likely to make it difficult, and perhaps impossible, for the new junta to maintain undisputed control—or to turn the government over to any civilian party that the drivers and others like them view as deadly rivals.

Motorcycle taxis are a large and, more important, representative constituency. If you want to get someplace quickly in traffic-choked Bangkok, your best bet is to take a two-wheeled motorcycle taxi, even if it doesn’t feel entirely safe to weave through traffic the way they do, squeezing in the tight spaces between slowly moving cars. There are some 200,000 motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok, most of them licensed, some of them not, recognizable by the orange vests they wear as they infiltrate the traffic, or wait for customers under corrugated metal awnings. They make 4 to 6 million trips a day, which means that the motorcycle taxis carry ten times as many passengers as Bangkok’s smooth-as-silk rapid transit system.

These drivers are, in other words, indispensable for local transportation.

Read more from Pulitzer Center grantee Richard Bernstein’s project, Thailand: Is Democracy Doomed? http://bit.ly/thailandmotorcycle