The latest in a long streak of wins and finalist nods for multimedia journalists Francesca Fenzi (‘19) and Yutao “Todd” Chen’s (‘19) thesis project, “Dirty Business,” was May’s award for best Nonfiction Series at the 40th College Television Awards.
The multimedia story, which featured vivid written reporting, stirring photos and video, and data visualization is based on reporting and production Fenzi and Chen did in Minh Khai, Vietnam. It documents the town’s homegrown plastic recyclers, who wrestle with the blessings and curses of an empire built on trash, and highlights the impact California’s waste has far beyond its own shores.
“It was an incredible honor to be nominated (along with several other impressive student projects) and completely mind-blowing to have won!” Fenzi said. “The award ceremony itself was really inspiring with all of the thoughtful and encouraging words from storytellers in every corner of the television industry. I’m really grateful for the boost in a field that sometimes feels like we’re doing our work under the radar with little opportunity for feedback.”
The 40th College Television Awards featured entries from across the U.S. and was presented remotely by stars of the TV screen. It was far from Chen and Fenzi’s first accolade. “Dirty Business” won the David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award for a Small Newsroom at last year’s Online Journalism Awards, earned Silver for Multimedia Online Storytelling at the 74th College Photographer of the Year, took home Gold in the Online Student category and Silver in an Online Documentary category at the 2020 Telly Awards, won Berkeley Journalism’s 2019 Jessica Lum Memorial Award for Excellence in Multimedia Reporting and Production, was a finalist for Online/Digital Feature Videography for Region 11 of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards, and was nominated in the General Video – Student category of this year’s Webby Awards.
“It’s a stunning and disturbing work, carefully told and beautifully filmed,” said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Berkeley Journalism. “We’re very proud that Francesca and Todd have won this prestigious honor.”
“We are incredibly proud of Todd and Francesca for the recognition of this wonderfully enlightening multimedia package,” said Jeremy Rue, professor and co-head of Berkeley Journalism’s Multimedia track. “In their second year of graduate school, they both traveled to Vietnam to show the world where the bulk of American recycled plastic ends up. Their story paints a vivid picture of a small Vietnamese village built on discarded plastic, illustrating both the economic benefit and the environmental tragedy that results from the global recycling industry.”
“It’s a great moment for the school but more importantly a great moment for these two journalists who worked their tails off to create such a humanely compelling piece of visual journalism that is certainly worthy of such an honor,” said Richard Koci Hernandez, professor and co-head of the Multimedia track. “It speaks to their creativity, vision, and sensitivity to all aspects of the story and reporting project. BRAVO!”
After graduating from North Gate Hall in May 2019, Chen became the multimedia editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Fenzi a journalism instructor and the media education manager at YR Media (formerly Youth Radio) in Oakland. The pair emphasized the importance of collaboration in bringing their international reporting to life.
“I’m also tremendously grateful to Todd,” Fenzi noted. “I’ve learned so much from working with him over the last two-plus years! He literally never does anything less than 100 percent, and it’s been a true privilege to collaborate on this and other stories.”
“It’s been such a joy working with [Francesca] on this project,” Chen added. “Her thorough reporting and meticulous field notes are the backbones of the project. I cannot ask for a better colleague on such a complex story.
“With plastic recycling becoming an increasingly important topic,” he continued, “I’m glad that we highlighted a part of the recycling chain not previously covered by mainstream media.”