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Pulitzer Center Update September 2, 2014

This Week: Youth Filmmakers Tell Hometown Stories With Global Insight

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Free Spirit Media participants learn their camera. Image by Meghan Dhaliwal. Chicago, 2014.


The collaboration between the Pulitzer Center, Free Spirit Media, After School Matters, and a talented group of inner-city Chicago teens has resulted in a stellar quartet of video documentaries, on topics ranging from food deserts and diversity to family relationships and the pros and cons of violent video games.

In the summer initiative, now in its fifth year, student teams pair with Pulitzer Center journalists and FSM's video production mentors. They learn about global issues, explore the local repercussions, and brainstorm ways to bring those stories home. The video documentaries they shot, showcased earlier this month at Chicago's Power House High School, included a moving tribute inspired by Pulitzer grantee Carlos Javier Ortiz's work on gun violence that focused on the struggles—and the triumphs—of family relationships.

Carlos's documentaries "are about violence, so our first thought was to [report on] teen domestic violence," 18-year-old Christian Tyms, a program participant, told Pulitzer Center Education Coordinator Amanda Ottaway. "But then we were thinking about the struggle that a parent has…of raising a teen; the struggle that they have with each other, with communicating." The result? A poignant, memorable message for teens and parents both.


Alice Su and Jenna Krajeski continue their authoritative work on the roiling complexities of multiple conflicts in the Middle East—Jenna with a dispatch for Harper's Magazine on the challenges faced by a small mental health clinic in Iraq's Kurdistan and Alice with a report for The Atlantic on the consequences of decisions by Jordan and Lebanon to deny legal status to Palestinians fleeing Syria's civil war.

The beheading of journalist James Foley by IS (the Islamic State) is the subject of two important articles, one by Pulitzer Center board member David Rohde for Reuters and one by Pulitzer Center grantee James Harkin for Vanity Fair. Both address the impact of disparate policies on ransom payments—the U.S. and British governments refuse to pay but others do—and debate over whether kidnappings should be publicized or not.

"What is clear is that we need to begin a conversation about how to deal with this cruel and growing threat to human life and dignity – and how we can keep ourselves from being held hostage to such threats," James writes. "Otherwise it's not only fine and brave journalists like James Foley who will be held at gunpoint. The hostages will also be us."


Pulitzer Center grantee Ty McCormick, writing for Foreign Policy and The Washington Post, reports on the deadly consequences of continued civil war in South Sudan. Factional infighting among top government leaders has made a mockery of hopes that greeted creation of the world's newest nation. UNICEF and World Food Program officials warn that famine is now a real threat and that as many as 50,000 children face death by acute malnutrition by the end of the year.

"This is as bad as I've ever seen it," Toby Lanzer, the top U.N. aid official in South Sudan, told Ty. "By the end of the year, we're facing a situation where one out of every two people in South Sudan are either going to have a real threat to their lives because of hunger or they will have been displaced from their homes . . . or they will have fled from the country."