HONG KONG—A Chinese newspaper reporter has been named as a recipient of a U.S.-based international journalism award for his ground-breaking reports from the middle of last year's devastating Sichuan earthquake.
Southern Weekend journalist Cao Junwu was named this week as a joint recipient of the 2009 Knight International Journalism Award, the Washington-based International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), which makes the award, said in a statement.
One of the first on the scene of the May 12 quake that killed 70,000 people, Cao traveled by helicopter and hiked along cliffs to reach the devastated area, which was cut off from the world by the destruction brought by the 8.0-magnitude tremor.
But Cao was unlikely to be available to give interviews to overseas media, his colleague said.
"Sorry, but our newspaper is currently under discipline inspection and none of the newspaper's employees are allowed to accept interviews with overseas media without the prior approval of the leadership," editor Chen Min said.
"It will probably be a bit hard for Cao Junwu to accept an interview with you under the current guidelines at this newspaper."
Another Southern Weekend editor, Yan Lieshan, said Cao's first day in Dujiangyan, one of the towns worst hit by the quake, resulted in a report titled, "Wenchuan is still alive: struggle and survival are the flip side of death."
"Last year when the Wenchuan earthquake happened, he and another reporter surnamed Zhang were the first to rush to the scene, putting their own lives at risk," Yan said. "Everything was still a pile of rubble then. It was the worst time."
Yan said the pair arrived even before the People's Liberation Army rescue teams did.
"Of course they did some good work when they got there. They didn't just get there early. A lot of people did that."
Fellow Southern Weekend reporter Li Haipeng said the things that made Cao's reporting stand out were its accuracy and its balance.
"Back then, Southern Weekend had a big eye-catching headline which read 'Wenchuan on Foot.' It meant that the reporter basically walked from Chengdu to Wenchuan," Li said, referring to the county at the epicenter of the quake, 100 kms (62 miles) from Sichuan's provincial capital, Chengdu.
"They knew at the time that the bridge was down, and that there was no way across, so they just set off on foot in the direction of Dujiangyan," Li said.
"There was a lot of the human story in those reports. But apart from these moments of human courage and endurance, which were properly set in context, with an account of how they had come about, with the feelings and reactions of some of the people in the disaster area, there was also the other side of the coin, and that was about the difficulties everyone faced," he added.
As well as reporting on the Sichuan earthquake through traditional reports and blogging from the scene, Cao had also reported on a 2007 flood in the eastern city of Jinan, which killed 34 people and injured 117, the ICFJ said.
"Cao exposed the cause: flaws in the city's sewer system," it said in a statement.
It also cited his coverage of how young Chinese people playing a violent computer game called Warpath were pulled in to paying money to stay in the game.
His expose resulted from his own participation and close ties with other gamers, the committee said.
Cao's colleague Li said human feeling was the main characteristic of Cao's journalism.
"He demonstrated a lot of compassion for people, and he seemed to have an understanding of human tragedy," Li said.
"You could see that in the way he wrote about the families of victims. So while objectivity and factual accuracy are still the main values in news reporting, you can see how what we call a humanitarian spirit shines through in such writing, and has the capacity to move both readers and fellow journalists at a profound level."
The ICFJ will present its awards at its 25th Anniversary Awards Dinner on Nov. 12 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Gao Shan. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.