Donte Donald, Pulitzer Center
From a pool of 148 qualified entrants, the five grand prize winners of YouTube Project: Report have been chosen. In three short months, they have produced two original videos on issues they deemed important yet underreported. The winners truly represent some of the best aspiring journalists on YouTube.
Beyond this recognition, the winners also receive a $10,000 travel grant and the opportunity to work with The Pulitzer Center in the development of an international reporting project. They will also be flown to Washington, DC where their winning films will be shown at an official screening and reception ceremony. While in Washington, DC, the winners will attend a workshop with Pulitzer Center journalists to provide guidance on their reporting projects.
The winners each presented compelling pieces. What truly set them apart from the many gifted contestants were their unique voices—no doubt influenced by their distinct personal journeys to this competition. They also used online tools to both solicit input on their topics from the web community and to distribute their stories to the widest possible audience. The finalists found pieces that spoke to their individual areas of interests while presenting them in ways that engaged their audiences.
Samantha Danis was with the subjects of her film "Without a Sound" when she learned she had won. "Last night I was actually at a dinner with a few of the deaf people in my film," she said. "I saw a 202 number" and asked "them what area code it was." "They responded 'Washington DC' and I screamed." With her graduation from the University of Maine only weeks away, this win solidifies her desire to pursue her dream of being a journalist. "My first video on YouTube still has 7 views, and this video had hundreds in a day," she said. "I've never really made an attempt at getting people to watch my videos but I learned that if you make an effort to get noticed, you will."
Elan Gepner was also no stranger to the topic of his piece "Students Combat Violence with Community." A performer himself, he created and directs a program that gives Philadelphia students the opportunity to channel their energy in artistic ways within safe spaces. "I was tired of seeing young people portrayed in the media as the source of violence in our community," he said. In the film, 8th grader Shania Morris describes how the Philadelphia Student Union has touched her. "When students are told that they have a voice and their opinion matters," she said, "they begin to see something in themselves" they hadn't previously seen. "I see a leader in myself that I never saw before."
University of Miami student Paul Franz realized the subject of migrant workers had been covered in print and television journalism but rarely in a way that effectively utilized multimedia. He said, "Up until recently, there hadn't been a really good video project on the issue that I was aware of, especially one that follows the multimedia narrative story format we use in school." He said: "The issue of migrant workers in South Florida is a big issue," and his piece, "Florida's Modern Day Slavery" uses multimedia narration to tell a more complex story. In addition to the $10,000 grand prize and international reporting opportunity, he earned some intangible rewards from this project. "It really helped me improve my cinematography and helped me better understand the principles behind it," he said. "It also gave me an increased sensitivity to the stories of the people I interview. It allowed me to better understand empathy because I was able to sit down with them and see them eye to eye and really tell their stories."
Davidson College senior Mark Jeevaratnam learned similar lessons while filming his piece "For Higher Ground." In his video, he examines the connection between coal mining injuries and prescription drug addiction in Harlan County, Kentucky. He said, "I learned the amount of trust that goes into filmmaking. Not only in creating and researching a story but also developing relationships with the people you interview and earning their trust and treating them with respect and dignity." Mark has also begun thinking about what he will do with his travel grant. "I hope to go to Sri Lanka where my father is from and report on the ongoing issues there," he said. "I'm blessed to be able to report on issues that touch home."
News of Alex Rozier's big win has already spread through his hometown in Minnesota. "I come from a very small Minnesota town and its one of those communities where everyone knows each other's name," he said. "I've already received congratulation calls from friends, small business, and local papers." He specifically wanted to tell an uplifting story when he entered the final round and found one in "The World Mobility Problem." In this piece, he shows one man's efforts to provide means of mobility to people without legs. "One of the messages I tried to convey the whole time is there are so many negative stories being told in the media but also really good stories that need to be told," he said. "These are stories that I want to tell for the rest of my life." He has also begun to choose the site of his reporting projects. "I think I may go to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to look at the progress that has been made or I'll grab a map and go to the first place I see," he said. "I've been blessed to have the training at the University of Missouri and to be able to learn more in the field and from anywhere in the world is amazing."
In addition to the five grand prize winners, two other entries were selected. YouTube viewers chose Aaron Schnobrich's "A Day in the Life," as the Community Award winner. In this film, Aaron examines human trafficking in Tanzania. The Open Submission prize went to Eunjin Lim's "Friends of Mago." This video chronicles a group's efforts to preserve the 39 foot Mago "Mother Earth" statue in Cottonwood, Arizona. Both winners will receive a Sony® VAIO laptop computer.