Students and faculty at the UBC journalism school have won an Emmy Award for an investigative news documentary that explores the health and environmental impacts of electronic waste.
The Outstanding Investigative Journalism award was for the PBS Frontline/World documentary, Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground, produced by students of the International Reporting class, under the supervision of Professor Peter Klein.
This is the first time Canadian students have won an Emmy, and the first time students at a Canadian university have been nominated for any Emmy Award in a news category. The students beat out such award contenders as 60 Minutes, HBO and Nightline.
“Journalists work their entire careers for awards of this prestige,” says Mary Lynn Young, UBC Graduate School of Journalism director, who attended the Emmys ceremony in New York on Monday.
“Winning these awards early in their careers will give these students a tremendous leg up, and reflects the quality of journalism students and faculty at UBC,” says Young.
The documentary was also nominated for a second Emmy, and Klein was nominated for a third Emmy for Over a Barrel: The Truth About Oil.
The students and Klein, with fellow producers of the Ghana documentary, Daniel McKinney and Sarah Carter, attended the awards gala.
Related: Media coverage of the Emmy win
On the trail of e-waste
The International Reporting class’s news documentary Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground aired on the PBS documentary series FRONTLINE/World last year and was the most popular video on the series’ website in 2009.
It was nominated in two categories: Outstanding Investigative Journalism and Outstanding Research.
Digital Dumping Ground traced the path of electronic waste around the globe to Ghana, China and India and exposed a number of public health, human rights and national security concerns.
The students made headlines when they purchased discarded hard drives in Ghana for $40 (Cdn) that contained sensitive information about multimillion-dollar contracts between Northrop Grumman, one of the largest military contractors in the U.S., and the Pentagon, Air Marshall Service and Department of Homeland Security.
Klein says the International Reporting course was made possible thanks to a $1 million donation from Mindset Social Innovation Foundation. Mindset provides opportunities for students to study international reporting techniques in the field and to produce professional journalism on under-covered global issues.
“The e-waste documentary is the kind of project that the vast majority of newsrooms couldn’t have done,” Klein says. “If an editor is going to give you tens of thousands of dollars, they want to be sure that there’s going to be a story there.”
“Our funding from Mindset Foundation is crucial, because we’re able to give students this opportunity to really show that you can do good journalism independently.”
Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground also received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for best documentary of the year from the Society for Professional Journalists earlier this year, and it was nominated for another US prize, the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.
After graduating in 2009 and 2010, many of the students receiving Emmy Awards are now employed by news organizations including Global National, CBC Radio, Postmedia News, Al Jazeera and Toronto Star. The 10 students are:
- Heba Abou Elasaad – Kuwait City, Kuwait
- Shira Bick – Vancouver, B.C.
- Ian Bickis – Ottawa, Ontario
- Krysia Collyer – Greely, Ontario
- Allison Cross – Nanaimo, B.C.
- Daniel Haves – London, Ontario
- Doerthe Keilholz – Karlsruhe, Germany
- Jodie Martinson – Calgary, Alberta
- Blake Sifton – St. Thomas, Ontario
- Leslie Young – Kanata, Ontario
The students’ professor, Peter Klein, was individually nominated for a third Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Business or Economic Reporting (Longform) for his ABC News documentary Over a Barrel: The Truth About Oil.
It was produced with help from UBC journalism alumni Blake Sifton and Magally Zelaya.
For more info contact:
Prof Peter Klein
UBC School of Journalism
Prof Mary Lynn Young
UBC School of Journalism
UBC Public Affairs
Main Emmy Award Photo (c) Marc Bryan-Brown