2018 emmy acceptance speech. Malachy at the mic with his team.

Broadford native Malachy Browne has been awarded the much-coveted Pulitzer prize for investigative journalism. The achievement was described as one of the highest accolades a journalist can receive by Limerick Mayor Michael Sheahan who paid tribute to Mr Browne on behalf of the people of Limerick and “especially the people of Broadford in West Limerick.”
I remember Malachy from the time I lived in Broadford, as a mannerly little boy with a mop of dark curly hair. I was thrilled for him and his parents when he hit the headlines last week, so I contacted him, without much difficulty, to ask him about his work. I knew he’d studied Engineering, so I was curious to know how the transition from one career to another took place. I asked him if he’d always been interested in journalism.
“I can’t say I was. I wasn’t one of those teenagers who read the paper back to front growing up. English wasn’t a strong suit in secondary school, maths was, and I gravitated toward engineering and ended up working as a computer programmer for eight years. Dad always followed current affairs, and I followed my uncle Vincent’s work in journalism and the stories he covered. I also lived with him and his family during college and for a few years after that. So those influences probably rubbed off.
I travelled overseas for four years until 2004, and that was when I started reading more, and took an interest in writing and learning more about the world. When I returned that summer, Vincent was starting Village Magazine and I began writing freelance for him, learning as I went.
I continued working full time in programming but was keen to change path and became interested in either humanitarian work or journalism. I took some psychometric tests and spoke to people in different careers, which guided me. After I finished a Masters in International Studies in 2006 at the University of Limerick, Vincent offered me a job. He needed a website and I needed an apprenticeship. I hadn’t a clue about journalism, but I learned about producing the magazine, writing and sub editing, photo editing, design, and reporting.
I kept programming occasionally (it paid better than reporting!), I started a new blog-style website called Politico but couldn’t make it pay. A few years later, I joined Mark Little at Storyful, a new start-up. I was the sixth employee, so we were a small unit. But there was a sense of purpose in building something, it was a good marriage of technology and journalism, and we were creative in developing new ways to use social media to report on international news. The signal from the noise, as Mark used to say.
In 2014, I joined another start-up called Reportedly, and began doing investigative stories using some of the skills I learned at Storyful. We published one story about how French authorities were illegally detaining and relocating migrants around the country. And how weapons that Italy was selling to Saudi Arabia were used in attacks on civilians in Yemen. Italy later suspended the exports.
I joined The New York Times about 18 months later and we slowly began building a new investigative team from scratch. Now there’s about ten people on the team from Brazil, Austria, The Netherlands, China, Spain and the U.S.”
In 2018 and 2019, Malachy and his team also won Emmys for their investigations in to the Las Vegas shooting and a chemical attack in Syria. I asked Malachy if he found it upsetting to work on stories that are obviously so distressing.
“Yes, I do. Las Vegas was the worst mass shooting in modern American history. The gunman fired over 1,100 bullets into a packed concert and 500 people were injured or killed by those bullets. Even though I didn’t witness it in real life, I watched dozens of videos of the event second-by-second to report on it. Our story reconstructed the shooting by synchronizing the sound of gunshots in different videos, layering in police audio and ambulance audio, and creating a timeline of what happened. Those images of people dying helpless on the ground stay with you. But they also motivate you to do your job to the best of your ability. Several of the victims contacted me afterward to thank us for explaining what happened – they said that strangely, it helped them understand what had happened to them, and to get some closure. The Las Vegas police played our video in assessments of their response to the shooting.
As for showing graphic images in our videos, we’re careful to avoid that unless there’s a good reason. Finding the balance can be difficult. We don’t want to shock viewers unnecessarily, but we do also want to represent reality. Sometimes it’s how those pictures are introduced, what feeling the underlying music track or script evokes, and how you prepare a viewer for what they’re about to see. Our investigation into a chemical attack in Douma, Syria, is one example. Pathologists we interviewed told us that the areas around the eyes, mouths and noses of victims bore important evidence about the kind of chemical used. The images were harrowing, so in the video we produced, we blurred most of the gruesome pictures on screen and used a small square box to focus on the physical details in a very minimal way.
On a related note, secondary trauma or vicarious trauma is a known reaction among journalists and investigators who spend hours poring over graphic images like we do. Just as it is among frontline workers in hospitals or firemen who attend the scene of a car crash. Some of our team have had nightmares after a story. So, we look out for each other and talk openly about it with each other, counsellors are available to us and we find ways to manage exposure.”
So, how did Malachy feel about the Putin story that he and his team worked on for so long?
“It’s very satisfying to catch the bad guys. Much of our work is investigating human rights abuses, and this is essentially about an imbalance of power. Civilians who are mistreated or abused in a situation they can’t escape. Standing up for the underdog and holding abusers of power to account are what motivates me. It’s a great feeling when you get hard evidence for whatever you’re investigating.
It’s also very fulfilling when your reporting creates impact. Some other stories of ours instigated a government inquiry in Nigeria, forced the Israel Defence Forces to open a criminal investigation and to adjust their live fire policy in Gaza, and made video evidence available of a murder in New York that was used to sentence the killers. Our Russia stories were called out during sittings of the United Nations Security Council and during a Congressional hearing in Washington D.C. Most importantly, it represented Syrian victims who weren’t being heard. My hope is that the evidence we found will eventually be used by justice and accountability mechanisms.
As for my safety, I don’t worry about that because I’m fairly insulated from risk here in the U.S., and only occasionally do I report in the field. But journalists worldwide are increasingly becoming targets. Colleagues have had to leave Trump rallies when the crowd became hostile during his tirades against the press. Last year I interviewed Nicaraguan reporters who were imprisoned for covering anti-government protests – one was placed in solitary confinement for months. My colleague Dionne Searcey, who shared this Pulitzer with us, went to a part of the Central African Republic where three Russian journalists had been killed while covering the same story. She calmly interviewed a warlord as he pointed a gun at her head. One of our China reporters went to Wuhan to report on coronavirus as it spread and ended up trapped there for weeks. Now our entire China staff have been ordered out of the country because of a diplomatic spat, their lives upended.”
On a more personal note, I asked how he and his family are hoping with the current Covid-19 situation in New York and if he had an opinion on where it may all end.
“We’re lucky. I can continue to work remotely, and the kids have online schooling. There’s a large woodland on our doorstep with walking and biking trails so we can get out and about easily. Just as well: September will be the earliest our office will reopen. New York City was hit hard.
I’m no scientist, but there seems to be a connection between the loss of habitats due to deforestation and new viruses like this one crossing over into humans. I’d be foolish to predict what will happen, but it’s hard to see the world returning to “normal” until a vaccine is developed, or another way is found to protect against a highly contagious virus. I don’t think injecting disinfectant will do it! “he laughed.
“I do miss home and our friends and family a great deal. But we keep in regular contact and we’ve managed to get home every summer since we moved here four years ago. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll get home this summer but hopefully before too long.”
Congratulations to Malachy and his team for their well-deserved win. The world needs people with tenacity and ability and most of all, the courage to expose the wrong doings of the world. Congratulations too to David and Mary, his parents, for giving him wings to fly.