SJSU to Recognize Afghan Photojournalist Massoud Hossaini as 2021 Hearst Award Recipient

Massoud Hossaini

Pulitzer Prize-winning Afghan photojournalist Massoud Hossaini will accept the 2021 Hearst Award for excellence in journalism during an online ceremony on Nov. 16. Photo by Jakob Van Vliet.

When the United States announced its plans to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan last summer, ending a 20-year occupation, the impact was immediate and, at times, devastating. 

As thousands of Afghans attempted to flee the country upon hearing of the Taliban’s return to rule, Pulitzer Prize-winning Afghan photojournalist Massoud Hossaini was reporting for Foreign Policy magazine, breaking stories on the development of the war that led to the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15. 

“Covering the war during the last four months of the Afghanistan Republic was so risky and difficult as a freelancer,” wrote Hossaini in an email from the Netherlands, where he is currently living. “However, as I love my motherland, it was so important to cover it, and I accept it as my main role and responsibility in my life.” 

San José State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications (JMC) will honor Hossaini with the 2021 William Randolph Hearst Foundation Award for excellence in photojournalism on Tuesday, Nov. 16, from noon – 1:30 p.m PT during an online ceremony. 

Hossaini will accept the award remotely and present a selection of photographs. San José State President Mary Papazian will also provide remarks before a short Q&A session. Registration is required for the event: http://go.sjsu.edu/hearst2021.

Hossaini shared that winning the award is a great honor.

“I am happy and honored that I got it in the name of Afghanistan,” he wrote, though it broke his heart that he earned this recognition while in exile. 

He said he dedicates the award to Afghan journalists stuck under Taliban rule, as well as to female journalists who are being denied opportunities to work. He said the Hearst Award reinforces his desire to “show the ugly face of war and violence to the world.”

Phylis West-Johnson, director of the journalism school, explained that faculty nominate candidates for the award. This year, Hossaini’s name rose to the top.

“His photography epitomizes the significance of excellence in journalism,” she said. “Looking at his photos is a glimpse through his eyes into the people of Afghanistan. We believe Massoud will inspire our students, faculty and community.”

Documenting the truth

Originally from Kabul, Hossaini’s family fled to Iran shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Hossaini grew up in Iran and took up photography as a hobby, documenting the lives of Afghan refugees in Mashhad before returning to Afghanistan in 2002, where he studied photojournalism. 

His first professional assignment was in 2004 for the London-based Sunday Times Magazine. In 2006, he joined Agence France-Presse as a photojournalist. After he won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for Breaking News Photography, Hossaini became chief photographer of The Associated Press in Kabul.

Halima Kazem-Stojanovic, ’99 Radio-Television-Journalism, the journalism coordinator at SJSU’s Human Rights Institute (HRI) and journalism and human rights lecturer, nominated Hossaini and will present the award to him during the ceremony. 

As a veteran journalist who reported from Afghanistan for 12 years, Kazem-Stojanovic said honoring Hossaini is an opportunity to highlight the important work of Afghan journalists who have dedicated their careers, sometimes at great personal risk, to demonstrating the human impact of war. 

“Massoud’s photographs are very well known all over the world, especially in the international media,” she said. “He fled Afghanistan in August because he is a photojournalist who speaks truth through his pictures.”

Kazem-Stojanovic added that there have been multiple waves of Afghan migration to the Bay Area, with the latest prompted by the August withdrawal of U.S. troops. 

“Nominating Massoud for this award is my attempt to provide a soft landing for some of these incredibly bright Afghans who have gone through so much hardship and need a place to come and share their knowledge,” she said. “It’s important for photojournalists like Massoud to be able to pursue the efforts they’ve given so much to. It’s important to recognize that there’s so much good coming from Afghanistan; it’s not always bad.”

Hossaini agreed that it is critical for journalists worldwide to remain committed to truth-telling, even if it comes with great sacrifice.

“Journalism offers the public the facts — it documents issues, makes the public aware of what is really going on, and it records history and shares human experiences,” he wrote. “If journalism follows its own humanistic ethics, the public will be able to recognize good and evil. They will have clear choices and the freedom to choose the best way to improve their lives.”   

About the award

The William Randolph Hearst Foundation Award is an annual honor for outstanding professional media service in journalism, public relations, advertising and mass communications. Each year, an honoree’s work is showcased for students and celebrated for efforts that meet the expectations and high standards for public service by a free press, as provided in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Past winners include Dr. Anthony Fauci (2020), Dan Rather and Alexander Shebanow (2019), and CNN’s Jim Acosta (2018).