Fund for Women Journalists: Reporting Case Studies

Zainab Bala, Nigeria

The proposal:

Zainab Bala Reporting

More than 50,000 women die from childbirth per year in Nigeria, according to the UN. But experts say 95% of those deaths are preventable.

To shine a light on their stories, Nigerian broadcast journalist Zainab Bala approached the IWMF with a documentary idea that would examine the Nigerian government’s response to maternal mortality, drawing upon interviews with the Ministry of Health, NGOs, doctors, midwives and pregnant women in Kano, Abuja and Niger state.

The story:

In a 43-minute documentary for Trust TV, Zainab examined the issue of maternal mortality from three angles: medical negligence, poverty and cultural practices related to motherhood.

“Maternal and child healthcare is critical to the development of any nation, prompting its inclusion in the [UN’s] Sustainable Development Goals,” Zainab said. But “Nigeria cannot lay claim to development when its infant and maternal mortality rate is on the increase.”

The impact:

Zainab’s documentary immediately struck a nerve.

“On the 7th of January, which is the day the piece aired on Trust Television at about 11:02 am, the mood in my newsroom was a sober one,” she recounted. “A lot of my colleagues were taken away by the fact that we still had such situations in Nigeria, and we hardly get to hear or see stories like this. It made sense to them that there was no better person to tell such stories other than women themselves.”

Her documentary became an immediate conversation starter amongst Nigerian outlets, sparking critical discussions about maternal health in English and Hausa. After Zainab’s interview of a medical negligence victim appeared on TV, the victim decided to file suit against the hospital that allegedly mistreated her.

“I have always wanted to do this story, but because I couldn’t access funding, it stalled for a very long time. The IWMF gave me the opportunity to make this project a reality. It brought me closer to the people, to be able to see their stories through their eyes from places that rarely make it to the news.”

Supriya Vohra, India

The proposal:

Supriya Vohra reporting

Using a grant from the Fund for Women Journalists, Indian freelance reporter Supriya Vohra pursued an investigation into the environmental impact of iron ore mining in Goa over five decades.

The story:

Through stories published in Mongabay India and Caravan Magazine, Supriya explored the impact of iron-ore mining on water in Goa, the financial fall-outs of truck owners when iron ore mining was halted, and the perspectives of young people living in the mining belt.

The impact:

Supriya’s story on the impact of mining on the water supply resulted in the local public works department fast-tracking a pipeline construction project, which was due to supply water to two wards of a village she reported on. The project was getting delayed, but her story caused them to fast track it.

Mongabay Story

“In-depth field reporting is one of the most important aspects of environmental reporting. While we often talk about the repercussions of an extractive industry on the environment, the communities that live close to it, and the various ways in which their lives become intrinsically associated with those very extractive industries, their stories often fall through the cracks. The IWMF grant gave me the opportunity to look into those cracks, and bring those stories out. In turn, this form of reportage, where the lines between right and wrong are blurred, has come to become my strength.”

Olga Loginova and Ottavia Spaggiari, Belarus/USA

The proposal:

Reporting on BelarusOn August 9, 2020, a record number of Belarusians went to the polling stations to cast their ballots for the new president. For many, it was a chance to once again challenge the dictatorial grip of Alexander Lukashenko, who had been in power since 1994. When Lukashenko announced a landslide 80% victory and the sixth term in office, thousands of citizens streamed into the streets to protest against the election that they believed was stolen.

Belarusians have paid a high price for raising their voices for democracy. In the first 72 hours after the election up to 7,000 people were arrested, dozens disappeared, and four were killed by police. Those three days have changed the status quo of a small but strategic nation, seen by the European Union as a buffer against Russia, and by Russia as a buffer against NATO.

To draw international attention to this event, U.S.-based freelance journalists Olga Loginova and Ottavia Spaggiari sought to document the events of the 72 hours after the election in Belarus through the experiences of men and women held in two cells in Okrestino jail in Minsk.

The story:

For the longform feature in Al Jazeera, Olga and Ottavia interviewed dozens of survivors of torture and other abuses, as well as former police officers, international human rights law experts and academics. Olga also reported on the ground in Poland and Lithuania, where many sources were living in exile.

“Even though Poland and Lithuania are part of the EU, the sense of threat was palpable,” Olga said. “Our sources spoke of undercover KGB squads operating in Poland. One of my sources was under 24-hour police protection, another carried an axe in the trunk of his car. While I reported in Europe, Ottavia monitored my movements. We had daily check-ins and debriefs with each other, both reporting-related and psychological.”

‘Walking reminders of atrocities’ – Al Jazeera

‘We have one enemy’: The Belarusians who oppose the Ukraine war – Al Jazeera

Telling the stories of brutality – reporting on political prisoners in Belarus – Al Jazeera

L’annessione silenziosa – Jacobin Italia

The impact:

As of 2022, the story is one of very few long-form projects that has thoroughly investigated and reconstructed the events that transpired in the 72 hours following the presidential election of August 2020. Through hyper-local, personal accounts of survivors, they were able to demonstrate and explain the lack of accountability for regimes under international human rights law.

Thanks to the depth and thoroughness of their reporting, it can be used to inform policy discussions and changes as well as legal initiatives against the Belarusian regime for crimes against humanity.

“We are incredibly grateful for the IWMF’s flexibility and support. At the time of our application, we had a feeling that this crucial story of global importance was swept under the rug and forgotten. However, our long-form narrative is a document that clearly links the two seemingly separate events, the crackdown in Belarus and the war in Ukraine. By reporting on the stories of human rights violations in Belarus, the regime’s lack of accountability, and the inertia of international human rights law, we have been able to demonstrate: what happened in Belarus in 2020, made the war in Ukraine possible.”

Slate, USA

The proposal:

Susan Matthews recordingIn the summer of 2021, Slate approached the IWMF with an idea: a narrative history podcast that would explore the path to Roe v. Wade from the 1970s all the way to the present.

The next summer, the Supreme Court was expected to decide on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – and Slate wanted to pull back the curtains on a history that had been lost to time.

The story:

Hosted by Susan Matthews and produced by Samira Tazari, the seventh season of Slow Burn tells the stories of Shirley Wheeler, the first woman to be convicted of manslaughter for having an abortion in the U.S., and other figures central to the abortion rights movement in the 1970s.

In May 2022, a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked to the press that suggested the court’s intent to overturn Roe. Susan Matthews and her team mobilized quickly to release the trailer for their four-part series, which came out in June and offered critical context about the fight for abortion rights.

The impact:

Slow Burn ranked #1 on Apple Podcasts “History” charts and in the top 10 overall, and as one of Spotify’s top podcasts throughout this season’s run.

Before Slow Burn, Shirley Wheeler’s story hadn’t been told comprehensively since it occurred. After Slate featured her on the show, her story has been featured in several other newspapers, podcasts and TV segments.

Slow Burn: Roe v Wade was named one of the best podcasts of 2022 by Vogue. It was also featured or mentioned in Vulture 1.5x Speed, Vulture Summer Podcast Preview, New York Magazine Summer Preview, Bloomberg, CNN, Washingtonian, Financial Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, Variety, The 19th, Politico Pulse, Politico Playbook, Columbia Journalism Review, Columbia Journalism Review (again), The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Hot Pod, Podnews, Boston Public Radio, Podcast The Newsletter, Marketing Brew, Axios Tampa Bay, Quartz, Poynter, The Guardian, ​​The Australian,, NRC, Pocket, Forbes, and more.

Susan Matthews appeared on CNN’s The Lead With Jake TapperCNN Reliable SourcesCNN TonightVelshi on MSNBCWNYCKQEDApple News Daily (Apple’s Daily News Podcast), and more.

In addition, Slate completed an out-of-home marketing campaign for this season of Slow Burn, focusing on Shirley Wheeler’s story and the slogan “Defend Shirley Wheeler.” As part of the campaign, Slate put up billboards in states that have some of the strictest abortion laws in the country, including Jackson, Mississippi, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Little Rock, Arkansas, Boise, Idaho, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Phoenix, Arizona and in also in Daytona Beach, Florida where Shirley Wheeler was living at the time she was convicted for manslaughter for getting an abortion.

The campaign was covered by Hot Pod, Podnews, Columbia Journalism Review, Adweek Newsletter, Nieman Lab, Daytona Beach Radio, The Clarion Ledger, Marketing BrewCNN Reliable Sources,  The Arkansas TimesBoise Weekly, and Daytona Beach News Journal.

“IWMF was one of the first places that believed in the project. The support allowed us to start on it early — which is why we’ve been able to finish the series before the final Supreme Court decision comes down. Additionally, the support helped us bring on another producer, and thanks to that help, we have a lot of really rich and fantastic archival that makes the episodes convey such a feeling of being in the early 1970s.”

Ketzalli Rosas, Latin America and the Caribbean

The proposal:

The COVID-19 pandemic not only created a health and economic crisis in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also increased the cases of violence against women due to the isolation measures. For example, in Colombia, according to the Colombian Women’s Observatory, gender violence calls increased 163% since the lockdown started until April, and in Paraguay, the Women’s Ministry confirmed a 50% increase in March.

Distintas Latitudes and the LATAM Network of Young Journalists created a team of 30 journalists to bring more attention to this issue.

The story:

Led by Ketzalli Rosas, Nicole Martin and Carlos Mayorga, Violentadas en cuarentena (Violence during quarantine) examined the increase in gender-based violence in Latin American countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This transnational reporting project involved 66 people, including journalists, fact checkers, designers, illustrators, translators and filmmakers from 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Published by Factual in the publication Distintas Latitudes, the project features profiles of women affected by gender-based violence, the statistical breakdown of different types of violence by country, and a memorial of women killed by femicide during the pandemic. The stories were republished in 40 media outlets across the region.
Visualization of femicide data

The impact:

The project encouraged international organizations and activists to continue raising their voices and demanding that attention be paid to violence against women, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Novembre, 25, 2020, during the ​International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women​, many organizations, media outlets, feminist groups republished data from their investigation.

In June 2021, Violentadas en cuarentena won the Digital Media Award at the 2021 One World Media Awards.

“We are very grateful to IWMF for financing Violence During Quarantine, because not only did it help to make an issue as important as gender-based violence, but it also contributed to young women journalists being able to develop professionally. Violence During Quarantine seeks to be a reference point for consulting the Latin American panorama on violence against women during the covid-19 pandemic. It is an investigation that, we consider, we can continuously update because, in such an adverse scenario, nothing guarantees that we can find ourselves locked up at home again soon.”

The Seattle Times, USA

The proposal:

Naomi, Corinne and Jennifer reportingEighty years ago, the Seattle-area Japanese-American population was forcibly removed, to be incarcerated in camps across the west.

But, looking at select Seattle Times editions from March 1942 and August 1942, the newspaper’s coverage painted a picture of the incarceration that did not align with what we know to be true today. The Seattle Times – led by IWMF grantees Naomi Ishisaka, Corinne Chin and Jennifer Moriguchi Buchanan – decided to examine this past coverage to hold itself accountable.

The story:

In late March, The Seattle Times published A1 Revisited, a project marking the 80th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. Naomi Ishisaka’s feature story examined anti-Asian and anti-Japanese sentiment before Pearl Harbor and how newspapers of the time, including the Seattle Times, inflamed prejudice against Japanese Americans as foreigners.

Corinne Chin and Jennifer Moriguchi Buchanan collaborated on a video project where they interviewed Mitsuye Yamada, 98, a woman formerly incarcerated at the Minidoka incarceration camp who was told by a news photographer to smile in a photograph that appeared on the Seattle Times front page in 1942.

Seattle Times Executive Editor Michele Matassa Flores apologized for “racism and neglect” in a note accompanying the project.

And Seattle Times editors Crystal Paul and Emily N. Eng annotated past coverage, finding racist and inaccurate language, sourcing errors and underreporting of certain claims.

The impact:

The team at the Seattle Times has received overwhelmingly positive feedback for their willingness to tackle racism head-on and build bridges with the Japanese American communities affected by incarceration. According to the executive editor, the newspaper is working on future installments of the project.

Professors and teachers are now teaching the project in their classes.

“The support from IWMF was invaluable in providing an opportunity for us to interview Mitsuye, who was an important living testament to the impact of our incarceration coverage in WWII. We could not have done it without your support.” – Naomi Ishisaka