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Journalism you can admire, and honour
There is hope for journalism.
At least that is what I took away from the shining examples of the craft awarded prizes by the Kurt Schork Memorial fund this year.
Since 2002 the Fund has been honouring journalists for accomplished reporting that is all the more to be admired because they have worked as freelancers, without the security of being employed by a large news organisation. The Fund also honours local journalists; their particular bravery lies in working in the knowledge they cannot flee a country’s persecution and harassment, as foreign journalists may, because it is their homeland.
This year’s winners honour the tradition. Their work is awe-inspiring, in the most literal sense. Nir Rosen’s account of his travels with the Taliban in 2008 is audacious and perspicacious. U.S. President Barack Obama could get no more acute analysis of the policy dilemmas he faces over sending more troops to Afghanistan than by reading Nir’s piece.
Manon Querouil’s stories, many published in French Marie Claire, are startling in their range and ambition. Her portrait of the female contract killer from Colombia, now dead, is stunning.
From Pakistan, local journalist Maqbool Ahmed was recognised for his deeply-researched, brave and balanced accounts of the suffering of the civilians of the Swat valley as the military and the Taliban fought for its control.
In the panel discussion that followed the prize-giving what emerged as the thread that united the award-winners was the deep peril they faced in their work. The remarkable Nir Rosen had recently been chased out of Quetta in Pakistan, reputedly the home in exile of the leaders of the Afghan Taliban, with threats that he would face the same fate as Daniel Pearl.
Here is the speech:
“Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, to the 2009 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism.
My name is Sean Maguire, and I am the political editor for Reuters.
It is a great honour to welcome you here -as a friend and colleague of Kurt’s – and as a firm believer in the values of intrepid, thoughtful journalism that Kurt espoused and which these awards honour and encourage.
Kurt spent much of his journalistic career as a freelancer, on contract for Reuters. He was reporting for Reuters in Sierra Leone when he was killed, more than nine years ago.
So I am particularly pleased that we are able to host this year’s awards here in the London headquarters of Thomson Reuters, the parent company of the Reuters news organisation.
Kurt was not one for spending time at HQ, or in giving much deference to HQ and those who worked there, so perhaps it is fitting that it has taken a little while for HQ to be the venue for the awards in his honour.
We are here thanks to the good offices of the ThomsonReuters Foundation, the charitable wing of the company, which does great work in training journalists in the developing world and in promoting the free flow of information in crisis situations.
Many of you here knew Kurt as a friend, as I did, and worked with him. We’ve had some time now to ponder our loss and, as we have continued our professional lives, to contemplate what light continues to be shed on us by his bright flame.
The inquisitiveness, the sense of outrage, the deep disquiet over injustice, inhumanity and the abuse of power are well-known facets of Kurt’s legacy.
And from his body of work a deep, practical lesson can still be taken for those engaged in the craft of journalism – it is of the power of persistence. Stubborn doggedness, uncomfortable endurance and an awkward refusal to be diverted or distracted lay behind many of his best stories.
And that’s what has struck me about the Schork award winners. So many of those honoured have been brave men and women who toiled relentlessly, wringing stories out of the unwilling and the hostile, refusing the temptations of easy headlines available to parachute journalism, staying the course and sticking to their guns.
We see those qualities again in this year’s winners.
And once again the awards focus on the major concerns of our time.
Necessarily, the Kurt Schork awards have tracked the horrors and hostilities of the first decade of the 21st century. From Iraq, of course, to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, but also from human rights issues in modern China to the abuse of power in Ghana and Liberia.
This year the focus is clear. AfPak, the policy wonk euphemism for two interlinked, deadly and profoundly significant conflicts in South Asia, has been the subject of the work that won prizes for two of this year’s winners. And it is also the subject of our debate tonight.
After the prize-giving our panellists will discuss –
Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond: Covering conflict in hostile states.
Before we go on I want to thank the Institute for War and Peace Reporting for its fantastic organisation of these awards.
And also to thank the jury, who make the choices that give the Kurt Schork award its stature and significance:
David Rogers and Nick Moore, formerly of Reuters,
Mark Danner of The New York Review of Books
Aung Zaw of the Southeast Asia publishing group Irrawaddy
Isabel Hilton of China Dialogue
John Burns of The New York Times
I last met John Burns on a bridge in Baghdad in April 2003, on the day when Saddam Hussein fell. He was a picture of professional engagement, studiously pencil noting the chaotic drama of the day. Today in more serene surroundings, thankfully, I’d like to welcome John, who will guide us through the prize giving.”