RTDNA announced its Kaleidoscope Award winners Friday, Sept. 6, at EIJ19. The awards honor exemplary work in journalism that discusses race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. The award highlights work that brings diverse voices to the front of the community.
This year, winners included the podcast We Live Here, which tackles systematic racism in St. Louis, Missouri. RTDNA also recognized the ESPN film Crossroads, about the struggles of a lacrosse team from North Carolina.
Three of the recipients collected their awards at the ceremony. Their stories tackled issues like indigenous heroes, poverty and transgender students.
Antonia Cereijido works for the NPR show Latino USA. Recently, the show produced By Right of Discovery, an episode about a Native American activist who led a revolution on the island of Alcatraz.
“We did an hour-long documentary about Richard Oakes, who was a Native American leader in the Alcatraz takeover,” Cereijido said. “We realized we knew nothing about him and became very interested in his life.”
Oakes, a 27-year-old activist and member of the Mohawk nation, began an occupation of the island in 1969. His plans to turn the island into a sanctuary for indigenous people drew nationwide attention in a year fraught with political upheaval.
While the movement was unsuccessful in its goals of reclaiming the island, its story remains culturally relevant.
“This story was very exciting because it’s giving context to a lot of the things happening today,” Cereijido said. “A lot of times, we forget how we got to where we are.”
Cereijido talked about the Keystone pipeline resistance and the themes that mirrored Oakes’ life.
“It’s a topic that’s not talked about a lot, but those issues are still incredibly pertinent,” Cereijido said. “I think by bringing up these historical figures that aren’t often talked about, we can have this complex and interesting conversation today.”
Jim Morris, executive editor at the Center for Public Integrity, accepted the award for Abandoned in America. The series involved six stories from communities across America that suffered from extreme poverty.
“The reporters went all over the place,” Morris said. “They went to St. Louis, they went to Mississippi, they went to the Texas-Mexico border to tell the stories of people that had been basically forgotten by the political system in the United States.”
In one installment, Suhauna Hussain went to Presidio, Texas. A small border town in Southwest Texas, Presidio relies on Ojinaga, a Mexican city just across the border. Without cooperation, Presidio wouldn’t be able to sustain itself in the vast Texan desert.
According to Abandoned in America, President Trump’s plan to build a wall along the border would cripple the Presidio economy, which already struggles.
“I myself am from Texas, so this piece out of Presidio was my favorite,” Morris said. “They did a really good job of explaining that there are just a lot of folks in this country that are forgotten.”
The series also looked into issues like public infrastructure, indigenous disenfranchisement and Section 8 housing. Davis credited his journalists for their commitment to finding stories that wouldn’t be told otherwise.
“I’ve supervised reporters for a number of years, and I always tell them we have to get out of DC,” Morris said. “I still preach that today. I tell people we don’t want to be stuck at our desks, we want to be out in the real world.”
Another recipient was Bigad Shaban, senior investigative reporter at NBC Bay Area. He worked on a team of three journalists to report on how public schools in Northern California treated one of their most vulnerable populations of students.
“We did a series of stories looking into medical guidelines that hadn’t been changed in over a decade, guidelines that dealt with medical treatment for kids who identify as transgender,” Shaban said. “If there’s going to be this growing population, how are schools going to deal with this surge in transgender students.”
The story involved surveying districts all over the Bay area to see what kind of policies they had involving trans students. Shaban and his partners found that resources weren’t consistent across the board.
“There were a lot of schools that were adopting trans resources, and a lot of schools that said they didn’t want to deal with these issues,” Shabad said. “They said they didn’t want to talk about them. But they were being talked about, whether school officials wanted to or not.”
After the story went out, more than 100 schools in the Bay area reviewed their policies, Shaban said. These schools developed new strategies to train teachers on how to talk to trans students about their identities. Shaban said it was invaluable to talk about these kinds of issues.
“A lot of people see this as something that happens far away,” Shaban said. “They think this isn’t happening with my community, not at my school, not where my kid goes.”
But Shaban found that there were some districts in the Bay area where every school had at least one trans student. Shaban said it was important to elevate these students’ voices.
“In the absence of understanding, I think that’s where confusion, anger, even hatred develops,” Shaban said. “I think it’s this incredible responsibility that we have, educating these communities.”