We are delighted to announce that freelance journalist Neha Wadekar has been selected as the winner of the Pulitzer Center's annual Breakthrough Journalism Award. The runner-up award goes to freelance Peruvian journalist Luisa García Tellez.
The $12,000 prize recognizes and celebrates the achievements of Pulitzer Center-affiliated freelance journalists who report on underreported global issues. The runner-up prize is $5,000.
Wadekar was recognized for her intrepid and nuanced reporting about the fight for Cabo Delgado in Mozambique. This underreported conflict has displaced over 700,000 people and killed thousands more. According to Wadekar's reporting, tranquil coastal towns once popular with tourists have been ravaged by ISIS-affiliated militants who have propelled Mozambique’s insurgency onto the global stage.
According to award judge Nadja Drost, “Working alongside a filmmaker, Neha was one of the few foreign journalists to cover this conflict, her access the result of months of planning and obvious field reporting skill. Neha went to great lengths to report the many facets of a complex conflict, looking not only at the impact of Al-Shabab on civilians, as told through searing and compelling interviews with victims of violence and displacement, but exploring factors—from battles over natural resources to failures of government—that drive the conflict and cultivate an environment where an insurgency can thrive.”
“Instead of falling back on more simplified narratives about Islamic terrorism in Africa, she [Wadekar] tells a nuanced, complex story about the drivers of the insurgency: corruption and neglect by the local government, exploitation by multinational businesses profiting off of the region's natural resources,” award judge Rhitu Chatterjee added.
Wadekar is originally from Boston. She attended Tufts University and received a master’s in journalism from the University of California, Annenberg School. She is now based in Kenya and reports on the intersections of climate, gender, conflict, health, and human rights in emerging democracies and their political implications. As a freelance journalist, her written and video stories have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal, and others.
Describing how this project was transformational for her career, Wadekar said, “For the first time, I ended up getting two lengthy segments on broadcast television, bringing the story to a huge number of American viewers who otherwise would not have known about the spread of ISIS in Africa. I fostered a relationship with PBS NewsHour that will allow me to continue reporting for them. And I wrote for The Telegraph for the first time and deepened my relationships at The Guardian,” she said.
The 2022 Breakthrough Award runner-up is freelance journalist Luisa García Tellez for her work on a groundbreaking collaborative journalism project called “Where’s My Pension?” García Tellez teamed up with Mexican reporter Lilia Saúl Rodríguez to uncover the hidden investments made by pension managers on behalf of everyday workers in nine Latin American countries.
“This was my first-time co-leading more than 30 professionals in nine countries: reporters, investment fund specialists, developers and designers,” García Tellez said of the effort.
Award judge Rhitu Chatterjee was impressed with her many exceptional qualities as a journalist, such as her “leadership skills, top-notch multimedia storytelling and a commitment to public service journalism." Chatterjee was also impressed by "her ability to bring together and co-lead a big team of journalists, web designers, and economists to pull this big project off so successfully, as well as the tremendous impact of this work,” she said.
Who are the 2022 Breakthrough Award judges?
Nadja Drost is a Pulitzer Prize-winning freelance Canadian journalist who has worked from New York City and Bogotá, Colombia. She is a PBS NewsHour special correspondent for Latin America and has been published in TIME, Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail, and Al Jazeera America. Her stories have been broadcast on CBC, BBC, Radio Ambulante, and NPR.
Rhitu Chatterjee is a health correspondent with NPR, where she covers mental health. Earlier in her career, she covered science, the environment, and global health and development. As a freelancer, she produced two projects as a Pulitzer Center grantee, on school lunch programs in India and Brazil.
Steve Sapienza is senior strategist and a member of the editorial team at the Pulitzer Center. He is a news and documentary producer with over 20 years of experience and has covered a wide range of crisis stories, from illegal gold mining in Peru to child soldiers in Sierra Leone, climate refugees in Bangladesh, and land-mine survivors in Cambodia.
About the Breakthrough Journalism Award:
The award, made possible through the generous support of Eva Lohrer, recognizes and celebrates the achievements of freelance journalists who report on underreported issues that affect us all. The annual competition is open to current and former Pulitzer Center grantees and early-career Campus Consortium journalists, honoring work that has been published/broadcast during the previous 365 days.
About the Pulitzer Center:
Since 2006, the Pulitzer Center has consistently demonstrated its commitment to shining a light on critical global issues that are too often ignored. Through the sponsorship of quality international journalism across all media platforms and an innovative program of outreach and education, we help inform debates, nurture dialogues, and advance understanding of the defining challenges of our time.