Margie Mason was part of a small team of female investigative journalists for the Associated Press who worked tirelessly on a story about the fishing industry in Southeast Asia that resulted in the freeing of more than 2,000 slaves from a punishing industry whose products were documented and traced from supplier to supermarket shelves in the United States. They won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for the story in 2016. Mason currently resides in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m an American journalist who has been based in Southeast Asia for The Associated Press for the past 15 years.
Describe working for the AP, and give us some insight into your typical day.
I write a lot about health, women, children, human rights and social injustice. Every day, more than half the world’s population sees some form of content produced by AP, the world’s oldest news organization. That’s an amazing platform for journalists trying to uncover secrets and shine a light on the world’s problems.
When you did research for your story on the fishing industry in SE Asia, what were the barriers/challenges? How did you overcome them?
It started in December 2013, but it took almost all of 2014 before our reporting led us to the remote island village of Benjina. There were many challenges, but the biggest ones were ensuring the men’s safety and meticulously documenting a shipment of slave-caught fish from Indonesia to Thailand and finally to U.S. companies. This required a lot of creativity, planning and hard work, but we were also confident that Ibu Susi Pudjiastuti, Indonesia’s fishing minister, would help the enslaved men. She was enraged by the findings and ordered a rescue about a week after we published.
How has winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service affected your life?
It makes reporting on other sensitive topics much easier. People are more open to helping with investigative projects, and sometimes they actually return my calls!
How did you end up in Indonesia?
My first reporting trip here was during the 2004 tsunami. I later made regular trips to cover bird flu and natural disasters. When the opportunity came up to transfer to Jakarta, I jumped at it.
How do you find reporting overseas? How about in Indonesia specifically?
I love living and working overseas. The people and the stories never cease to amaze me. Indonesia is so diverse and beautiful, and it’s super easy to work here — especially after living in Vietnam for a decade where every story was a challenge because of all the restrictions.
What do you think about the state of investigative journalism?
Despite dying newsrooms, there’s still a lot of momentum for investigative projects. Watchdog journalism, especially, is a cornerstone of democracy. The work takes a lot of time and resources, but the impact can be huge. A good example is an ongoing fallout from the Harvey Weinstein story.
What’s next for Margie Mason?
I’ve already got my dream job. What more could I want?