News reporting grantee winners: ‘I’ve developed other skills that make me a 21st century journalist’

Verah Okeyo will never forget the sight of three women sharing one hospital bed; Josh Landis, the ravages of climate change-driven storms on coastal communities; Phil Cunningham, the haunted feeling of Tiananmen Square; and Ruth Olurounbi and Kelechukwu Iruoma, the frustration over cleanup delays of oil spills from decades ago.

All five journalists are recipients of the Microsoft News grant program in partnership with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), with emphases on immersive storytelling and data analysis. They recently completed their reporting and their stories now are being published around the world.

While they’re from different countries Okeyo from Kenya, Landis and Cunningham from the U.S., and Olurounbi and Iruoma from Nigeria – they all share the same dedication and passion for what they do.

“These are experienced journalists from ICFJ’s global network who produce high-quality reporting on issues important to their communities,” says Sharon Moshavi, ICFJ senior vice president. “This partnership supports our efforts to provide lifelong learning opportunities to our network. We’re thrilled to see the stories the grantees produced using new tools and techniques.”

Among those new tools: Microsoft training in Power BI, a powerful data analytics and visualization tool which is being used by journalists, including the Associated Press, to report data-driven stories; Video Indexer, a kind of AI edit booth; and Mixer, Microsoft’s video streaming platform. Olurounbi and Iruoma of Nigeria also received Microsoft help with learning how to operate a drone for photography and video purposes.

Quality journalism is among the issues Microsoft cares about, says Ben Rudolph, Microsoft News Labs managing director.

“We believe that everyone deserves access to high-quality journalism, which is critical to providing the world’s citizenry with the information they need to make better, more informed decisions about their lives,” he says. “Supporting a free, open, independent press is just as important as other top-line concerns on which Microsoft is working, such as driving more inclusive design, democratizing STEM education, and our sustainability efforts.”

Rudolph says Microsoft is in a unique position because the company already works closely within the journalism industry through providing technology to optimize their business, working with reporters to help them tell stories in new and immersive ways and working side-by-side with editors to create content daily for Microsoft News.

The partnership with ICFJ was a natural one, grown from a shared desire to tell deeply immersive, relevant stories worldwide.

“The fundamental goal remains to ground stories in fact, make the information transparent to its audiences, and distill the essential pertinent narrative from what could be otherwise be an overwhelming tide of information,” says Vera Chan, Microsoft senior manager, Worldwide Journalist Relations, who ran the grant program. “And for some, by opening new ways to tell a story and reach audiences, means they have found a new perspective on their own careers.”

Okeyo, who writes for The Nation, the largest daily independent newspaper in Kenya, agrees. With the grant, “ICFJ and Microsoft took a gamble on my personal and professional goals,” she says. “I’ve developed skills that make me a 21st-century journalist.”

Learn about grantees Phil Cunningham, Josh Landis and Ruth Olurounbi and Kelechukwu Iruoma.

Reporter Josh Landis

‘It’s a fact of life and in our future’

Josh Landis wants people to understand how climate change affects everyday aspects of life

Read his story

Ruth Olurounbi by river

‘The moment you lose your health, you have lost everything.’

Journalists Ruth Olurounbi and Kelechukwu Iruoma report on long-term impacts of oil contamination.

Read about the project

Philip Cunningham in Tiananmen Square

‘It’s a very powerful place.’

Philip J. Cunningham at Tiananmen Square in China 30 years after student demonstrations.

Read his story

‘These diseases kill people’

Verah Okeyo learned that pneumonia is a primary cause of death for children in remote areas of Kenya.

Read her story

Lead image: Reporter Verah Okeyo, wearing jeans, talks with Kenyans who live in Samburu County in the northern part of the country. Photo: Lameck Ododo.