NEW YORK, June 11, 2008 - "The most amazing part about writing about the Three Gorges Dam has been seeing the impact that a foreign newspaper could have on stoking a public policy debate within authoritarian China,” said Shai Oster, in accepting Asia Society’s Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Journalism on Asia. Oster—a Beijing correspondent for the Wall Street Journal—was presented with the $10,000 cash prize at a special event at the Asia Society attended by 150 distinguished writers, journalists, and Asia hands.
The “Oz Prize” honors legendary journalist and author Osborn Elliott, former editor-in-chief of Newsweek, who gave congratulatory remarks at the event. Asia Society Chairman Richard C. Holbrooke led the awards program honoring Oster for his series of stories exposing the extensive environmental problems associated with the Three Gorges Dam. The program featured a discussion between Oster and the Washington Post’s John Pomfret, the 2004 winner of the Oz prize, providing an inside view of the reporting that went into the stories, as well as the state of the media in China.
As part of the program, New York Times Foreign Editor Susan Chira and Online News Director Juliet Gorman received a special citation from the independent Oz prize jury for the Times’ extensive multimedia reporting on China’s massive environmental challenges. Like Oster’s series, the Times stories were translated into Chinese for online audiences in China.
Oz jury chair Norman Pearlstine noted the significant impact of the translations of the Times and Journal stories. "Increasingly, stories now are being played back into the region in local languages in ways that are very different from anything that we’ve seen before," he noted.
Oster’s stories, once translated for the Journal’s Chinese website, led to an unprecedented public acknowledgement by Chinese officials that the dam could cause environmental problems and helped break the taboo against public criticism of the project. “The government-run new agency Xinhua credited our stories with leading to that new public debate which, to me, was almost greater than any award,” Oster commented.