Al Jazeera Digital wins online journalism awards | Qatar


AJ Contrast virtual reality film about diaspora Uighurs and food series Fork the System earn top prizes.

In a year marked by overlapping crises and coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, two Al Jazeera Digital teams have emerged with top prizes in the 2020 Online Journalism (OJA) Awards.

The full roster of winners was published on Saturday following a two-week online journalism innovation forum, ONA20 Everywhere, hosted by the Online News Association (ONA).

Al Jazeera’s Emmy-nominated immersive storytelling and media innovation studio, AJ Contrast, won in the Excellence and Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling (small newsroom) category for Living in the Unknown.

The virtual reality documentary powerfully explores the state of alienation felt by Uighur Muslims who have fled persecution in China’s Xinjiang province and are attempting to rebuild their lives in Istanbul.

About one million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities are believed to be held against their will in Xinjiang in what human rights groups call “concentration camps”.

Fearing the same fate for their loved ones back home, Uighur families in Living in the Unknown have been forced into the difficult choice of cutting off all contact with family and friends in Xinjiang.

“Our greatest challenge has always been to use cutting edge immersive technologies to access hard to reach places, ideas and themes,” said Zahra Rasool, head of AJ Contrast. “By spending time with Uighur families who’ve fled, and seeing how challenging their lives have become as a result, we were able to get a snapshot of the emotional duress and alienation experienced by Uighurs in exile.”

Korea: A Divided Nation, a United Table | Fork the System Ep1

The food-meets-politics series Fork the System, meantime, won against The Washington Post to fetch top prize in the Online Commentary category and emerged as one of two first places alongside competitor The New York Times.

Launched late in 2019, Fork the System follows producers and cohosts Joi Lee and HyoJin Park as they travel to marketplaces and kitchens around the world.

Season One features episodes in Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines where Lee and Park discover the flavours that bind us while engaging in conversations around what food can tell us about life, history and current affairs.

The second episode of Fork the System takes us to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in the southern Philippines to taste the lesser-known Filipino food of Moro Muslims and ask what it can tell us about being Filipino in a minority subculture.

Speaking from lockdown in South Korea, Park said she and Lee set out to create much more than a food series.

“For Fork the System, food is like a common language we can all speak to discuss complex topics like identity and conflict,” she said.

Fork the System also won Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in the 2020 Telly Awards and a highly commended second place in the Drum Online Media Awards.

“We’re proud of our AJ Contrast and Fork the System teams,” said Carlos van Meek, Al Jazeera’s director of Digital Innovation and Programming.

“Their success owes to innovation, dedication and a strict adherence to quality above all else. These wins are a bright spot in challenging times – and indicate that all the hard work is paying off.”