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Freelance War Reporter, Local Polish Journalists Win First Annual Kurt Schork Award Highlighting Overseas Reporting

Two years ago, American freelance journalist Kurt Schork was killed in a military ambush while on assignment for Reuters in Sierra Leone. Today, four journalists have received the first international journalism award issued in Kurt Schork's name. The prize winners include a freelance war reporter on the front lines in Macedonia and Afghanistan, and three local Polish investigative reporters who exposed the sale of corpses in the city of Lodz.

The Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism are presented by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. An international panel of judges awards the prizes to freelance and local journalists for exceptional reporting that sheds new light on controversial issues, including conflicts, human-rights concerns or cross-border issues in a particular country or region.

New York Times freelance journalist Carlotta Gall has won the freelance journalist prize, and Polish journalists Tomasz Patora, Marcin Stelmasiak and Przemyslaw Witkowski of the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper will share the local reporter prize.

"The Graduate School of Journalism is honored to present the inaugural Kurt Schork Awards to these outstanding journalists," said David Klatell, acting dean of the Graduate School of Journalism. "Their work, done in the face of many difficult obstacles, exemplifies the spirit of enterprise and commitment to public service that characterized Mr. Schork's career. We hope that these honorees will continue to produce first-rate, illuminating journalism, and that others throughout the world will be inspired to follow their example and the path blazed by Kurt Schork."

"Considering that this is a new award, we received an overwhelming response, with 138 entries from 57 countries, or 69 in each category," said Irena Choi Stern, administrator of the awards.

Information about the winners and jurors' comments follow:

Carlotta Gall

Carlotta Gall, in explaining the wars and different cultures she has encountered around the world as a freelance journalist for The New York Times, has proven herself unafraid to expose mistakes, whether committed by the Pentagon or by Afghan warlords known for taking swift reprisals, always bold and yet fair and meticulous when describing the injustices on the different sides of the fronts of war. She stands as a great example of what can be achieved by combining boldness with an unerring common sense, and her courage has served readers across the world.

Gall, 40, a native of England, got her start in journalism in the 1990s for The Moscow Times where she gained notice for her detailed coverage of the first Chechen war, which she chronicled in a book co-authored with Thomas de Waal, "Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus," first published in Britain in 1996 and widely praised as the definitive account of that conflict. A fluent Russian speaker with knowledge of the Dari spoken in Afghanistan, Gall went on to report for The Financial Times and The Economist from Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus before joining The New York Times in January 1999, chronicling the events leading up to the outbreak of war in Kosovo, covering the Albanian rebels from inside Kosovo and Macedonia during the war, and then taking up residence in Belgrade to report on events throughout the Balkans.

Tomasz Patora

In the past year alone, Gall has been on the front lines in Macedonia and southern Serbia, broken the story in the United States of how Serbian security forces who killed Kosovo Albanians hid the bodies in Serbia, and covered the arrest and the handover to The Hague of Slobodan Milosevic, before traveling to Afghanistan last fall, where she remains.

Marcin Stelmasiak

Tomasz Patora, Marcin Stelmasiak and Przemyslaw Witkowski, in an example of powerful, collaborative journalism, produced the investigative piece, "Lowcy skor" for Gazeta Wyborcza, one of Poland's largest newspapers, exposing the sale of dead patient corpses to Polish undertakers by the Lodz Public Emergency Station. Based on a thorough nine-month investigation, the team defied risks, displaying courage and determined reporting to produce the kind of journalism that changes minds in models of transparent, accountable journalism.

Przemyslaw Witkowski

A reporter for Gazeta Wyborcza since 1991, Patora, 29, heads the City Desk of the Lodz issue and focuses on criminal and investigative pieces, often collaborating with Stelmasiak, 28, who joined the staff in 1994. Together, the two reporters have collaborated on a number of award-winning investigative pieces including "Pan na Funduszu," in which they uncovered the abuse by state officials of funds intended for environmental protection, and a report on the privatization of Polish hospitals which enriched politicians. Prior to joining Gazeta Wyborcza in 2001, Witkowski, 33, worked at Radio Lodz, the local public radio station as a criminal and investigative journalist. He also continues to teach journalism at the University of Lodz.

Seven other entries received Honorable Mentions. Jurors' comments follow:

  • Elizabeth Rubin, freelance journalist, possesses the ability to tell a compelling and moving story while enlightening readers about the larger issues. Her impressive body of work for The New York Times and The New Republic cover a broad range of issues and geography, and are often the result of courageous reporting from the front lines. Rubin distinguishes herself by the depth of her reporting and providing readers with the human side of every story.
  • In his well-executed, classic investigative piece "Big Tobacco: Uncovering the Industry's Multibillion-Dollar Global Smuggling Network," for The Nation, freelance journalist Mark Schapiro thoroughly documents the involvement of the tobacco companies in smuggling cigarettes into Colombia. With its public policy implications and legislative impact, Schapiro's story reveals the hypocrisy of the tobacco companies and the devastating impact on Colombians.
  • Freelance journalist D'Arcy Doran's reporting from Nigeria, the largest sub-Saharan country in Africa, represents the finest in classic wire service reporting -- getting there first and generating top notch stories quickly to inform the rest of the world. Doran chronicles the massacre of hundreds of Nigerians by soldiers whom they believed to be their protectors. By breaking the story, Doran brought international press attention to the massacre, also prompting a government inquiry and a harshly critical report by Human Rights Watch.
  • Local journalist Sydney Masamvu's coverage of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his government's anti-democratic policies and actions during the recent election for The Financial Gazette, an independent weekly newspaper in Zimbabwe, demonstrates courageous, frontline journalism at its best. Risking his personal safety, Masamvu, in his role as the political editor of the weekly, reported his stories in an atmosphere of government crackdown of independent media in Zimbabwe.
  • Jaciara Santos, local journalist, exhibited enterprising, courageous journalism under highly hazardous conditions in "Extermination Groups," her five-part investigative piece for Brazil's Correio da Bahia. Santos uncovered a human rights issue -- the summary, arbitrary or extra-judicial executions practiced by police officers, ex-police officers and private security agents in the city of Salvador -- in an extremely difficult story, writing about critical rule of law issues that affected the lives of the Brazilian people.
  • In an example of solid professional investigative business journalism, Chinese journalist Huawei Ling exposed the fabrication of corporate profits in her cover story, "Trap of Guangxia," for the August 2001 issue of Caijing magazine, forcing Guangxia to suspend trading of its shares and prompting an investigation by the China Securities Regulatory Commission. Following the investigation, trading in Guangxia resumed, falling to 4 RMB from its peak of 33 RMB in August 2001.
  • Displaying courage and determination, Colombian journalist Jose Castano Hoyos went undercover and spent two years investigating the plight of the "Cave Children" for his devastating three-part series for El Colombiano. Through dogged reporting and an unerring eye for detail, Castano Hoyos vividly described nightmare underworld of child prostitution, drug traffic and death in the caves. His expose resulted in government intervention and the rescue of 53 children.

The panel of five judges included: Philip Bennett, assistant managing editor for foreign news, The Washington Post; Phil Revzin, Vice President, International, Dow Jones and Publisher, Far Eastern Economic Review; Viktor Ivancic, executive editor, Feral Tribune (Croatia); Alison Smale, deputy foreign editor, The New York Times, and Steve Strasser, managing editor, Newsweek International.

Underwritten by the Kurt Schork Memorial Fund and Reuters, and administered by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, the prizes honor Kurt Schork, the American freelance journalist who was killed in a military ambush while on assignment for Reuters on May 24, 2000. Though Schork reported from many of the world's hot spots -- northern Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, East Timor, Kosovo and, finally, Sierra Leone -- he was best known for his hard-hitting reports from Bosnia during the siege of Sarajevo. He was also known for his appreciation and respect for the local journalists who worked beside him.

"The entries represented the kind of courageous, independent and professional reporting for which Kurt Schork was known," said Stern. "The judges noted that these stories demonstrate that common elements of courage and enterprise cross geographic boundaries, languages and traditions of journalism and are a heartening reminder that good journalism is practiced all over the world, often at great risk."

The 2002 winners will be honored at an awards ceremony to take place at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism on Tuesday, October 22, two days before United Nations Day.

Published: Aug 14, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002


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