BuzzFeed News won a Pulitzer Prize on Friday for a series of groundbreaking articles that used satellite imagery, 3D architectural models and bold in-person interviews to expose China’s vast infrastructure for detaining hundreds of thousands of Muslims in its Xinjiang region. The Pulitzer Prize is the highest honor of journalism and is the first victory of the digital dam since it was founded in 2012.
And the FinCEN Files Series of BuzzFeed News and the International Consortium of Journalists, the largest research project in history, which exposed corruption in the global banking industry, was awarded as a Pulitzer Prize finalist. A the former U.S. Treasury officer was sentenced to prison last week to filter the thousands of secret government documents that served as genesis.
The Xinjiang series won in the International Reporting category and was recognized as a finalist in the Explanatory Reports category, and the FinCEN files were recognized as finalists in the International Reporting category. BuzzFeed News has been a Pulitzer finalist twice before.
In 2017, shortly after China began detaining thousands of Muslims in Xinjiang, BuzzFeed News journalist Megha Rajagopalan was the first to visit an internment camp – at a time when China denied that such places existed.
“In response, the government tried to silence her, revoking her visa and expelling her from the country“He would write cutting access to the entire region for most Westerners and stupid journalists,” BuzzFeed News wrote at its award ceremony. The release of basic facts about the detainees was reduced to a minimum. “
Working from London and refusing to be silenced, Rajagopalan partnered with two collaborators, Alison Killing, a licensed architect specializing in forensic analysis of architecture and satellite imagery of buildings, and Christo Buschek, a programmer who builds tools adapted for data journalists.
“Xinjiang’s fiery stories shine through in desperate need of one of the worst human rights abuses of our time,” said Mark Schoofs, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News. “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 courageous and distressing investigation, a prime example of innovative forensic analysis and creative reports “.
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 a million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities?
For months, the trio compared censored Chinese images to uncensored map software. They started with a huge data set of 50,000 locations. Buschek created a custom tool to sort these images. Then, “the team had to go through thousands of images one by one, checking many of the sites against other available evidence,” BuzzFeed News wrote in its award entry.
Ultimately, they identified more than 260 structures that appeared to be fortified detention camps. Some of the sites were able to hold more than 10,000 people and many contained factories where prisoners were forced to work.
Innovative technological reports were also accompanied by extensive ancient forms “Leather shoes” journalism.
Outside of China, Rajagopalan traveled to his neighbor Kazakhstan, a country known for its own authoritarian impulses, where many Chinese Muslims have sought refuge. There, Rajagopalan located more than two dozen people who had been prisoners in the Xinjiang camps, earning their trust and convincing them to share your nightmare accounts with the world.
An article brought readers within one of the camps, which was described in vivid and unprecedented detail in the stories of the survivors and then turned, thanks to Killing’s architectural skills, into a 3D model.
“Throughout her reports, Rajagopalan had to endure the harassment of the Chinese government, which had persisted beyond forcing her to pack her apartment in Beijing at short notice,” the award entry read. At one point, “the Chinese government posted his personal information, including a government identification number, on Twitter.”
Ultimately, the four-story series painted a damning and detailed portrait of China’s horrific detention and treatment of its Muslim citizens, who have major Western nations. labeled as genocide and as a crime against humanity.
BuzzFeed News’ second honor went to FinCEN Files, named a finalist in the International Reporting category.
This series, which was declared as the largest reporting project in history, involved more than 100 news organizations from 88 countries collaborating on a series of stories for 16 months.
It all started in 2017 when BuzzFeed News journalist Jason Leopold was handed a huge cache of secret US government documents from a source. The documents included more than 2,100 reports of suspicious activity or SAR, which are top-secret documents submitted by banks to alert the government to potentially criminal activities. Few people have ever been seen by the public.
Collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, BuzzFeed News, and collaborating newsrooms examined the documents, whose narrative sections were 3 million words, 14 times the length of the novel. Moby-Dick. Then they checked everything three times. The process took more than a year to complete.
In addition, journalists conducted hundreds of interviews around the world, obtained series of internal banking data and thousands of pages of public records, and filed dozens of requests for the Freedom of Information Act and several lawsuits. public records.
The investigation revealed, among other things, how five giants of the global banking industry (JPMorgan, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon) benefited from the shady transaction commissions involving drug traffickers and terrorists. .
The overall response to the stories exposing the torrent of dirty money was profound. FinCEN files were credited with giving a final push to the success of the extensive anti-money laundering legislation in the US. Legislators from the UK to the EU, from Thailand to Liberia, have also made their own consultations.
“The FinCEN files,” Schoofs said, “took financial reporting to new levels. Jason received an unprecedented document of secret government documents from a brave source, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, who was recently sentenced to prison. Starting with those invaluable documents, a monumental worldwide information effort exposed how major banks took advantage of gross money by flipping through their accounts, while the U.S. government watched but rarely took action. ”.
Last week, former Treasury Department official Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards was sentenced to six months in prison for leaking highly confidential bank documents to Leopold. Edwards – a senior adviser to the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network or FinCEN – was not accused of leaking documents that served as the basis for the FinCEN Files series, but admitted she did so after the his sentence.
BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief, Mark Schoofs, who won a Pulitzer himself in 2000 for international reports, he wrote one opinion piece for the New York Times on Thursday, asking President Joe Biden to forgive Edwards in recognition of the great corruption his actions exposed.
The 11 current and former BuzzFeed News reporters honored by the Pulitzer Committee for the FinCEN series were Leopold, Anthony Cormier, John Templon, Tom Warren, Jeremy Singer-Vine, Scott Pham, Richard Holmes, Azeen Ghorayshi, Michael Sallah, Tanya Kozyreva and Emma Loop.
BuzzFeed News has already qualified as a Pulitzer finalist. In 2018, the outlet was a finalist in the international reports of a series of stories that linked more than a dozen deaths in the United States and the United Kingdom to a Kremlin-led assassination program. A year earlier, BuzzFeed News was awarded as a finalist in the same category for research that revealed how large companies exploit a powerful conflict resolution process bend countries at will.