FIJ’s Soyombo Wins Knight-Wallace Fellowship, to Write Book on US Prisons

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‘Fisayo Soyombo, Founder/Editor-in-Chief of the Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ), has emerged a 2023-24 Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, United States.

According to a statement released on Thursday by the Wallace House Centre for Journalists and the University of Michigan, the 2023-2024 class of Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellows is a “cohort of 19 accomplished journalists representing nine countries and a broad cross-section of the US”.

The fellows will pursue ambitious journalism projects, audit courses at the university and participate in weekly seminars with journalism leaders, renowned scholars, media innovators and social change agents. Most seminars will take place at Wallace House, a gift from the late newsman Mike Wallace and his wife, Mary, and the programme’s home base.

The 2023-2024 Knight Wallace Fellows

Soyombo, a current fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) at the University of Oxford, will join the likes of Doris Truong, senior director of teaching and diversity strategies at the Poynter Institute of Media Studies; Sharif Hassan, a former Washington Post and New York Times reporter from Afghanistan now working in exile in Canada; Kyrylo Loukerenko, executive director and co-founder of Hromadske Radio, an independent public broadcaster in Ukraine; and Josh Raab, former director of Instagram and TikTok at National Geographic, among others.

“These journalists and their compelling range of projects reflect the breadth of challenges journalists must understand – from the far-reaching societal impacts of climate change, to the rise of social media-fueled disinformation, to the unique challenges of reporting from countries ensnared in media crackdowns, wars or rampant violence,” said Lynette Clemetson, Director of Wallace House.

“Now more than ever, the work of these and all journalists is essential to protecting and expanding democratic values. We are honoured to support them.”

At Michigan, Soyombo will write an expanded version of his 2019 investigation of the Nigerian criminal justice system, and simultaneously explore related themes, including prison reform movements around the world, and the social and commercial history of the prison industrial complex in the US.

The Knight-Wallace Fellowship is the latest in Soyombo’s recognition-laden journalism career. The former editor of TheCable, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) and SaharaReporters emerged one of the winners of the Karpoor Chandra Kulish International Award for Excellence in Journalism 2021 — for his 2019 undercover investigation on the failings of Nigeria’s criminal justice system, for which he got himself detained at a police cell for five days before spending another eight in prison after he had been arraigned in court.

Soyombo's Knight-Wallace Biography

The same year, he was a finalist in One World Media’s International Journalist of the Year award, the second time in a row he had made the OWM shortlist, having been long-listed for the award in 2020 before going on to earn a place on the three-man shortlist.

Three months earlier, he had won the second prize in the Outstanding Investigation category of the Fetisov Journalism Award, described by organisers as “the most lucrative journalism award in history”.

In December 2020, Soyombo had also won the Local Reporter category of the 2020 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism. Before that feat, it was the third time in six years, the others being 2014 and 2016, that he had been short-listed for the Kurt Schork awards, which recognise “excellence in courageous reporting of conflict, corruption, human rights transgressions and other related issues”.

In 2020 alone, Soyombo either won or was short-listed for the Fetisov Journalism Awards (Outstanding Investigation category), the West Africa Media Excellence Award (Investigative Reporting category), the WJP Anthony Lewis Prize for Exceptional Rule of Law Journalism, the One World Media Awards (International Journalist of the Year category) and the People Journalism Prize for Africa (PJPA).

His 2016 honours include African Media Initiative awards, Maritime Economy category (winner); Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting, Online category (second runner-up); Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting, Online category (winner); Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting, the Nigerian Investigative Journalist of the Year, (winner); Diamond Award for Media Excellence (DAME), Investigative Reporter of the Year (runner-up); Free Press Awards, Hans Verploeg Newcomer of the Year category (winner);and the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Journalism Excellence Awards, Journalist of the Year, Business and Economy Reporting, (winner).

A three-time winner of the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting, Soyombo founded FIJ in 2020 as an independent, not-for-profit organisation that combats injustice, holds power to account and speaks for the voiceless, seeking to uncover the truth by bypassing officialdom and neutralizing propaganda. The outfit started publishing on January 20, 2021.

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