Game Changers Guest Post: Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

NOTE: We asked each of our 2009 Game Changers Awards finalists to write about their projects, what they’ve learned along the way and what’s next. This essay written by Jon Sawyer, Executive Director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

The Pulitzer Center funds enterprise international reporting, something that most traditional media outlets say they can no longer afford, and then takes that reporting to the broadest possible audience – through the mass media, through aggressive after-marketing and educational outreach, and through its embrace of web technology. The Center is an incubator of innovation, using journalism projects themselves as the means of identifying the most promising new approaches and platforms.

The Center will be just three years old this January and yet already it has produced some 75 projects in some 40 countries – stories that would otherwise have gone untold, from internal conflicts of India to the environmental impact of oil exploitation in the Amazon. We’ve placed these projects in nearly every major American media outlet, from The Washington Post and The New York Times to NPR, public television and dozens of regional newspapers and national magazines.

The 14-month project we funded on unsafe factory conditions in China swept nearly every prize for investigative reporting. Our multimedia HOPE project on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica combined poetry, video, music and photography, all presented on an interactive web platform. The web portal for our Water Wars project became the basis for an educational initiative that touched students from Seattle and St. Louis to Nairobi; it also served as the framework for a special edition of the public-television program Foreign Exchange.

We quickly made video an integral part of our work, thanks mainly to colleagues at Foreign Exchange, and now we are producing nearly 20 short video documentaries a year. The video work led to our partnership with YouTube on Project:Report, a big idea aimed at finding the balance between traditional journalism and citizen-powered reporting (and one that has generated close to 2 million views on YouTube!).

Each reporting project became a real-time experiment, an opportunity to push the envelope on placement, web presentation, after-marketing and educational outreach. We benefited immensely from our collaborators – journalists, educators, innovative media outlets and powerful web platforms.

What’s next? A consortium of universities committed to working with us to bring journalists and untold global stories on campus, we hope, and also a weekly feature making the work of our journalists available on podcasts. We also intend to build on the mapping and interactive features of our Water Wars portal, making it the template for future Pulitzer reporting projects.

When I created the Center my initial expectation was that it would primarily serve print journalists with a passion for global reporting. I had done this sort of work for many years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and hoped the Pulitzer Center could encourage more of the same. That it has evolved so rapidly into a far bolder, more ambitious initiative is testament to the power of collaborative learning. I have been astounded by the power of working, and learning, in groups – with my inspiring colleagues here at the Center and with so many others who share our commitment to journalism as an essential tool in sustaining participatory democracy.

You may also like