The Michael Kelly Award

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Loretta Tofani had been a foreign correspondent in China in the 1990s, but it was not until she left journalism and started an import business that she got a first-hand look at the working conditions in Chinese factories making products headed for the United States. She saw workers using carcinogens without masks or ventilation equipment and workers losing limbs in old machinery lacking safety guards. Tofani closed her business and began reporting the story. She sent inquiries to several newspapers, but they all turned her down. Undaunted, she kept reporting, traveling to China five times to interview workers, obtain medical records, and dodge state security officials trying to harass her. In the end, she found a home for her work in The Salt Lake Tribune. Her four-part series is a tribute to her persistence, resourcefulness, and moral courage.

C.J. Chivers arrived in Beslan soon after its elementary school had been attacked by Chechen terrorists in August 2004. Over the next 18 months, he returned again and again, on weekends, on vacation, determined to tell the definitive story of how 362 people, many of them children, ended up dying there. He interviewed some survivors in sessions lasting as long as 10 hours. His goal, he said, was to create the first “wide-lit narrative of the event.” In reporting the story, Chivers acknowledged later, he was “essentially obsessed.” The result of his obsession was a gripping 18,000-word, hour-by-hour account that both contradicts the official story of the Beslan hostage crisis and illuminates man’s capacity for good and evil. Or, as Esquire put it, “an extraordinary accounting of the experience of terror in the age of terrorism.”

In covering southern Africa for The New York Times, Sharon LaFraniere has made the challenges facing the region’s women her specialty. She has written about widows forced to have sex with their in-laws as a way of spiritual “cleansing,” women who have been incontinent for years because of birthing injuries, even though a $300 operation could repair the damage, and teenage girls who drop out of school because there are no toilets to use when they have their periods. Her reporting provides a window into African culture that is both unflinching and respectful, dispassionate and intimate. As LaFraniere’s articles demonstrate, the “fearless pursuit and expression of truth” can manifest itself not only in reporting from a war zone or disaster area, but also in covering the most mundane circumstances of everyday life–the village without a doctor, the school without a toilet, and the widow without a choice.

Nicholas D. Kristof has one of the most prestigious perches in American journalism: a column on the op-ed pages of The New York Times. In 2004, Kristof chose to use that perch to summon the world’s attention to human suffering in the Sudan and Southeast Asia. Traveling to isolated regions, he spoke up for victims who lacked the voice to speak for themselves. He linked the word “genocide” to the ongoing persecution of black Africans in the Sudanese region of Darfur, and focused attention on the continued sexual exploitation of young women in the brothels of Cambodia. With conviction, passion, and audacity, Kristof tugged at the world’s conscience, in the best tradition of Michael Kelly.

In his remarkable reporting from Iraq, Anthony Shadid gave voice to the experiences and views of ordinary Iraqis affected by the war and its aftermath. His coverage, which included 24 front-page stories in the 21 days between the start of the war and the fall of Baghdad, provided readers with a window into the war unavailable elsewhere. As such, Shadid’s dispatches were very much in the spirit of Michael Kelly’s distinctive journalism during the Persian Gulf War a dozen years earlier. Shadid’s coverage also foreshadowed the problems the United States would encounter in its occupation of Iraq. Early on, he described the ambivalence many Iraqis felt towards the United States and he was one of the first journalists to highlight Muqtada Sadr, the young Shiite cleric who would become a leader of Iraqi insurgents. In displaying both physical and intellectual courage in his reporting from Iraq, Shadid embodied the fearless expression and pursuit of truth and was the unanimous choice as the first winner the Michael Kelly Award.

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