2021-06-24 05:25:38 BuzzFeed News Wins For China Detention Investigation
BuzzFeed News Wins For China Detention Investigation
BuzzFeed News was awarded the Pulitzer Prize on Friday for a series of innovative articles that used satellite images, 3D architectural models, and daring in-person interviews to expose China’s vast infrastructure for detaining hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the Xinjiang region. The Pulitzer Prize is journalism’s highest honor, and this is the digital outlet’s first since its inception in 2012.
In addition, BuzzFeed News and the International Consortium of Journalists’ FinCEN Files series, the largest-ever investigative reporting project that exposed corruption in the global banking industry, was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Just last week, a former US Treasury official was sentenced to prison for leaking thousands of secret government documents that served as the foundation of the scandal.
The Xinjiang series won in the International Reporting category and was a finalist in the Explanatory Reporting category, while the FinCEN Files were finalists in the International Reporting category. BuzzFeed News has previously been a Pulitzer finalist.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of George Floyd’s death by police and its aftermath. Darnella Frazier, the teen who shot the viral video of Floyd’s death, was honored with a special citation from the Pulitzer Prizes. The Boston Globe was honored for its investigative reporting, which revealed systemic failures by state governments to share information about dangerous truck drivers. The Atlantic’s Ed Yong won the Explanatory Reporting award for his coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. He shared the award with a group of Reuters reporters for their investigation into how “qualified immunity” protects police officers who use excessive force from prosecution.
The Tampa Bay Times won the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting for exposing a sheriff’s secretive intelligence operation to profile schoolchildren, while the staffs of The Marshall Project, Alabama Media Group, The Indianapolis Star, and the Invisible Institute won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for their yearlong investigation of K-9 units and the harm that police dogs inflict on Americans. The New York Times was awarded the Public Service Reporting Pulitzer for its “courageous, prescient, and sweeping coverage of the coronavirus pandemic that exposed racial and economic inequities, as well as government failures in the United States and beyond.”
BuzzFeed News reporter Megha Rajagopalan was the first to visit an internment camp in 2017, not long after China began detaining thousands of Muslims in Xinjiang — at a time when China denied the existence of such facilities.
In response, the government attempted to silence her by revoking her visa and expelling her from the country, according to BuzzFeed News’ entry for the prize. “It would then cut off most Westerners’ access to the entire region and stymie journalists. The flow of basic information about detainees has slowed to a trickle.”
Working from London and refusing to be silenced, Rajagopalan collaborated with two contributors: Alison Killing, a licensed architect who specializes in forensic architecture analysis and satellite images of buildings, and Christo Buschek, a programmer who creates tools for data journalists.
“The blazing Xinjiang stories shed desperately needed light on one of the worst human rights violations of our time,” said BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Mark Schoofs. “I am immensely proud of Megha — who was expelled from China but still found ways to cover this critical story — as well as Alison and Christo for their brave and harrowing investigation, which is a model of innovative forensic analysis and creative reporting.”
Rajagopalan told BuzzFeed News minutes after winning that she wasn’t even watching the ceremony live because she wasn’t expecting to win. She didn’t find out until Schoofs called to congratulate her on her victory.
“I am completely taken aback; I did not expect this,” Rajagopalan said by phone from London.
She expressed her gratitude to the teams of people who collaborated with her on this, including her collaborators Killing and Buschek, her editor Alex Campbell, BuzzFeed News’ public relations team, and the organizations that funded their work, including the Pulitzer Center.
Rajagopalan also praised the sources who spoke to them despite the risk and threat of retaliation against them and their families.
“I’m so grateful they stood up and agreed to speak with us,” she said. “It takes incredible courage to do that.”
They set out to analyze thousands of satellite images of the Xinjiang region, an area larger than Alaska, to try to answer a simple question: Where were Chinese officials detaining up to one million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities?
The trio spent months comparing censored Chinese images to uncensored mapping software. They started with a massive dataset of 50,000 locations. Buschek created his own tool to sort through the images. The team then had to “go through thousands of images one by one, verifying many of the sites against other available evidence,” according to BuzzFeed News’ prize entry.
They eventually discovered over 260 structures that appeared to be fortified detention camps. Some of the sites could house more than 10,000 people, and many of them housed factories where prisoners were forced to work.
The ground-breaking technological reporting was supplemented by extensive old-fashioned “shoe leather” journalism.
Rajagopalan was barred from entering China and instead traveled to Kazakhstan, a country known for its own authoritarian tendencies, where many Chinese Muslims have sought refuge. There, Rajagopalan met more than two dozen people who had been detained in the Xinjiang camps, winning their trust and persuading them to share their harrowing stories with the rest of the world.
One article took readers inside one of the camps, which were described in unprecedented, vivid detail from survivors’ accounts and then rendered into a 3D model thanks to Killing’s architectural skills.
“Throughout her reporting, Rajagopalan faced harassment from the Chinese government, which went beyond forcing her to pack up her apartment in Beijing on short notice,” according to the prize entry. “The Chinese government posted her personal information, including a government identification number, on Twitter at one point,” according to the report.
Finally, the four stories painted a damning and detailed portrait of China’s heinous detention and treatment of its Muslim citizens, which major Western nations have labeled genocide and a crime against humanity.
BuzzFeed News received its second award for the FinCEN Files, which was named a finalist in the International Reporting category.
For 16 months, more than 100 news organizations from 88 countries collaborated on a series of stories in what was billed as the largest reporting project in history.
It all started in 2017, when BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold was given access to a massive cache of secret US government documents by a source. More than 2,100 suspicious activity reports, or SARs, were included in the documents, which are top-secret documents filed by banks to alert the government of potentially criminal activity. Only a few have ever been seen by the general public.
BuzzFeed News and collaborating newsrooms combed through the documents with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the narrative sections of which were 3 million words long — 14 times the length of the novel Moby-Dick. Then they double-checked everything three times. It took more than a year to complete the process.
Moreover, reporters conducted hundreds of interviews around the world, obtained reams of internal bank data and thousands of pages of public records, and filed dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests as well as several public records lawsuits.
The investigation revealed, among other things, how five global banking behemoths — JPMorgan, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank, and Bank of New York Mellon — profited from fees derived from shady transactions involving drug smugglers and terrorists.
The global outpouring of emotion in response to the stories exposing the torrent of dirty money was profound. The FinCEN Files are credited with providing the final push for the successful passage of comprehensive anti–money laundering legislation in the United States. Lawmakers from the United Kingdom to the European Union, Thailand, and Liberia have all launched their own investigations.
“The FinCEN Files,” according to Schoofs, “took financial reporting to new heights.” Jason obtained an unprecedented cache of secret government documents from a fearless source, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, who was recently sentenced to prison for her assistance. Beginning with those invaluable documents, a massive global reporting effort exposed how major banks profited from dirty money flowing through their accounts, while the US government watched but rarely intervened.”
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a former Treasury Department official, was sentenced to six months in prison last week for leaking highly confidential banking documents to Leopold. Edwards, a former senior adviser at the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), was not charged with leaking the documents that served as the foundation for the FinCEN Files series, but she admitted to doing so after her sentencing.
Editor-in-Chief of BuzzFeed News
Chief Mark Schoofs, who won a Pulitzer for international reporting in 2000, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times on Thursday, urging President Joe Biden to pardon Edwards in recognition of the massive corruption her actions exposed.
Leopold, Anthony Cormier, John Templon, Tom Warren, Jeremy Singer-Vine, Scott Pham, Richard Holmes, Azeen Ghorayshi, Michael Sallah, Tanya Kozyreva, and Emma Loop were among the 11 current and former BuzzFeed News reporters honored by the Pulitzer committee for their work on the FinCEN series.
BuzzFeed News has previously been named a Pulitzer Prize finalist. In 2018, the outlet was a finalist in international reporting for a series of stories linking more than a dozen deaths in the United States and the United Kingdom to a Kremlin-directed assassination program. A year ago, BuzzFeed News was named a finalist in the same category for an investigation that revealed how major corporations use a powerful dispute-resolution process to bend countries to their will.