Fourth-year journalism student Rachel Watts has won the 2021 Fraser MacDougall Prize for Best New Canadian Voice in Human Rights Reporting.

Fourth-year journalism student Rachel Watts has won the 2021 Fraser MacDougall Prize for Best New Canadian Voice in Human Rights Reporting for her Capital Current story on how the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the plight of asylum seekers in Canada.

The prestigious award is given annually by Journalists for Human Rights and Canada’s National NewsMedia Council.

Watts’ in-depth story, headlined “Pandemic intensifies silent sorrow of Canada’s asylum seekers,” was published in Capital Current, the J-School’s flagship publication for student work, in December 2020.

In a statement announcing the news, the NNC stated that “this year’s judges agreed Watts’ story was thorough and eloquently written. The story’s compelling focus on chronicling the challenges asylum seekers face, even after overcoming horrific challenges in their home countries, was both potent and persuasive.”

Three other Carleton journalism students had also been nominated for the prize.

Christianna Alexiou and Cameron Chaddad were shortlisted for their multimedia story headlined “Centre tries to fill gap in Indigenous language program in Ottawa,” published in Capital Current in February.

Alexiou was also nominated for a story co-authored with fellow journalism student Rebecca Weston and published by Carleton’s campus news outlet, The Charlatan“The price of swapping fast fashion for sustainability.”

The fourth nominated story, “Lip service: BIPOC students at Rye feel unsupported by the complaint process,” was written by Abeer Khan and illustrated by Laila Amer and appeared in The Eyeopener.

The Fraser MacDougall Prize was first presented in 2017 as a way of supporting young journalists to report on challenging, high-impact human rights issues.

Watts’ story “captures so many meaningful nuances which, against the backdrop of the pandemic, have become all the more concerning,” said John Fraser, executive chair of the National NewsMedia Council. “The story helps to amplify the perspectives, and life experiences, of those whom we do not always hear from in the media but that are important voices that shape our collective worldview.”

Watts offered a heartfelt “thank you” to her “wonderful” professor, J-School instructor Kelly Patterson, for her guidance in bringing story from idea to publication, according to the JHR/NNC announcement about this year’s prize.

“Through my reporting, I began to realize how newcomers and refugees are often depicted as being mostly ‘grateful’ and ‘relieved’ upon their immigration to Canada,” said Watts. “Settlement, or creating ‘a new life’, is viewed as ‘the easy part.’

“Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. Too many vulnerable groups of migrants continue to experience various challenges such as culture shock, severe isolation, language barriers, discrimination and dead-end jobs. It’s particularly relevant to consider these barriers in the COVID-19 pandemic context– one which began to isolate newcomer families and individuals on a whole new level.”

This year’s competition attracted a record number of submissions, said the sponsoring organizations. The short list of four finalists was announced last month.

“Despite an extremely trying and challenging past 18 months, the quality of this year’s submissions has shown us that student journalism continues to successfully push boundaries and has never been stronger,” said Fraser.

In addition to the $1,000 prize, Watts will be celebrated at JHR’s upcoming Night for Rights gala, which will be held on Oct. 20.

Christianna Alexiou, Cameron Chaddad, Rebecca Weston, Rachel Watts (left to right)

“These nominations speak volumes about how dedicated many Carleton journalism students are to the core social justice mission of journalism,” Allan Thompson, the head of Carleton’s journalism program, stated when the finalists were announced in late September. “The nominations also speak well of the editorial decisions being made by the journalism school’s flagship publication Capital Current and Carleton’s campus newspaper, The Charlatan.”

The 2019 winner of the prize was Carleton journalism student Olivia Robinson for an in-depth story published in Capital Current, headlined: “Raising a Stink about Public Washrooms in Ottawa: Why you should care about toilet privilege.”

The award is made possible by a generous endowment of the late Fraser MacDougall, who had a distinguished career in journalism, chiefly with The Canadian Press. Later in life, he was the first executive secretary of the former Ontario Press Council, which was a forerunner to the NNC.

Monday, October 18, 2021 in ,
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