J-School Graduates Win Prestigious Award for New Media Thesis Project

J-School Graduates Win Prestigious Award for New Media Thesis Project
Published on September 23, 2016

Sept. 21, 2016


They didn’t announce the winners until last weekend. But since mid-August, this year’s Online News Association top student award for small projects was going to two UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alums.


Rachel Hiles (‘16) and Nina Zou (‘16) won the David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award for their master’s theses, the multimedia project “Chasing Lithium.” It was one of three works nominated, all of them produced by Berkeley J-School students, and became the seventh OJA win for a J-School graduate in eight years.


“When I first started at the J-School I learned about the legacy of OJA winners. Our multimedia teachers showed us some of the winning projects, which were both inspiring and totally intimidating,” Hiles said.


“Back in those early days of school it didn’t seem possible that I would ever have the tools to create something that beautiful and engaging.”


But she and Zou have done just that. Chasing Lithium explores the complexities of the massive lithium industry that so many of us depend on daily. The project shows, through short videos, informative graphics, photographs and text, how an industry that stretches from the brine mines of Bolivia to the toxic landfills of China has reached a turning point.


As Bolivia tries to capitalize on its vast supply of lithium, researchers everywhere are attempting to maximize the capacity and ability of the lithium battery through new technology, and China is realizing the need to properly recycle these batteries, which can do serious environmental damage once they are out of use.


“Our students continually exemplify an unrelenting pursuit of the practice of journalism, rooted in the traditional values of the craft. I believe this shines through to the judges and viewers of their projects,” said Assistant Professor Richard Koci Hernandez. “Additionally, they show an extreme attention to detail in both narrative structure and web design, resulting in strong and impactful storytelling.”


The winning pair collaborated on everything. Hiles took the lead for interviewing and research, while Zou did most of the work on the videos and coding the final project; both took many photos.


Hiles said their complementary skill sets drove the project forward, along with help from their instructors, Hernandez and Jeremy Rue, the acting assistant dean of the J-School and a New Media lecturer.


As their “multimedia gurus,” Hiles praised Rue and Hernandez as “patient, kind, funny, inspiring, and tough when they needed to be.”


Although Hiles and Zou were unable to make it to Denver for the ONA awards banquet, their award will be hand-delivered to them by classmates who were there cheering them on. Hiles said it was an honor for her and Zou’s project to be nominated alongside their classmates’ “incredible” pieces.


Noelia González, Brett Murphy and Jieqian Zhang--all Class of ‘16--were nominated for their project, “Transplanted: How Undocumented Immigrants With Terminal Kidney Failure Fight To Navigate a Health Care System That Doesn’t Acknowledge They Exist.” “The Wait: Inside the Lives of Asylum Seekers in Germany,” produced by their classmates Lakshmi Sarah, Fan Fei and Melissa Bosworth, was also nominated.


To report this story, Zou and Hiles traveled to Bolivia for 10 days in February and to China for another 10 in March. Their journeys were funded by a Gobind Behari Lal Graduate Grant, which supports students with an interest in science writing; The Yellow Chair Foundation, and by the Kendeda Fund, through Internews and the Earth Journalism International Environmental Reporting course.


“I believe that this project is a stellar example of two students who worked together, each coming to the project with their own individual strengths and expertise in these media forms and combining them to create this award-winning project,” Hernandez said.


By Nate Sheidlower (‘18)

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