Discover more from The Orwell Foundation
The Orwell Prize 2023: Journalism recommendations
From the 'Fentanyl king' to the UK's prepayment meter scandal, our finalists give us their pick of the year's best reporting
Following in the footsteps of our recent recommendations from the Book Prize finalists, we asked the finalists for this year’s Orwell Prizes for Journalism, Reporting Homelessness and Exposing Britain’s Social Evils and Political Fiction for the best commentary and reporting - in any media - they’ve come across recently.
Read more about all our finalists, with links to their own work, on The Orwell Foundation website. The winners in all five categories will be revealed on 22nd June. In the meantime, there’s more insights from all our shortlists to come.
There's too much to mention! Ben Mauk’s work on the Xinjiang internment system was formative for me as a journalist. Sally Hayden’s book, My Fourth Time We Drowned, recognised by the Orwell Prizes last year, is a formidable piece of work. If I had to choose one book of reporting above all others it would be Move Your Shadow, Joseph Lelyveld’s book about South Africa in the 1980s. And I read the Evening Standard diary every day.
John Phipps (The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils)
The best piece of commentary I’ve come across recently is the Radio 4 podcast by Jeremy Bowen called ‘Frontlines of Journalism’. I think too much of journalism these days focuses on taking the middle ground on stories, rather than pursuing the truth. Not only is Jeremy’s podcast engaging because he’s as eloquent as ever, but it’s also a reminder, almost a reset switch, that it isn’t our job to be neutral, it’s our job to find and report the truth. I felt like I wanted to take notes while listening to every episode, but I think it’s essential listening not just for journalists, but for ordinary people in many parts of the world, even in democracies, where the true role of the press seems to have been either diminished or forgotten.
Yogita Limaye (The Orwell Prize for Journalism)
As a documentary photographer, I want to broaden the understanding of ‘reporting’ and what we mean by the word ‘documentary’.
In the same way that we have political fiction and lyrical writing about social concerns - part of Orwell’s legacy - the approach to contemporary documentary photography is broadening in exciting new ways.
I use a lot of audio in my work alongside my pictures and I’m drawn to other documentarians that are stretching their practice whilst still digging deeply into important issues and concerns in society. Projects that come to mind immediately are Kirsty Mackay’s The Fish that Never Swam and Margaret Mitchell’s current show An Ordinary Eden - both dealing with social concerns in their native Glasgow. Lottie Davies’ book QUINN is a fictional story - unusual in photography in the long narrative form - but an exquisite ‘meditation on grief, loss, loneliness, the human search for meaning, and the possibility of redemption through time and landscape.’ It speaks of issues around migration and trauma and belonging in a new and lyrical way.
Craig Easton (The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils)
The behaviour of our elected representatives during the Coronavirus lockdowns is a matter of public interest. If they broke the rules most people followed or gave government contracts to their friends, regardless of whether they were the best people for the job, it needs to be investigated. I thought Lewis Goodall's interview with former Health Secretary Matt Hancock about his behaviour while in that role and why it absolutely is the public's business was righteously angry, a masterclass in political interviewing and commentary.
Vicky Spratt (The Orwell Prize for Reporting Homelessness)
I’m a judge of the Paul Foot Awards, so I’m lucky enough to see the best reporting through that process—this year, the longlist included the Guardian’s Michelle Mone investigation, the Liverpool Echo on councillors dodging parking fines and Vice interviewing Andrew Tate (and his alleged victims).
The report by Paul Morgan-Bentley of The Times was particularly affecting: he went undercover with British Gas workers who broke into homes to instal pre-payment meters. He described entering one family’s house to find it full of damp clothes drying on radiators; by the time the inspectors left, the gas was off and the radiators were cold. Details like that are so important in reporting. They remind you of the real people affected by corporate and governmental decisions.(The Orwell Prize for Journalism)
Occasionally you read a piece from a colleague and, think, dammit, I wish I’d written that. I wish I’d been there. Orla Guerin’s piece from Haiti takes your right into the maelstrom. And what a cracking opening line.
Ben Taub of the New Yorker always delivers something fresh and totally absorbing. I started as a business reporter, and this piece on the fraud at Wirecard, reads like a thriller. It’s not easy to make business or business journalists an absorbing read, but Dan McCrumm and Paul Murphy of the FT are Woodward and Bernstein in this tale.
This piece is a trip, a haunting journey through liminal spaces and memory. Mark Sundeen’s journey through Nevada and spooky Lake Mead. Middle-aged gonzo journalism. I think my favourite piece of long form journalism from the last year.
I loved this piece from Benoît Morenne for Wired, which carefully uncovers the story of Alaa Allawi, a former Iraqi translator who became one of the biggest drug dealers on the dark web. It’s one of those deep reads that has required a great deal of research, and brings a new perspective, a 360 degree view of an epidemic if you like, along with detailed character portraits.
This is a shattering piece of journalism from Eric Pape, the story of Leslie Hu and her son Pierce. It works because there’s clearly a deep bond of trust between Pape and Hu. Trust and honesty are the bedrocks of reporting.
And this is a deeply hilarious and entertaining portrait of the actor Jeremy Strong. Many profiles have been written of him, but none come close to this masterpiece from Michael Schulman. I must have forwarded this to a dozen friends.
Quentin Sommerville (The Orwell Prize for Journalism)
As editor of The Dial, a new magazine of international reporting and writing, I have a front seat on excellent reporting around the world. Our mission is to publish work by journalists and writers who are connected to the place they're covering and fight against a flawed model of "parachute journalism."
This can lead to surprising insights. A recent piece on microfinance by Abby Seiff and Sokummono Khan, for example, found that this practice long-touted as a solution to poverty was making it worse. In Cambodia, the focus of the article, interest rates are 18%; parents with microloans are more likely to pull their children out of school or put them to work. "Instead of pushing poor people up the economic chain," they write, "it appears for the most part to have become a form of de facto wealth transfer from the poor to the rich." We've also published amazing writing on reparations and women's rights.
Madeleine Schwartz (The Orwell Prize for Journalism)
The investigation into companies forcing their way into people’s homes to fit prepayment meters as bills soared, the Manchester Evening News reporting on the mouldy living conditions that contributed to the death of toddler Awwab Ishak. I also thought this from Vice, on migrant workers living in squalid conditions as they pick fruit on UK farms was eye opening.
Maeve Shearlaw (The Orwell Prize for Exposing Britain’s Social Evils)