The prize money attached to all three of the Geddes awards comes on the condition that it be used in full or in part to finance a unique journalistic project of the candidate's choice. The proposal for this project forms a crucial part of the entry criteria and, as these examples show, there is no limit to what an ambitious candidate can achieve
Women's rights in Russia - report from 2017 Ronnie Payne Prize winner Marianna Spring
Marianna at an exhibition on Pussy Riot and women in Russia at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow and reporting from Paris in September
When I spoke to Celia Haddon about her husband, Ronnie Payne, at the brilliant Geddes Lecture in March, she told me about his admirable reporting on important issues abroad during turbulent times. This year, I have aimed to do just that. However, fulfilling such an aim would not have been possible without the brilliant opportunities to report abroad afforded to me by the Ronnie Payne Prize.
As well as securing a casual contract as a reporter at the Guardian this year and publishing a number of articles because of this, I have been able to work specifically with the International News desk and foreign correspondents at the Guardian as the result of receiving this prize, and to investigate the situation of Russian women, and the issue of domestic violence many of them face.
I set out with the intention of furthering the reporting I had done during my year abroad and of investigating the complex and concerning situation of Russian women, inspired by those I met whilst living in Yaroslavl’. Conversations with them, along with the recent news regarding domestic violence laws and work discrimination, made it clear to me that Russian women were beginning to challenge their position in society.
Thanks to the help of trustee Sandra Barwick, as well as Alexandra Topping, a reporter who I have worked with at the Guardian, I found a news focus for my story: the issue of violence against women in Russia. Following amendments in February, which had decriminalised some forms of domestic violence in Russia, this topic was especially relevant and important, and allowed me to channel this concern for the treatment of women, who have had to fight for their rights in a different way to European women as a result of the ‘equality’ imposed during the Soviet era. The Guardian’s International News Editor gave me the go ahead to investigate the effects of the amendments, and the new bill that activists were trying to get through the State Duma, and so I set to work.
I used my prize money to fund a trip to Moscow as planned in the Easter vacation in order to speak with a number of women, who I met during my year abroad, and also activists who have been campaigning for new protection bill on domestic violence prevention. These conversations (during which my Russian proved to be very useful!) revealed to me the scale of the problem of domestic violence in the country, the risk of it worsening following the amendments in February, and the work of brave young women in particular who wanted to change that. These activists pointed me in the direction of others who were campaigning, as well as those Deputies in the State Duma who were against the amendments. I continued to call and speak with activists, victims of domestic violence, law-makers and Deputies for a number of months and throughout the Summer, as well as speaking to those who backed the amendments, in order to best understand the current situation in the country.
When looking for the best hook for my story, I was hoping this would be the debate, and perhaps even the passing, of the bill in the State Duma would come about, but this has stalled. After discussions with assistant International News Editor Enjoli Liston and Lexy Topping, I decided to structure my story around the affects of the amendments, and the worsening situation for women who are now having to pay the fines of their abusers. The news article was published online and in print in the paper on Tuesday December 19th of this year: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/19/russian-victims-domestic-violence-abuse-forced-pay-perpetrator-fines. I hope that my reporting will draw attention to the issue. It is some of the most important news reporting I’ve done, as well as my first exclusive for the Guardian.
I am in Russia again for New Year, where I plan to do more reporting, and to continue interrogating the situation of women in Russia. The International News Desk at the Guardian are keen to hear more stories on Russia from me, and I plan to write a more detailed series of profiles of Russian women who have been affected by domestic abuse, as well to continue reporting on domestic violence in Russia.
Any money that I did not spend on trips to Russia, I used to report in Paris with the Guardian Paris corespondent, where I also met journalists from BBC news and ITN, as well as with Le Tarn Libre, the local paper in the South West of France, where I wrote a news feature piece “Regards sur Albi” (featured below as it was only in print). In addition to this, the prize helped me to report on the First Round of the French Election debate on the Guardian’s Live Blog: https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2017/apr/04/french-election-2017-france-all-presidential-candidates-take-part-in-live-tv-debate.
I would not have been able to make these trips, or pursue these opportunities, were it not for the prize money, and the prize has without doubt enabled me to pursue my dream of foreign corespondency. I want to express my gratitude to Ronnie, to Celia and to the Geddes Trust, who have enabled all of this. I hope that I have done and continue to do Ronnie proud, reporting on important issues abroad during turbulent times, just as he did.
Panthers at play - report from 2017 Clive Taylor Prize winner Vincent Richardson
Spartanburg, South Carolina doesn’t get a huge number of visitors. Besides a nearby car plant and a couple of small colleges there really isn’t much there to visit. During the two-and-a-bit weeks I was there I could have counted the number of non-American accents I heard on one hand; most of the visitors had come from inside the state.
That being the case, for a few weeks in the summer, the Carolina Panthers come to town bringing press, fans and family with them. This is because the team hold their annual preseason training camp at Wofford College, a small private college near the town centre. This year, thanks to the Geddes Trust, I was lucky enough to be able to watch as the Panthers prepared for the upcoming season.
The opening event of Training Camp was the ‘Kickoff Party’, a practice in the Wofford College stadium accompanied by music, dancing and, somewhat unexpectedly, speed art. While the surrounding attractions weren’t what I’d gone to Spartanburg for, the atmosphere they helped to create was a thoroughly enjoyable one, and holding open practices in this way is certainly something that British sports team should explore.
Without press credentials for the first week of my stay, I was restricted to watching practices from the hillock next to the practice fields, where each day I was joined by several thousand other fans. While my attention was mostly on larger trends throughout the two weeks, I did post daily summaries of the practices on a blog page shared with a friend.
During the time not spent at practice, I worked on a series of articles examining those larger trends, as well as a piece looking at the Panthers’ then-recent firing of General Manager Dave Gettleman. The latter piece has since been published by the Oxford Student (see links below), as was one of the more general pieces on scheme analytics.
However, with the acquisition of a press pass for the second week of practice, my attention turned to more detailed analysis of individual players, aided by closer access to the practice field and player press-conferences. The highlight of this was an interview with Panthers’ defensive end Efe Obada, which has again since been published in the Oxford Student.
Obada was born in Nigeria but grew up in Brixton and is one of a few UK players trying to make it in the NFL via a trial involving the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South. This interview allowed me to not only get a player’s perspective on training camp but also to ask some questions about the growth of the NFL overseas and the potential for a franchise to move to the UK.
I was also awarded a press pass for the annual Fan Fest; a practice held in the team’s stadium in Charlotte in front of a crowd of over sixty thousand. Regardless of the journalistic impact, standing pitch-side under the lights on a Friday evening was unlike anything I have hitherto experienced.
In total, I was able to attend a total of eleven practices between Spartanburg and Fan Fest, more than enough to allow me to complete the piece I had aimed to write when going out there; namely on examining how the Panthers had adapted their offensive scheme in order to greater incorporate running backs as receivers in the passing game, a perceived point of emphasis following the acquisition of rookie Christian McCaffrey in that year’s draft.
What I still lacked at this point, and something that I had hoped to develop whilst in Spartanburg, was a publication looking for the more detailed analytics pieces I aim to write going forwards. Whilst I had got to know a number of the reporters from the Charlotte Observer during my stay, most notably Joe Person and Jourdan Rodrigue, they had made it clear their focus was more on context pieces than technical or strategic breakdowns.
However, Jourdan very kindly introduced me to Josh Klein, editor of the Riot Report, a Panthers-specific analytics publication. Having talked to him during fan fest, I was asked to submit a sample and, after sending in my piece on running backs in the passing game, I was fortunate enough to be offered a position as an analyst for them.
This involves writing a weekly column as well as some additional pieces from time to time. I have now been writing my column for about four months and, whilst fitting this in during term time has not always been the easiest of tasks, it has been really enjoyable to be able to write the style of pieces I have always wanted to do. As the publication is a fairly new addition to the broader Roaring Riot organisation, readership has fluctuated fairly significantly so far, but pieces looking at play design and player analysis have proven to be very successful leading to the publication looking for me to cover the 2018 NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis in March.
Despite the southern summer heat, tropical storms and American beer, my experience in South Carolina was not only enjoyable but also allowed me an insight into sports journalism in the US that simply could not have been gained otherwise. I can only thank the Geddes Trust in helping me to fund my trip, and I hope that my continued work for the Riot Report exhibits the humanity and analytic insight that has carried me thus far.
My visit to Athens' refugee squats
by cartoonist Ella Baron, winner of the 2016 Ronnie Payne Prize
In September 2015, the photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach made headline news across the world. That image cut through political complexities and personal reservations and was able to be just deeply sad. I’m a cartoonist, and armed with a biro and a belief in the evocative power of images, I spent this July working in the underground refugee squats of Athens.
Last summer, the desperate exodus across the Aegean Sea captivated the world. This summer, thousands of disillusioned refugees caught in political limbo are offering a jaded media less romantic photo opportunities. Greece has become a grim holding pen and no one is watching. In a derelict hospital home to over six-hundred refugees, I asked a Syrian man where he was headed. He shrugged hopelessly and carried on swatting flies. When I asked him why he’d come his answer was to show me the bullet scars on his infant son.
In Athens the refugee squats are clustered in Exarcheia, the historical hotbed of radical Left-wing resistance from the student riots of the 1970s to the recent anti-austerity protests. The neighbourhood is home to a community of volunteers and activists that range from die-hard anarchists to those who simply see the Western establishment as flawed. The squatters are mainly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. The volunteers are from all over the world. Together they have turned derelict buildings into communities struggling to sustain themselves outside international rules.
These nests of crumbling corridors offer underground refugees a safer alternative to sleeping rough. It also gives them an autonomy denied by dictatorial regimes, terrorists and the official asylum system. No country, no rights, no protection under the law, no money, no media visibility, no reliable access to food, medicine or clean water. But dignity, nonetheless. It hit me in strange ways in strange places; when an old Palestinian woman admonished me for wearing odd socks; seeing a mother lovingly arrange her family’s meagre dinner on a cracked plate; the two sisters who spent an hour and all the teeth of their comb plaiting my matted hair.
NGOs are not allowed to operate in the squats due to their illegal status. There are no red cross tents or UN helmets, no official looking men with clipboards and no forms to be signed. The refreshing lack of bureaucracy comes with a flourishing black market in aid donations. Baby formula mysteriously evaporates from the stores whilst the head honchos of the squat stoically keep rolling cigarettes. Cramped conditions, insufficient supplies and no prospect of improvement breeds depression and dispute. Theft, fights, domestic violence, rape, child-abuse, self-harm; these things happen and can’t be addressed. You can’t report a crime to the authorities if they don’t recognize the existence of the people involved and the place it is committed.
Our bodies are sanctified by citizenship, something I only recognized by witnessing “invisible” refugees bloodied and bruised. While I was there, an Afghani father living at The School Squat lost his two-year-old child. He cried at the burial because, he said, “I am sad but satisfied to have finally put my son in a bed where he is safe and will be safe forever.” I once saw a tiny girl in a red pinafore squatting behind The School bins gnawing at a bone. And from just beyond the playground fence, tourists stroll past on shopping sprees and you can hear police sirens and ice cream vans.
It is difficult to photograph squat life; illegal refugees are concerned that if they apply for asylum elsewhere in the EU photos of them in Greece will provide evidence for deportment; political asylum seekers are afraid photos may be used to trace them; some refugees are simply embarrassed because they’re wealthy, educated people who don’t want to be identified with such poverty. Besides, even the best photographer in the world can’t convey narrative like a cartoonist. So cartoons work where photos can’t at depicting these sensitive situations in a way that anonymises the individuals without anesthetising their story. The figures aren’t identified but they’re not just figments of my imagination (that would be contrived). When I draw them I know exactly who they are, so if the cartoon works it can communicate the real emotions of real people, without invading on their privacy.
I have no authority to propose grand solutions to the refugee crisis – hopefully there are far more qualified people doing that. These cartoons don’t make “clever” political points, they’re just an honest response to the refugees I met, and what it was like to try and fail to help them.
Journalism in Mumbai
by Carola Binney, winner of the inaugural Ronnie Payne Prize
The Ronnie Payne prize money took me to India, to intern at the Mumbai edition of Hindustan Times, India’s second most widely read English-language newspaper.
Based on the Lifestyle desk, I was set the intimidating first task of compiling the weekly ‘Weekend Fix’ list of cool events and openings in the city: I soon knew far more about Mumbai’s art, music and restaurant scene than I do of Oxford’s (although that isn’t saying much).
Learning to write ‘Indian English’ was a steep learning curve. There are distinct differences - including in the use of commas and when to use ‘are’ or ‘is’ - but they are so subtle that I found it hard to get my head around them. Learning to adapt my writing style to suit a foreign audience was one of the most valuable and most challenging aspects of my time in Mumbai, and at first felt like going very much against the grain. By the end of my internship my copy was returned slightly less covered in corrections, but my linguistic flexibility paled in comparison to Mumbaikers’: when taxi drivers gave each other directions, in the midst of a stream of Hindi would be a crystal clear “second left”.
The highs of my two weeks at Hindustan Times included being sent to cover a TED Talks event and getting a health feature included included in the paper’s national pages, which have a readership of almost 3.8 million. The lows included spilling my drink on the Swedish Consul General during an interview about educational opportunities for Indian students in Sweden - but at least my piece still made it into the paper.
I travelled by auto-rickshaw, the yellow-and-black 3-wheelers that buzz around the city like bees, and worked the bizarre Indian newspaper office hours: 1-9pm. I wore a sari, danced at an Indian wedding and discovered the joys of Mumbai’s street-food: the explosion of spicy sweetness when you eat a water-filled pani puri makes the Delhi Belly (almost) worth it.
I packed five pairs of shoes but went to work in flip-flops: the monsoon rains and the heat made anything more substantial a recipe for soggy, sweaty disaster. I flouted Lonely Planet’s advice and became one of the 7.5 million commuters carried to work each day by the city’s suburban rail network: people hang out of door-less doorways on moving trains, which are often at two-and-a-half times their intended capacity. As the train pulled up at Elphinstone Road, I was carried from the ladies’ carriage onto the platform in a wave of sweat and brightly coloured saris.
I intended to stay at Hindustan Times for a month, but when I was invited to return to Muktangan, the educational charity I had done some copy-writing for in the two weeks between arriving in Mumbai and starting my internship, I decided to go. I felt I would be able to have a bigger impact and more freedom in a smaller team in which my English language writing skills were in shorter supply.
I stayed at Muktangan for a month, writing new copy for their website as part of a complete online overhaul (which will go live soon). I enjoyed using my journalistic experience in a new way, and especially appreciated the chance to work on multimedia and visual projects: I produced a new brochure for the charity, doing everything from the copywriting to the layout, and was involved in discussions with the website designer about how to make the site more interactive.
At Muktangan, my proudest achievement was the video I made outlining the charity’s work, which the fundraising team have been using in pitches to potential corporate partners. Having never made a film of any kind before, and working on a non-existent budget, I created the video using only free online software, the voice recorder on my iPhone and a willing colleague as my narrator. You can watch it here.
Driving through a foot of monsoon flood water on my way from the airport, my first impressions of Mumbai weren’t good - no where has ever grown on me so much. The city is vast, dirty and deafening, but the friendliness of so many of the people made it feel manageable: from the colleague who took me to her Zumba class to the stranger who saw me failing to get a rush hour taxi and gave me a hair-raising lift to the station on the back of her moped, the people I met gave a very big city a small-town vibe. I had a wonderful and eyeopening summer: thank you to the Geddes prize committee and Celia Haddon for making it possible.
The Development of Backbench
By Robert Walmsley (2015)
From early on I saw the Geddes Prize as an opportunity to work on a lasting journalistic project. Backbench is a student-run website which provides a platform for young people across the country to write opinion pieces for the first time. Aspiring writers, typically at sixth form or university, contact us with an article they would like to submit and then we work with them to publish it on our website.
I first got involved with the website in 2012, during its early months, when we had only a few writers. Now, we have published hundreds of pieces by over a hundred different writers. This meant that when I first heard about the £1,000 offered with the Geddes Prize, I knew that I would like to invest the money in expanding our readership by developing a mobile phone app for Backbench.
Up to the point where we won the Geddes prize, Backbench had been run without a budget and out of our own pockets so the £1,000 provided to us by the Geddes Trust meant a lot to us. Indeed, without funding we would never have been able to fund the development of the app by ourselves.
Our motivation for proposing the project to the Geddes Trust was that we knew to continue to build our audience, we needed to embrace the smart phone revolution. The problem became clearer when we discovered that 35% of our website hits came from people using either a phone or tablet, even though our website was not optimised for reading on these sort of devices. We were also aware that a great deal of our web traffic came from people finding our articles on social media. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook, which are increasingly accessed through mobile devices. We had previously tried using the social magazine app Google Currents to host Backbench on smartphones. However, this failed to catch on, with Google scrapping Google Currents altogether in November 2013.
This experience convinced us that we needed our own platform. We wanted to provide our content in a way which was reliable, independent, and Backbench-approved. All of this led us to conclude that we needed to develop an app specifically for people’s phones and tablets – a space on our reader’s devices where they would be able to access our articles and social media accounts in an integrated way.
Our challenge lay in the fact that, although as a team we possessed a lot of editorial experience, we didn’t possess much knowledge of programming. For example, I had edited the University of Oxford newspaper Cherwell, but had no background in software development. In the end, the solution we found was to use app design software called GoodBarber to streamline our design choices, whilst leaving extensive room for customisation. We favoured this over finding a developer to build the app with for a couple of reasons. For one, we felt that this approach would allow us to choose the design of the app, without relying on a developer to interpret our ideas. Price was also a major consideration for us – by my estimate we would be able to pay for the development and hosting of the app for several years using GoodBarber, whereas by using an independent developer we would not have been able to afford even half as much.
We finally began work on the app on July 14 2015 and hoped to complete an initial app design within four weeks. Our aim when developing the app was to make it simple and easy to use, whilst also drawing attention to particular sections like the Westminster Hub, where we post our content focusing on Westminster politics. Our founder Sam Bright also had the idea of choosing the best articles on the site to appear on the app.
Our anticipated launch date was Monday 31 August, but this ended up being delayed until Friday October 23 2015. In my view this happened for a couple of reasons – foremost of which was we had been redeveloping the Backbench website in parallel with developing the app, which had taken longer than anticipated and thus delayed the app as well. Another major factor was that many of us involved in Backbench also had to juggle this with preparing for our final year of university.
Despite the delay in launching the app, I feel that this paid off in the end as we were able to launch an app that we were truly satisfied with. Indeed, since we have launched the app we have received almost entirely positive feedback and it has been downloaded as far away as Hollywood, California. All in all, we felt that in developing the app, we were able to live up to the aims of the Philip Geddes Memorial Prize’s by creating a platform on which people will be able to more easily access the work of young journalists.
My experiences working as a journalist in Ghana
By Camilla Turner (2011)
This summer I travelled to Ghana to work as a freelance journalist, after winning the Philip Geddes Memorial Prize.
I chose Ghana as I thought it would be fascinating to work as a journalist somewhere with radically different cultural, social and political mores to those of England. While researching where to go, I discovered Accra’s vibrant and liberal press community, which had been growing since the birth of the Fourth Republic in 1992 and the relaxation of Ghana’s media laws. The wide range and variety of English language newspapers seemed to present a plethora of journalistic opportunities for aspiring freelancers .
But my earliest observation about the media in Ghana was their lack of use of internet, an immediate and radical departure from their Western counterparts. Of the many newspapers with office headquarters in Accra, few had an online presence, and those which did had only skeleton websites. This made it near impossible to organise a placement at a newspaper in advance: few newspapers gave contact details on line and my emails and phone calls went unanswered.
Undeterred, I arrived in Accra, and from one of the many stalls selling papers in the bustling city centre I noted down the addresses of all the newspaper offices .
Equipped with my CV and cover letter from the Geddes Trust, I went round the various newspaper offices in Accra, starting at TheDaily Graphic, Ghana's largest circulation and longest established paper. Desperate for an on the spot "yes", I left the Graphic offices slightly disheartened after being told "We'll call you later in the week" by the Human Resources officer.
My next stop was The Daily Dispatch, a much smaller privately owned paper, run out of one tiny office. The response here was much more positive: upon my arrival, the Deputy Editor immediately invited me out for lunch with the editorial team. Despite having already eaten lunch, I politely gulped down a very large bowl of "fou-fou", a traditional Ghanaian dish of soft dough, meat and fish in a soup.
My unfaltering appetite must have impressed them. The Editor said I could start work the next day. At The Daily Dispatch, I learnt a lot about Ghanaian media culture, and hence, popular interest. The front page lead each day was politically themed, often an overt attack on a political party, and this was not uncommon for Ghanaian papers. In fact, in the week while I was working at the paper the furore with which the media was splashing headlines about the main political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the Peoples' National Congress (PNC) in the run up to Ghana’s general elections, culminated in the calling of an emergency conference of politicians and journalists.
I quickly learnt that most newspapers took a firm stance in supporting either NDC or PNC, with a strong tendency to launch personalized attacks on individual politicians in the opposing party. The recent trend for these personal political attacks to be along ethnic lines was seen as particularly worrying, and this was the prime reason for the calling of the emergency conference. The ethno-political divisions of Rwanda which had led to the genocide of 1994, when hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were killed at the hands of the Hutus, served as a constant reminder to all African nations of what an escalation in ethnic tensions can lead to.
Many at the conference voiced the importance of press regulation, and the responsibility of the press not to polarize opinions, especially along ethnic lines. It was fascinating to see how in Ghana the explosion of ethno-political attacks had led to calls for closer regulation and professionalism in journalism – while meanwhile in England the revelations of phone hacking at the News of the World were making headlines which would later led to similar demands for tighter press regulation.
A few days into my time at The Daily Dispatch, I got a call from The Daily Graphic, saying they had approved my papers and would like me to begin my placement there the next week. I was working there when the next major media controversy to sweep Ghana came: this time the issue was homophobia. This storm had been brewing since The Daily Graphic published a report alleging that 8000 homosexuals were “registered” by an NGO as living in and around the city, and that the majority were infected with HIV. This sparked a wave of homophobic demonstrations and a torrent of media abuse in the newspapers and on the radio.
In addition to my day to day work based at the newspaper offices, which included going to various conferences and events and writing up reports, I wrote an expose of the spate of machete attacks on western volunteers working on human rights and hospital projects in Accra for The Daily Graphic. Along with two friends, I also carried out an extensive investigation into the widespread phenomenon of football trafficking and the associated human rights abuses. This was published as a lead feature in the sport supplement of The Daily Graphic.
Living and working in Accra gave me a fascinating insight into the workings of the media in a foreign country, by seeing the matters which are reported on, how they are reported, and the reception from the public. It also allowed me to pursue my own stories and investigative work in a completely new social, cultural and political environment. I would not have been able to embark upon, or even been able to consider working as a journalist in Ghana without the sum of money awarded to me by the Geddes Trust. I am very grateful to the Philip Geddes Memorial Award.