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ST multimedia projects on ‘Invisible Asia’, environmental toll of masks win global EPPY awards

The Straits Times' multimedia series Invisible Asia chronicles the plight of  little-seen and little-talked-about people around the region.
The Straits Times' multimedia series Invisible Asia chronicles the plight of little-seen and little-talked-about people around the region.PHOTOS: ST DIGITAL

SINGAPORE - While masks have saved lives, how many of them have ended up in the ocean, adding to the huge amount of plastic waste killing the planet?

In November 2020, a team from The Straits Times set out to sketch the scale of pandemic-related waste across South-east Asia, and the growing environmental crisis shocked them.

Masks and other personal protective equipment were found piled up in landfills, dumped by the side of roads, and collected on beaches and in the sea by local environmental groups, said climate change editor David Fogarty, 55.

Published in March, the infographic - Three million masks every minute: How Covid-19 is choking the planet - was one of two ST projects to top the global Editor & Publisher EPPY Awards 2021.

The annual awards, which began in 1996, received more than 400 entries across over 40 categories this year. 

ST's package on mask waste beat Bloomberg News and CNN Digital to win the best use of data or infographics category.

To show the environmental toll of disposable mask usage, the interactive graphics team calculated how many masks were being used in a day, a week, and a year, said UI/UX designer Alyssa Karla Mungcal, 30. The number of used masks was found to be large enough to cover several countries if the pandemic lasted for two years.

Judges on the panel commended the visualisation for being "informative without being preachy, thoughtful and straightforward simultaneously."

ST's multimedia series Invisible Asia, which chronicles the plight of  little-seen and little-talked-about people around the region, took first place in the best investigative/enterprise video category.

China correspondent Danson Cheong, 32, took about 40 hours to get Mr Wei Xiaoqiang, one of China's many short-term, transient labourers to share his life story and struggles.

Through conversations over the phone and in-person interviews with Mr Wei, Mr Cheong pieced together the gruelling life of the migrant worker who once dreamt of becoming a journalist or designer.

'My ambitions are but empty dreams' | China's short-term labourers | Invisible Asia

One freezing winter night spent waiting with a videographer for Mr Wei to get off work, in particular, continues to stick with Mr Cheong even after the story wrapped up in March.

He said: "We shared a dinner of beef noodles later. It cost something like $4 a bowl, but Mr Wei who made just over $30 that day, insisted on paying for us. It is a generosity I will never forget."

Convincing interviewees who preferred to remain under the radar took a lot of time and research, noted Japan correspondent Walter Sim, 34, who wrote about the descendants of a shunned caste in Japan.

"This involved building trust... that they are not just a means to the end of writing a story, but because their hidden pain needs to be told in order to shift the needle towards change," said Mr Sim.

'I wanted to escape this life by hiding who I was' | Japan’s ‘untouchables’ | Invisible Asia

Shooting during the Covid-19 pandemic, the foreign correspondents and ST's video team were hard-pressed to coordinate the production process across many countries amid travel restrictions.

Said series producer and regional correspondent Tan Jia Ning, 38: "It became more difficult to meet the interviewees and spend time to build a rapport with them, and to shoot a video."

Some newsmakers were also unwilling to reveal their faces or voices because of their personal circumstances, added assistant foreign editor Magdalene Fung, 37.

Ms Fung, who produced the series with Ms Tan, said the series helped to shed light on people who have been overlooked by society. 

The effort paid off. CNN and the Boston Globe were the other finalists in the category.

Said the judges: "This theme of Invisible Asia was a unique lens to learn about people living in the margins of modern life, and the first-person interviews made these relatable stories really come alive."

ST was also a finalist in the best design/relaunch category for its revamped website and app last year.

On ST's performance at the awards, ST editor Warren Fernandez said: "It's clear that our audience wants more value-added and compelling content, told in visuals, videos and interactives. We have been ramping these up in response, as these efforts show, which have stacked up well against some of the best media titles in the world."

Added Mr Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of the Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group: “We will keep on developing these capabilities, as we strive to serve our audience better.”

Explore more ST multimedia projects here.

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