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Ajiri Takes Home Online Journalism Award

Denise Ajiri--June, 2013. Photo by Ahmad Wadiei RFE/FL
Denise Ajiri--June, 2013. Photo by Ahmad Wadiei RFE/FL
Denise Ajiri, former web writer for Radio Farda, RFE/RL’s Persian-language service, was awarded first prize by the Online News Association for a website she co-founded to provide English-language analysis of Iran’s June 2013 presidential election

Iran Election Watch won the prize in the Online Journalism Award category of Planned News/Events Small, and was recognized at a ceremony in Atlanta on October 19. Through blogs, infographics, candidate profiles, election law primers, and statistical analysis of the ten past presidential elections in Iran, Iran Election Watch made the Iranian elections process and players more accessible to English-speaking audiences.

Other winning submissions came from some of the most highly-respected American media organizations, including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, ProPublica and National Public Radio.

RFE/RL sat down with Ajiri, a former colleague, to find out what went in to creating the site and what’s next for her.

RFE/RL: What was the most difficult aspect of covering the Iranian elections in a way that would make sense for non-Iranians?

Denise Ajiri: There were two. The first was trying to find credible data. In Iran there are different organizations that provide statistics and usually the data they provide on a specific question differs among them. Trying to find out which data is credible was truly a hassle. The second difficulty was trying to explain the importance of certain topics. For us as Iranians the importance of some issues is a given, but for non-Iranians, which were our target audience, we needed to give a detailed background explaining why certain issues are important. For example, we needed to comprehensively explain why public comments from a person who on the surface does not seem to have an important role in the regime, are actually very important.

RFE/RL: What surprised you the most about the elections?

Ajiri: The most surprising thing was the election of Rohani. At the beginning I was almost sure that a conservative would be the winner and the Supreme Leader would not allow a reformist or a moderate to take the lead, but as we moved on, surprisingly enough, I came to realize that the scenario is totally different.

RFE/RL: In light of the current thaw it seems we're seeing in Iran-U.S. relations, do you get the sense there is increased interest among Americans/English speakers in Iranian political news?

Ajiri: Yes. By browsing the internet one can see that almost every day there is at least one article on the Iran-U.S. relationship. That means even aside from Iran’s nuclear issue, Iran-U.S. relations are at the center of attention, sometimes even more so than the nuclear issue.

RFE/RL: What's next for you?

Ajiri: I am thinking about focusing on Iran-U.S. relations. I still have only a vague idea and do not know how I want to illustrate this big issue, but I have it in mind.

--Emily Thompson