Associated Press reporter Robin McDowell, Pulitzer Prize winner for an exposé of slavery in Southeast Asian seafood industry, owed her achievement to the daily work as foreign correspondent on a workshop at a Hong Kong university on Monday.
“We would never have got a story if we haven’t lived there for a long time, covered daily stories and understood basically what was happening in depth,” she said.
The AP reporter appreciated her decades’ experience in Southeast Asia. Speaking Indonesian also helped her understand the culture and facilitated the information collection from her interviewees.
She described the slavery on fishing boats as an “open secret”, known by many people but few of them cared about it. Borrowing the name from the Oscar movie, she said they expected their reports “spotlight” the problem in front of the international community.
McDowell and her colleagues spent around 18 months on their investigation, which led to the release of more than 2,000 slaves in Indonesia, brought perpetrators to justice and traced the seafood to supermarkets throughout the United States.
Candice Lam, student from journalism department, told she was encouraged by McDowell’s story. “Good journalists are crowned not only by a prize, but by the fact that they really help to make difference to the situation,” she said after the lecture.
McDowell believed that under the global economy, the forced labor in Andaman Sea is not just a regional problem. The globalization of commerce asks journalists to look into every single process and follow the supply chain to dig out the problems.
“Consumers have a voice,” she said. “We try to connect the problems to American dinner tables so that people will feel personally responsible and continue to care about them.”
Clemence Poon, professor in financial journalism, shared McDowell’s opinion. “I still remember after the Foxconn suicide was reported, many iPhone users felt they were contributing personally to the tragedy,” he recalled.
Asked about making domestic readers concern about the issues that was happening on the other hemisphere, the AP reporter believed business link was not the only way to reach audiences but also something shared by all human beings.
“It is the kid on the beach that people will care about,” she said, citing the case in European refugee crisis.
Huang Yu, organizer of the event, said McDowell presented a picture of being investigative correspondents overseas that helped to get students prepared for their future career, which might be very tough.
The workshop is a routine event of the university and this year invited McDowell and another six Pulitzer winners to share their prospective.