Megha Rajagopalan wasn’t watching the Pulitzer announcement ceremony because she wasn’t expecting to win. Rajagopalan, the international correspondent for BuzzFeed News, got to know her series exposing China’s Uighur Muslims detention camps won the Pulitzer Prize in the International Reporting category after editor-in-chief Mark Schoofs called her.
“I’m in complete shock, I did not expect this,” Rajagopalan, who is based in London, said according to BuzzFeed.
Rajagopalan won the Pulitzer Prize with contributors Alison Killing, a licensed architect, and Christo Buschek, a programmer, for a series exposing the scale of the internment of Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province. This was the first Pulitzer for BuzzFeed News, a digital news publication founded in 2014.
“Am so grateful to our team, to @BuzzFeedNews, @alexcampbell & the organizations that supported us. Most of all I’m grateful to ex-detainees who told us what happened to them inside Xinjiang’s camps. The public owes much to their courage. Still much more work to be done,” Megha Rajagopalan also tweeted.
Body of work
BuzzFeed said in a report that Rajagopalan, who speaks Tamil and Mandarin Chinese, was the first reporter to visit an internment camp used to hold Uighur Muslims in the restive Xinjiang province at a time – in 2017 – when China was denying their existence. She was shortly ejected from the country and the Chinese government refused to renew her visa.
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Ben Smith, the then BuzzFeed editor, recalled that episode in a tweet. Smith said that after the Chinese government refused to renew her visa, he and a senior editor at BuzzFeed met government officials. “They said we were welcome to send literally any other reporter — just not Megha. Who exposed Uighur camps from the outside in, & just won a Pulitzer,” Smith, who now works with the New York Times, wrote.
Rajagopalan, however, continued reporting on the camps from London, along with Alison Killing, an architect who specialises in forensic analysis of architecture and satellite images of buildings, and Christo Buschek, a programmer who makes tools for data journalism.
She is one of the two Indian Americans to win the top American award for journalism announced on Friday. Tampa Bay Times’ Neil Patel won the Pulitzer for local reporting with Kathleen McGrory. It was for their investigative series on a Florida county police’s use of computer modeling to identify potential crime suspects, including children who either performed badly at school or were victims of abuse at home. Patel now works with ProPublica, a non-profit focussed on investigative news.
‘Understated Indian dad reaction’
Rajagopalan, born to parents from India, was raised in Maryland near Washington DC and went to the University of Maryland. “I’m deeply grateful to them for their support,” Rajagopalan said of her parents. “Nobody in my family has ever worked in media, but they have always supported my career in journalism, and have been my biggest cheerleaders since I was a student,” she added.
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The multiple-award-winning journalist shared a screenshot of her conversation with her father, which she said was an “understated Indian dad reaction.” Her father simply said, “Well Done”. Pulitzer Prizes’ official Twitter handle even retweeted the post.
Asia, Middle East
Rajagopalan has been working for BuzzFeed News for nearly five years and her LinkedIn profile shows she was based in China and Thailand as well as in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Before that, she was a political correspondent for Reuters in China. “She has reported from 23 countries in Asia and the Middle East on stories ranging from the North Korean nuclear crisis to the peace process in Afghanistan,” according to the profile.
Rajagopalan has also won the Human Rights Press Award in 2018 and a Mirror Award in 2019 for an investigation uncovering the links between Facebook and religious violence in Sri Lanka. She was a Fulbright fellow in Beijing and a research fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington DC. She was selected as an Asia 21 Young Leader in 2019.
In her spare time, she volunteers as a career mentor for the Coalition for Women in Journalism and Report For America.