News from Project Word

Story Update

Court denies Exxon, backs villagers

The story highlighted in Project Word's 2012 coverage of a human rights lawsuit against ExxonMobil—which appeared in the Dallas Morning News,  Mother Jones, and accompanying pieces for radio and multimedia—has taken a surprising turn. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling favored Shell Petroleum in a similar case. But on September 24th, the group of Indonesian villagers we profiled won a groundbreaking ruling in federal court. 

Announcement below.
A rice farmer in front of the ExxonMobil facility in Lhoksukon, Aceh. Photo by Emily JohnsonA rice farmer in front of the ExxonMobil facility in Lhoksukon, Aceh. Photo by Emily Johnson

ExxonMobil Indonesian Villagers Human Rights Abuse Cases to Proceed in Federal Court

(WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sept. 24, 2014) – In a significant victory for families of Indonesian citizens who were killed or abused by security personnel hired by ExxonMobil Corporation, a federal court today ruled that two closely related lawsuits against Exxon Mobil for human rights violations can proceed.

The Plaintiffs in the cases, which were filed in the U.S. District Court District of Columbia, allege that Indonesian soldiers hired by ExxonMobil to provide security at the corporation’s natural gas facility physically abused and killed family members who lived or worked in villages within the sprawling operations in rural Aceh, Indonesia.

“This is a huge victory for the plaintiffs,” said Plaintiffs’ co-lead counsel Agnieszka Fryszman, a partner at Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll. “We are especially pleased that the Court agreed with us that the Plaintiffs had sufficiently tied Exxon’s conduct to the injuries and abuses that were inflicted on these villagers. We look forward to seeing justice done and to putting our case before a jury.”

In 2008, another judge on the District Court had denied ExxonMobil's attempt to avoid trial by rejecting the company’s motion for summary judgment, citing “evidence that these security forces committed the alleged atrocities.” The Court of Appeals then held that the claims must be considered under Indonesian law, not the law of the District of Columbia.
Among highlights of today’s decision, the District Court in a meticulous 43 page opinion:

• Held that Plaintiffs claims can go forward under Indonesian law, finding that “expert testimony indicates to the Court that Indonesian tort law, while using different terminology from American law, compensates tort victims in similar fashion to the common law.”

• Permits Plaintiffs to add information regarding Exxon’s conduct in the United States in order to meet the standard set out by a recent Supreme Court decision, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell.

• Rejected Exxon’s arguments regarding the application of a variety of international law doctrines.

• Permits Plaintiffs to gather additional evidence in support of their claims.

Co-counsel Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP,
said, “The well-reasoned and thoughtful opinion is an important one for the enforcement of human rights law.”

Co-counsel Terry Collingsworth of Conrad & Scherer added “Since I first met our clients in 2001, they have endured not only the agony of human rights crimes, but over thirteen years of justice delayed. We are looking forward to getting this case to trial so that our long-suffering clients can obtain justice.”

For more information about the case and the District Court decision, visit the Cohen Milstein website.

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 8:54pm

Nation investigation

Digging for the truth in PNG

The Nation magazine has published the latest fruits of Project Word’s facilitation efforts, a freelance investigation into ExxonMobil’s alleged role in a fatal 2012 landslide in Papua New Guinea.
 
The disaster killed at least 27 people at a quarry serving Exxon’s $19 billion Liquid Natural Gas project. Exxon has denied culpability. But the report found evidence that mining operations contributed directly to the fatal landslide.

To keep the project on schedule, Exxon and the PNG government quickly rebuilt a road directly over the bodies, infuriating mourners who were attempting to recover their loved ones. The report found that this was one example of a pattern of growing resentment against the project in Papua New Guinea.

If opposition within PNG were to derail the project, US taxpayers would be on the hook—the US Export-Import Bank loaned Exxon $3.1 billion for this project, one of the bank’s largest loans ever.
 
Nobody was reporting this story. Project Word identified the basic sketch, contracted researcher Hannah Rappleye for the preliminary reporting, entrusted the results to reporter Ian Shearn, connected him to The Nation, helped him raise investigative grants from The Nation Institute and the Fund for Investigative Journalism, and provided general administrative support (Shearn also produced a related video version of the reporting).

The story would not have otherwise appeared. Project Word believes the public deserves good freelance investigative reporting like this. We will work to facilitate more freelancers—and we are happy to do so through our new fiscal sponsor, Investigative Reporters and Editors.

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 5:54pm

The Results Are In

Hundreds respond to Freelancer Survey

Our national survey on freelance investigative reporting, distributed through a range of professional organizations in March and April, generated nearly 350 responses, which far exceeded our expectations. The responses revealed rare statistics and insightful comments about the state of freelance reporting. We will now conduct follow up interviews with respondents, analyze the overall findings, and release a summary to you and our survey partners, ETA September, 2014. Thank you to all who participated!

Thu, 06/05/2014 - 12:17pm

Freelancer Survey

Canvassing the Landscape

Project Word director Laird Townsend reporting on climate change in the Gamo highlands, southern Ethiopia, in 2009. Photo by Nicolas Villaume, Conversations with the EarthProject Word director Laird Townsend reporting on climate change in the Gamo highlands, southern Ethiopia, in 2009. Photo by Nicolas Villaume, Conversations with the EarthIn an age of shrinking newsrooms, philanthropic support has become increasingly vital to investigative reporting - and that includes freelance reporting. Project Word, a nonprofit organization that facilitates freelance stories for media outlets, is conducting a national survey on freelance investigative reporting.
 
The survey aims to inform efforts to support freelancers. Project Word is sharing a summary of survey results with almost a dozen participating journalistic institutions, from the Fund for Investigative Journalism to the Society of Professional Journalists.
 
There are two separate on-line surveys here: one for NON-freelancers, and one for freelancers. Both versions are strictly anonymous and confidential. All data from the survey will be shared in aggregate only.

Each survey has its own link. Choose your option:
 
1) Freelancer survey (c. 15 minutes, with option for additional questions)
Freelancers: reporters, writers, broadcast producers, or photojournalists who have done freelance investigative reporting in any medium, to any degree - regardless of the extent to which their current freelance load includes investigative reporting.
 
Link to freelancer survey:
Freelancer Survey
 

2) Non-freelancer survey (c.10 minutes)
Non-freelancers: anyone who isn’t currently freelancing but engages somehow in investigative reporting in the public interest - from staff reporters and editors to funders and journalism professors.
 
Link to non-freelancer survey:
Non-Freelancer Survey

Note: To generate the strongest needs assessment, Project Word is asking folks to distribute this survey privately via any journalistic listserv or outlet - or share directly with journalism colleagues. Thanks!

Deadline is Friday, April 4. For more information, please contact me at ltownsend@projectword.org. 413-528-6592

Sat, 03/22/2014 - 6:43pm

The Nation

Upcoming report

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.

Mon, 12/23/2013 - 3:24pm

Center for Investigative Reporting

Mutual goal

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.

Fri, 12/20/2013 - 3:23pm

Dallas Morning News

Sunday edition feature


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.

The work of nonprofit journalism is crucial to  serving the public interest. Consider making a donation to Project Word. And for more on the story and related work to come, see the Project Word blog.

Sun, 09/30/2012 - 8:40pm

In Exxon's Shadow

As company leaves Aceh, a complex legacy remains

A ten-foot-tall barbed wire fence surrounds each of ExxonMobil's natural gas fields in Lhoksukon, Aceh. Photo by Emily JohnsonA ten-foot-tall barbed wire fence surrounds each of ExxonMobil's natural gas fields in Lhoksukon, Aceh. Photo by Emily Johnson
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.
 



What ExxonMobil Left Behind: The End of an Era in Aceh from Emily H. Johnson on Vimeo.

Sun, 09/30/2012 - 8:30pm

Legal Barriers

Lawsuit against ExxonMobil in limbo

A sign warns civilians to keep out of the first of four natural gas fields that together make up ExxonMobil's facility in Lhoksukon, Aceh. Photo by Emily JohnsonA sign warns civilians to keep out of the first of four natural gas fields that together make up ExxonMobil's facility in Lhoksukon, Aceh. Photo by Emily Johnson
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.

Fri, 09/28/2012 - 2:01pm

Atlantic on-line

A sea-level view of Kuna culture in an age of climate change

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.

Sun, 02/06/2011 - 4:28pm