Have you ever imagined yourself walking up on stage to receive an award for your journalism?
The crowds, the cheers, the red carpet—all the fanfare? It’s a reality for Hunter College Adjunct Professor Emma Cillekens.
This month she’s off to Los Angeles to attend the Ambies, an awards ceremony that recognizes the best in the audio business. Cillekens’ podcast, “The Extortion Economy,” is nominated for Best Knowledge, Science or Tech at the celebration that’s being referred to as the Oscar’s of podcasting by Variety Magazine.
“ProPublica did some incredible reporting on ransomware, and I was fortunate enough to collaborate with them and MIT Technology Review as the managing producer on the project to turn all that reporting into a compelling narrative,” Cillekens said. “It took some blood, sweat, and tears, but we are all so proud of what we made.”
This year’s gathering is the first in-person Ambies awards ceremony and only the second year the Ambies have been awarded. From its outbreak in 2020, COVID-19 shut down all large celebrations, including those that recognize outstanding work by journalists from around the world. For Cillekens, most of these past two years have been spent attending awards events virtually or sometimes not at all.
“It’s been a strange few years,” she said. “I’ve attended awards ceremonies all dressed-up in my living room via a Zoom, some via a livestream on YouTube, and one unfolded in a Twitter thread.”
With pandemic restrictions starting to ease up, one of the main things Cillekens is most looking forward to is being able to celebrate in person with her team.
“As a journalist I deeply care about the work I do because I feel called to make a difference through storytelling. Sometimes we’re so busy creating the next podcast, investigating the next lead or editing the next several hours of interviews into a well-crafted story that we don’t stop to celebrate the last thing that we made,” she said. “For me it’s not about being nominated or winning, it’s about pausing and acknowledging the work and the impact we may have had with our reporting.”
Being nominated for the Ambies is not the first achievement for Cillekens this year. The podcast she co-created with her close friend and host Jennifer Strong, “In Machines We Trust,” won a Newswomen’s Club of New York Front Page Award for investigative audio in January. The award specifically honored a four-part series their team worked on with New York Journalist Hilke Schellmann about automated hiring practices.
Cillekens also joined the Hunter College Journalism Program this year as a professor. She currently teaches MEDPL 284 Radio Reporting and Podcasting, a class that focuses on telling stories with audio.
Over the years, Cillekens has worked on a variety of projects, including one that was a finalist in the Pulitzers. Her journalism has won her numerous awards from the New York Emmys, Webby, Peabody, New York Press Club, Polk and Goldsmith.