Renaissance Journalism’s Vietnam Reporting Project is a groundbreaking media initiative that harnessed the combined power of award-winning multimedia journalism, robust community engagement and strategic collaboration to spark public awareness and humanitarian action on the devastating legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
The project united journalists representing competing news outlets—from mainstream print and broadcast outlets to the Vietnamese American and independent media. It distributed their work through multiple electronic formats and platforms; reached audiences locally, nationally and globally; and it helped to stimulate action—from the grassroots to Washington.
Shining a Spotlight on Agent Orange
In 2010-2011, Renaissance Journalism awarded fellowships to 13 journalists, a group of TV, radio, Web and print journalists; photographers and videographers; two students and a journalism professor. The fellowship provided training, support and travel stipends to the journalists to conduct reporting in Vietnam. Their assignment: to shine a spotlight on the human costs of Agent Orange—a dioxin-laced defoliant sprayed by United States military forces across Vietnam over a nine-year period during the war.
Experts believe that Agent Orange, which takes decades to degrade, may be responsible today for the serious health problems suffered by 3 million Vietnamese, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects. Prior to the Vietnam Reporting Project, very little had been reported in the U.S. media about the impact of Agent Orange on the Vietnamese.
The selected journalists worked independently or collaboratively, generating original news and feature coverage. Their work garnered 18 journalism and photography awards. The projects were disseminated to tens of millions of readers, viewers and listeners by the news organizations and shown at film festivals. But the journalism’s impact didn’t end there—as it typically would in the standard media distribution model.
What sets the Vietnam Reporting Project apart from other journalism efforts is, at its core, it is a dynamic collaboration that linked mainstream, ethnic and independent media organizations, nonprofits, NGOs, and philanthropies—all the while ensuring the editorial independence of the journalists. Once the work was published, the network of non-media partners took over by distributing the stories to their many audiences through social media networks (Facebook, Twitter); calls for action on their websites and blogs; and face-to-face meetings with constituents. The work was also showcased on a project website.
This multi-pronged strategy transformed the news coverage on Agent Orange from a blip in the public consciousness into powerful tools that change agents could use in a coordinated and sustained fashion to inspire action, donations, volunteerism and policy reforms. In a significant accomplishment, initiative partners persuaded Congress to approve a six-fold increase in federal support for toxic site cleanup and health services for the Vietnamese.