Unexpected Awards

In the United States, 2 journalists: Jaeah Lee and Valeria Fernandez, each won $100,000 for their contributions to journalism, reporting the plight of underrepresented groups. And in the Oscar nominations list, unexpected nominations went to 2 Middle Eastern film directors: Ziad Doueiri from Lebanon, and Firas Fayyad from Syria.

By Hugh Finlay

New Journalism Award

2 freelance journalists won the American Mosaic Journalism Prize, a new award for excellent stories to do with the challenges faced by groups that have been misrepresented or underrepresented.

The 2 writers, Valeria Fernandez from Arizona, and Jaeah Lee from San Francisco, each won $100,000. This now makes the American Mosaic Journalism Prize one of the biggest journalist prizes. (The Pulitzer prize is only $15,000.) The unusually rich prize was brought into existence by the Heising-Simons Foundation. This foundation is based in Silicon Valley, and was started by a computer chip designer Mark Heising, and Liz Simons, who created an education program for young children. Other contributors to the foundation are Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, and Bill and Melinda Gates. 

The judges said of Valeria Fernandez, “Bearing witness to lives that are often absent from public view, Valeria Fernandez’s work stands as testament to the trust people have in her to tell their stories with accuracy and compassion.” Valeria said “As a Latina immigrant journalist, who speaks Spanish as a first language, I’m humbled to receive this recognition. I hope it will bring attention to the voices of the women and the communities that I have focused on.”

The judges said that Jaeah Lee’s writing “gives readers a keen sense of the voices and concerns of those easily forgotten or neglected in the news.”  Jaeah said that life as a freelance writer is “a rocky road of financial burden, tests in patience and endurance and focus” without having the support of an organization. She described this new American Mosaic Journalism Prize as “a game-changer in offering writers like myself a chance at financial security, and in allowing us to focus on the stories that matter most.”

The Heising-Simmons Foundation said “In today’s journalism, freelancers are both vulnerable and valuable. With trimming of newsroom staff, many journalists are working without the support of an institution and with limited resources. And yet, some of the most important works of journalism come from these freelance journalists who commit long periods of their time to their stories.”

Film Awards Breakthrough

2 filmmakers from the Middle East made history by being the first from their countries to have Oscar nominations. A Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri directed a film called “The Insult,” which got the nomination for the best film in a foreign language.  This is a breakthrough for Lebanon, which has been submitting films for possible nominations since 1978.

Said Doueiri “It was such good news when we got it, because this is the first time Lebanon arrives to the Oscar and you know you offer a little bit of hope. It’s like winning a medal, it’s like going to the Olympics and your team for the first time wins the bronze medal or the silver medal.”

Other films that have received nominations are: from Germany (A Fantastic Woman), Hungary (On Body and Soul), Russia (Loveless) and Sweden (The Square).

A film from Syria’s Firas Fayyad (Last Men in Aleppo) was also nominated, amid competition from other films (Faces Places, Strong Island, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, and Icarus). This is only the second year that Syria has entered a film. Said Fayyad “Well, it’s really great. I’m proud about that. It opens the road for other filmmakers and artists to think that there’s nothing impossible, especially in a time (when) your country is destroyed, your resources are less, and the people who could stand with you are less.”


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