News from Project Word
In November 2013 The Nation magazine arranged to publish another Project Word piece, with a tentative release date of February, 2014. The story, reported by Ian T. Shearn, investigates a contested incident involving a US company, with substantial political implications. We are grateful to the Fund for Investigative Journalism and The Nation Institute for supporting Shearn’s reporting. Thank you! The last Project Word piece to appear in The Nation was Teo Ballvé’s investigation of Plan Colombia in 2008.
Project Word has a new administrative home.
From its founding in 2007, Project Word happily operated under the fiscal sponsorship of San Francisco-based Tides Center, which expertly incubates a wide range of nonprofit initiatives. For the next phase, we wanted to move to a more journalism-focused location. In August 2013, Project Word signed an agreement to become a fiscally sponsored project of the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, one of the oldest and most prestigious nonprofit reporting organizations in the country. We look forward to working with the Center to advance a mutual goal: strengthening and diversifying investigative reporting in the public interest.
After nearly a year of reporting this piece on ExxonMobil, human rights, and the Supreme Court, a team assembled by Project Word and led by reporter Ian T. Shearn has contributed the results to the Dallas Morning News. This story, which published on Sunday, September 30, 2012, would not have been possible without Project Word.
But Project Word's role would not have been possible without our hard-working reporting team, the enterprising editors at the News, and a growing network of dedicated allies and supporters. Special thanks go to the Fund for Investigative Journalism for a grant to Shearn, to the Mailman Foundation for a grant to Project Word, and to Project Word's array of dedicated individual donors—all of whom rallied to make this reporting possible.
At the height of Aceh's separatist conflict more than a decade ago, 11 plaintiffs filed a human rights lawsuit against ExxonMobil, the world's largest private oil company. The lawsuit has been ordered to trial, pending a Supreme Court ruling. But now the company plans to sell its stake in the area, where gas reserves are dwindling. As ExxonMobil prepares to depart, Emily Johnson takes us to visit the people that it will be leaving behind. See also her radio piece here.
In Project Word’s entrée into broadcasting, reporter Emily Johnson takes us to Aceh province, Indonesia, where we hear from a man who filed a human-rights lawsuit against ExxonMobil, joining more than a dozen other plaintiffs. They claim that the company's security personnel committed arbitrary detention, torture, and murder during a civil war. The case is on hold, awaiting a historic Supreme Court ruling expected as early as December. Emily Johnson filed this report for Free Speech Radio News.
On the trail of a climate mitigation plan in Panama, writer Ruxandra Guidi spun off this personal account of rising seas, flooded islands, and difficult decisions in Kuna Yala. Photos by Roberto Guerra.
You can read the article here.
It was one thing to guide Dennis Martinez, a Native American forestry expert, as he developed a 4,800-word essay on the climate-mitigation plan REDD for Nat Geo Newswatch. It was another to help Martinez reduce that essay by 80 percent, carving out a 750-word version for the Boston Globe's readers. The edited version, which ran as an op-ed on January 10, 2010, allowed the Globe to serve its general newspaper audience with something that every good editor wants--an important untold story.
Read the article here.
This is one of two Project Word pieces that appeared on National Geographic News Watch in December, 2010. See below for its companion piece.
Scanning the web credits of Teo Ballve’s article in The Nation in mid-2009, the journalist Ruxandra Guidi came across Project Word and made contact. Guidi, a bilingual Venezuelan-born writer who had reported for the BBC and others, excelled at reporting the experiences of marginalized communities in magazine essays, broadcast shorts, and multimedia pieces. She was looking to develop her skills in investigative reporting and to explore “long-form,” or narrative journalism—longer features.
Like this one along the northeastern coast of Panama, the inhabited islands of Kuna Yala are increasingly flooding due to rising seas. As the Kuna consider whether to relocate to their forest on the mainland, they must also debate a climate-mitigation project, REDD, proposed for the same land. Photo by Roberto Guerra.
She was just the writer for Project Word. And Project Word had just the story for her—a profile of the Kuna peoples of Panama. In the end it also proved the perfect story for Nat Geo News Watch, which ran it with a companion piece on December 8, 2010. It quickly ranked in the top ten in the nation in relevant Google News categories like REDD, and Cancún.
Guidi’s was an emblematic story. In portraying the island-dwelling Kuna, who are vulnerable to climate change but also to one of its forest-targeting solutions, Guidi showed the controversial UN climate plan REDD through indigenous eyes. Guidi’s piece, complete with the photos of Roberto "Bear" Guerra, elegantly portrayed the tension of the Kuna’s pending decision on REDD, the human rights issues involved, and the implications for a stable climate, in time for Cancún. The husband and wife team also produced a beautiful multimedia piece portraying the Kuna, along with the other community profiled in the piece—the Emberá.
Dennis Martinez, a Native American forest-restoration specialist, had a unique perspective on climate mitigation: traditional knowledge. As Martinez knew intimately from his work, climatic chaos would wreak special havoc on degraded ecosystems, so that biodiversity was more important than ever. In his observations, and from studies in the field, he found that traditional indigenous communities had the best tools to preserve biodiversity and keep carbon in the ground.
But the UN’s climate mitigation plan, he was finding out, would further destroy or erode not only the biodiversity but also those cultures that were preserving it. And as a way to allow polluters to offset their pollution by preserving carbon-absorbing forests, he learned, the plan would also distract the world from failure to cut emissions at the smokestacks and tailpipes.
From an initial conversation in late 2008, this insight grew into a reported essay posted on National Geographic News Watch on December 8, 2010. Project Word helped every step of the way, providing the full complement of services—from developmental editing to entrée with editors. It ran with a companion story on Kuna Yala, an indigenous community in Panama, whose own experience with the plan resonated with Martinez’ essay.
Rising seas around Panama's Caribbean islands have forced the Kuna peoples to consider moving to their mainland territory--but it's the same land Panamanian authorities want to set aside for "avoided deforestation," part of the REDD program under debate at Cancún. Photo by Roberto Guerra.
Jon Mingle, an emerging freelance writer who had spent time in the Himalayas, found out about Project Word in February 2009. He came to us with a profile of indigenous Zanskari villagers and their surprising response to climate change.
Project Word helped him develop the piece for a newspaper or magazine. After some searching we found an editor who liked the work. We introduced its author and stepped aside. And in late November 2009, Mingle’s article appeared as a Sunday feature in The Boston Globe. PDF here.