By Stephanie LI Yingliang
17:00, Oct.26, Hong Kong
Seven Pulitzer-winning reporters discussed a broad range of issues in journalism with future journalists during a public forum of the 7th Pulitzer Prize Winners Workshop yesterday. The topics included social responsibility, personal safety, sourcing and emotional impacts from the stories they had covered.
Held at the Hong Kong Baptist University, the forum was titled “Bearing Witness: The Reporting of Human Triumphs and Failings,” and provided a closer look at how these reporters reacted personally to what they had witnessed and ultimately made a difference by telling the story in a professional way.
As prestigious as the Pulitzer Prize is to most professionals, not every successful journalist started their career with a privileged background, or even be able to receive an education in journalism school. “It is illegal in my country to go to a journalism school under dictatorship,” said Ester Htusan, a 28 year-old Burmese Pulitzer Prize winner in public service in 2016 for the investigation into labor abuses in southeast Asia’s fishing industry.
Working on a team of four female reporters, Htusan and her colleague Robin McDowell from The Associated Press, who had spent almost two decades covering news in southeastern Asia, exposed the abuse on a remote Indonesian island. Their reporting of modern day slavery, including men being kidnapped and put into a cage, resulted in the freeing of over 2,000 enslaved laborers and reforms in the fishing industry.
“Sometimes it’s easy to get caught in the social media and short form journalism,” said McDowell, and it led to a discussion about moral responsibility of journalists in an era where the noise from social media could cloud reporters’ judgements and mislead the audience.
Kristen Graham, a veteran education reporter in breaking news from The Philadelphia Inquirer said the explosion of multiple media platforms was “a good thing” in terms of free expression. Graham is an expert in social media, with more than 10,000 Twitter followers who have been on many occasions her sources of information.
However, she emphasized the importance of the role of journalists since the job implied certain privilege that would greatly affect the public. “For better or worse, we are regarded as experts,” she added.
Graham and her coworker Susan Snyder won the award in public service in 2012. Their seven-part series about violence in the Philadelphia School District, “Assault on Learning,” raised national-wide awareness of the treacherous conditions within local public schools and later stirred reforms to improve safety for teachers and students.
William Snyder, a four-time Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, had a different take on social media. “I am not a big believer in citizen journalism,” he said, “I believe in professionalism.” Snyder was seen carrying his digital single lens camera and taking selfies with his cellphone.
Later in an interview, Snyder reiterated that posting pictures on social media websites should be different from being a photojournalist because someone without professional trainings does not know how to tell a story with pictures. Snyder is a professor of the Photojournalism Program at Rochester Institute of Technology.
The attendants in the opening ceremony and the forum encompassed investigation reporters, photojournalists, and senior editors from some of the most esteemed news organizations in America.