Two Indian-Americans win coveted US journalism honour

Updated on Jun 12, 2021 09:14 PM IST

BuzzFeed News’ Megha Rajagopalan won a Pulitzer for international reporting while Tampa Bay Times’ Neil Patel won for local reporting.

This undated photo shows the front and back sides of the medal awarded for the Pulitzer Prizes in New York. (AP)
This undated photo shows the front and back sides of the medal awarded for the Pulitzer Prizes in New York. (AP)
ByYashwant Raj I Edited by Amit Chanda

Two Indian-Americans were among winners of the top American awards for journalism announced on Friday.

BuzzFeed News’ Megha Rajagopalan won a Pulitzer for international reporting, with contributors Alison Killing, a licensed architect and Christo Buschek, a programmer, for a series exposing the scale of internment of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province. This was the first Pulitzer for BuzzFeed News, a digital news publication founded in 2014.

Tampa Bay Times’ Neil Bedi won the Pulitzer for local reporting with Kathleen McGrory, for their investigative series on a Florida county police’s use of computer modelling to identify potential crime suspects, including children who either performed badly at school or were victims of abuse at home. Bedi has since moved to ProPublica, a non-profit publication focusing on investigative news.

“I’m completely shocked! I’m very grateful to my team and the many people and organisations from inside and outside BuzzFeed News who supported this project,” Rajagopalan wrote in an email in response to a request for comments. “Most of all I am grateful to the former detainees who took risks to share details of what they experienced inside Xinjiang’s camps. The public owes them a great debt, as do I.”

BuzzFeed said in a report that Rajagopalan was the first reporter to visit an internment camp used to hold Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province at a time - in 2017 - when the Chinese government was denying their existence. She was shortly ejected from the country and the Chinese government refused to renew her visa.

Ben Smith, the then BuzzFeed editor who has since joined the New York Times, recalled that episode in a tweet, as his tribute to an erstwhile colleague. After the Chinese government refused to renew her visa, he wrote, he and a senior editor at BuzzFeed, “met with government officials. They said we were welcome to send literally any other reporter - just not Megha”.

It wasn’t known whether or not BuzzFeed sent another reporter instead, but Rajagopalan persisted, and continued reporting on the camps from London, along with the two contributors, Killing, an architect who specialises in forensic analysis of architecture and satellite images of buildings, and Christo Buschek, a programmer who makes tools for data journalism.

Born to parents from India, Rajagopalan was raised in Maryland, a state abutting the national capital Washington DC, and went to the University of Maryland. “I’m deeply grateful to them for their support,” Rajagopalan said of her parents. “Nobody in my family has ever worked in media, but they have always supported my career in journalism, and have been my biggest cheerleaders since I was a student.”

Celebrations broke out in the tiny, but increasingly vocal, minority community of Indian-Americans. “Congrats @meghara (Rajagopalan’s twitter handle)!” wrote Indiaspora, a leading advocacy for the community, on twitter. “We are lucky to have leaders like you taking the Indian diaspora community to new heights!” It wished Bedi in a separate tweet.

“Winning this prize is an incredible honour. I’m proud of the Tampa Bay Times team for this work and I’m grateful to all the families who spoke to us for this story,” Bedi wrote in an email.

Bedi was born and raised in New Jersey. His parents moved to the United States from New Delhi in the 1990s. “I owe all of my success to my parents. They taught me to be ambitious and caring, two of the most important things in journalism.”

In other categories - Pulitzers are awarded for a wide range of areas, from journalism to drama to fiction - teenager Daniella Frazier was awarded an honorary Pulitzer for her chilling but unwavering video of George Floyd’s killing that served as an irrefutable evidence in the conviction of his killer, a white police officer, and went viral around as a stark reminder of persisting racism in America.

The New York Times was honoured with a Pulitzer for public service journalism, for its coverage of the Covid-19 epidemic.

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