The winner of the Kurt Schork Awards were officially announced today, and we’re delighted to say that Nicholas Schmidle has received this year’s honor in the freelance category. We’re thrilled—but hardly surprised. The entrants are judged “not only on the quality of writing and investigative effort, but also on the level of courage and resourcefulness demonstrated in producing the stories.” The award went to Schmidle for two stories written for VQR and a third written for the New York Times Magazine.
In October 2006, Schmidle contacted us with the idea of going to Baluchistan. At that moment the Guardian (UK) was lobbying for permission to enter; they were denied. So Schmidle planned to—and did—go without permission. He later reported in the Washington Post that, when the Pakistani government learned of his trip, “intelligence goons stopped by my house on a regular basis for weeks, demanding to speak with me and asking my guard probing questions.” This was no mere intimidation; in the two years since then, a handful of journalists—most from Arabic- or Urdu-language newspapers—have disappeared while reporting in Baluchistan. His story, “Waiting for the Worst,” was a rare and vital glimpse inside this protected region.
Schmidle displayed similar courage in proposing a story last fall on the increasing influence of the Iranian government in western Afghanistan. He traveled to the contentious border region, and he met directly with controversial leaders Ismail Khan and Farooq Hussaini. Along the way, he was nearly shot (by an accidental discharge) and was forced to flee the Shindand bazaar to avoid being kidnapped by the Taliban or Taliban sympathizers. “Democracy Is Not a Postcard” was a prescient glimpse of a resurgent Taliban and a warning of an increasingly dangerous Afghanistan.
Schmidle’s win also caps a great year of honors for VQR’s reporting. Last fall, Ashley Gilbertson was a finalist for the Prix Bayeux-Calvados for War Reporting for his story “Last Photographs.” (The story was also featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”) Chris Hondros was a finalist for the National Magazine Award for Photojournalism for his piece “A Window on Baghdad.” (That story was featured in USA Today.) Kwame Dawes was recently a finalist for the Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism for a website developed in association with the Pulitzer Center to accompany his story “Learning to Speak.” (Recently highlighted on PBS’s The NewsHour.) And, of course, VQR won—with the indispensable help of issue co-editor Daniel Alarcón—the National Magazine Award for Best Single-Topic Issue for our Fall 2007 issue “South America in the 21st Century.” (Check out Daniel’s conversation with Fareed Zakaria about the issue on PBS’s Foreign Exchange.)
So special congratulations to Nicholas Schmidle today—but a big thanks to all of VQR’s ambitious and courageous reporters. These awards mean a lot to us, but the real honor is having the chance to work with such great people busting their backsides to tell such essential and affecting stories.