Journalists working for RFE/RL take big risks to tell important stories. In late January, the company gave special recognition to five of the most compelling reports produced in 2012, chosen from among 36 winners of RFE/RL’s monthly in-house competitions.
# Radio Svoboda correspondent Irina Chevtayeva won for her story “Как я полюбила Путина за 500 рублей” (“How I Fell In Love With Putin For 500 Rubles”), for which she posed as a participant in a February 4, 2012 demonstration in support of then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s bid for a second term as president. Chevtayeva exposed Putin campaign middlemen who advertised that they were looking for “movie extras,” and offered food, alcohol, and even cash to court rally participants–many of whom left the demonstration in disgust when they didn’t receive payment. “Like a good Russian novel, Chevtayeva’s article is a masterpiece of absurdity,” said Daisy Sindelar of Central News, a judge for the competition. “But this is a real story, and her telling of it is clear-eyed, brave, and utterly original.”
# Torokul Doorov of Radio Azattyk visited the Sulukta coal mines in southern Kyrgyzstan to report on the poverty-stricken families forced to send their children to work mining coal for his radio documentary, “Шахтадагы балалык” (“Childhood in the Sulukta Coal Mines”). As Doorov noted in his acceptance speech, not long after his story aired, several NGOs and children’s charities operating in Kyrgyzstan told him of their redoubled efforts to keep children out of the mines in Sulukta.
# Vahid Pour Ostad of Radio Farda was recognized for his radio documentaries “Solitary Confinement” (link to audio in Persian) and “Born In Prison” (link to English translation), for the stories of Iranian political prisoners.
# Central Newsroom reporter Richard Solash and Radio Tavisupleba Tbilisi Bureau chief Marina Vashakmadze won for their collaboration on the story “For U.S. Athlete and Georgian Birth Family, A Past And Present Revealed,” about a Georgian mother, forced by poverty to give up her disabled daughter at birth, who recently learned that her daughter, Elizabeth Stone, had achieved international success as a Paralympic athlete with the support of her adoptive parents in the United States. “The Stones told me that they are saving up to travel to Georgia to meet the [birth family]. Perhaps they’ll go this summer,” said Solash. “If so, it will be a chance for another great, human story.”
# The staff of Radio Mashaal was honored for their team coverage of the Pakistani Taliban’s October attack on schoolgirl and girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai. Though the story quickly went global, Radio Mashaal was among the first to report on the assassination attempt and provided continuing coverage that was original, directly-sourced, and infused with an intimate understanding of the region, the issue, and Malala herself, something that few media outlets were able to provide.
Honorable mention went to Natiq Zeynalov of the Azerbaijani Service for innovation in data visualization with his interactive infographics, and to Sabawoon of Radio Free Afghanistan‘s Kabul bureau for enterprising video journalism.