L.A. Times Leads 68th Annual OPC Awards

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The Los Angeles Times took four awards at the 68th annual Overseas Press Club Awards, leading the pack in a year that saw multiple awards go also to The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. As in the last few years, reporting on the war in Iraq received several awards. The judges also recognized stories on subjects including Sri Lanka's civil war, terror in Peru and Google in China.

The Los Angeles Times took four awards at the 68th annual Overseas Press Club Awards, leading the pack in a year that saw multiple awards go also to The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. As in the last few years, reporting on the war in Iraq received several awards. The judges also recognized stories on subjects including Sri Lanka's civil war, terror in Peru and Google in China.

The dinner, held April 26 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York, was as always a celebration of outstanding foreign reporting. It was also leavened by an awareness of several issues facing the profession, including the ongoing disappearance of overseas bureaus, the willingness of U.S. courts to subpoena and jail journalists, and the high death count of journalists working around the world. Several award winners spoke of the need for news organizations to think about doing something to help the many Iraqi translators and fixers who will be left behind when the U.S. withdraws from Iraq.

Marshall Loeb introduced Kimberly Dozier of CBS News who lit the traditional candle in honor of journalists killed last year in the line of duty, but this year the OPC also included journalists injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. "The names of the correspondents and photographers of major news organizations are usually reported, but the stringers, guides and translators to whom the reporter is indebted, are often missing," Loeb said. "We have tried to provide those missing links."

Dozier was injured on May 29, 2006 in a car bomb attack in Iraq that killed Paul Douglas and James Brolan, her cameraman and soundman. As Dozier lit the candle, a list of journalists scrolled behind her on large screens. It included the names of 261 killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 49 injured. As they scrolled across the screens, it became clear that a majority of the names were Iraqi.

Presenter Katie Couric, anchor of the CBS Evening News, handed out several awards for Iraq coverage, including the first of the evening, the Hal Boyle Award, which went to The Los Angeles Times for its ewspaper coverage of the war.

Photographer Farah Nosh won the Feature Photography Award for her images, which appeared in Time, of Iraqis in quiet moments.

The CBS News team of correspondent Lara Logan received the David Kaplan Award for reporting it did in Ramadi.

Filmmakers Jon Alpert and Mathew O'Neil won the Carl Spielvogel Award for their documentary Baghdad ER, which appeared on HBO.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran won the Cornelius Ryan Award for his book, "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone."

The New Yorker
's George Packer won the Ed Cunningham Award for his reporting on a failed U.S. counter-insurgency effort.

While accepting the award, Packer said that news organizations should be thinking of the translators and fixers they have used over the last several years.

"They are every bit as much at risk as those who have worked with the U.S. government and military," Packer said. "We need to think about what we owe them, even if it comes at some cost to ourselves."

Two awards were given for reporting on Africa's AIDS crisis. Kristen Ashburn won the John Faber Award for her photos, which appeared in The Los Angeles Times, of people battling the disease. Joe Richman, of Radio Diaries and NPR, won the Lowell Thomas Award for "Thembi's AIDS Diary," the personal diaries of a young South African girl with AIDS.

Some winners got far off the beaten path. A reporting team from Skylight Pictures won the Robert Spiers Benjamin Award for "State of Fear," a documentary on Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the effect of terrorism on that country. Paul Salopnek of The Chicago Tribune took home the Bob Considine Award for "A Tank of Gas, A World of Trouble," his story that tracked one tank of fuel from a Chicago gas station back to its origins in war-torn Africa.

Two awards went for reporting on China. Evan Osnos of the Chicago Tribune won the Whitman Bassow Award for his look at environmental devastation in that country. Clive Thompson received the Morton Frank Award for his New York Times Magazine story on Google's operations in China.

The last award of the evening was the Artyom Borovik Award, given each year to a Russian journalist. Before Novaya Gazeta reporter Vyacheslav Izmailov took the stage to receive the award, a video of the award's inaugural winner, Anna Politkovskaya, played on the room's giant screens. It showed Politkovskaya, who was Izmailov's colleague at Novaya Gazeta, giving her acceptance speech in 2001. She spoke about the need for journalists to delve deeply into Russia's war in Chechnya. Politkovskaya was murdered in her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006.

Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times, gave the evening's closing speech. He noted that the changing climate in journalism includes not only lay-offs and shrinking profits, but the government's willingness to interfere with the work of reporters. He said that in the last year he has received three subpoenas seeking to have him testify in court about the identity of confidential sources.

Kristof said the profession needs to fight such intrusion, but also that journalists need to do better. One reason journalism is now held in such low esteem, he said, is that journalists failed to dig into the government's case hard enough in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. One way to get public support for a Federal shield law to protect sources, he said, is "to serve the public good instead of the bottom line."

Kristof also spoke about a recent trip to Pakistan in which the residents of a rural village crowded-in to tell him their stories of government suppression. Despite the danger that speaking posed to themselves, they wanted to have their voices heard, Kristof said. When he drove off, they shouted, "Long Live American Journalism!" Kristof said it was the first time he's heard that chant.

"In journalism, there's some ability to do good," he said. "We hold an incredibly powerful spotlight that can make a huge difference."

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