The Kim Wall Memorial Fund Wants to Give a Voice to Future Journalists Like Her
Following the Swedish journalist's tragic death, the fund will empower people to tell stories that shake up cliches and stereotypes.
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I 've been reporting on a nuclear waste site threatened by climate change. This is exactly the kind of stories I like to do - where I can combine on-the-ground, shoe-leather reporting with a foreign policy lens," Kim Wall said to a shaky camera onboard of the Lady E, a Marshallese government supply ship, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. From the effects of climate change and nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands to the fraught enterprise of bringing tourism in Haiti, Kim Wall's stories on identity, gender, pop-culture, social justice and foreign policy were offbeat, insightful and inquisitive.
Her death, on board of the Danish DIY inventor Peter Madsen's submarine off the coast of Copenhagen, Denmark in August was tragic — Wall had just turned 30 in March — and remains clouded in mystery.
"She gave voice to weak, vulnerable, and marginalized people. That voice was long overdue."
Disappointed by the media's immediate and sensationalist response to the events, her family and friends came together to urge the world not to let the nature of her death overshadow her life. Walls' tenacious reporting had taken her all over the world. From Uganda to Sri Lanka for VICE, and from North Korea to Cuba for countless other publications. Skilled in telling stories with sensitivity, compassion, and depth, her work had been recognized and supported by various awards, grants and fellowships.
"She gave voice to weak, vulnerable, and marginalized people," her mother, Ingrid Wall, wrote in Swedish in a post on Facebook following her death. "That voice was long overdue."
In spite of her death, Wall's family and friends were committed for her voice not to be silenced. "It's a voice this world needed for years to come," her mother wrote, before establishing the Kim Wall Memorial Fund.
VICE Impact spoke with Mansi Choksi, Wall's close friend and colleague about the Memorial Fund, which Choksi is helping set up to both reclaim the narrative of her life and death and make sure the stories Wall would have reported on, are reported on.
VICE Impact: How did you meet Kim and what projects did you work on together?
Mansi Choksi: Kim and I studied together at the Columbia Journalism School. She and I worked together in Uganda and Sri Lanka. Our first project was about China's involvement in Africa; a story told through an emerging Chinatown in Kampala for VICE magazine. Last winter, we traveled through Sri Lanka's north to report on the failed promises of a feminist utopia, seen through the eyes of ordinary women who joined the fight for a sovereign Tamil homeland. The piece will soon be published in Longreads.
"We wanted to reclaim the narrative and send more women out to do the work Kim would have done."
What made Kim's reporting so special and important?
Kim reported on counter-narratives and about mis-or underrepresented places and people, with a particular focus on what subcultures can teach us about the bigger picture. Her stories combined rigorous shoe-leather reporting with a foreign policy lens. Her work reflected her own sensibility—she was brilliant, nuanced, flawed, and hilarious. Her stories shook up cliches, stereotypes and Western-centric narratives about empowerment and development.
Alongside Kim's family, you set up the Kim Wall Memorial Fund to reclaim the narrative of her life and death. Can you tell us more?
After Kim was reported missing, we were at times dismayed by how her life and death was being reported. The questions that were being asked were sometimes facile and other times blatantly sexist in nature—why was she with him alone? Why did she get on that submarine? Did she know and trust him? These questions betray an understanding of how reporting works, but they also betray a certain paternalistic view on how women journalists should do their jobs. We wanted to reclaim the narrative and send more women out to do the work Kim would have done.
What will be the aim of the Kim Wall Memorial Fund?
Each year, the Kim Wall Memorial Fund will provide a young woman reporter with the resources to do the kind of work Kim would have done—reporting on subcultures, broadly defined, and what she liked to call the "undercurrents of rebellion."
Within three weeks of launching the fundraising campaign, roughly 800 people, many of them strangers, have contributed more than 60,000 dollars to our 100,000 dollar goal.
Why do you think is it important to support freelance female reporters, like Wall?
Women journalists, especially freelancers, operate within a limited framework of support. We'd like to help women working in Kim's spirit negotiate the patriarchy and elitism so many of us constantly face within our industry. We'll provide the grantee not only with funding but peer-mentorship and the kind of support system we shared with Kim. The Kim Wall Memorial Fund will be administered by The International Women's Media Foundation, who has been our steadfast ally.
The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.