NSCC students win Amnesty International award for North Preston project

Journalism students at Nova Scotia Community College have won Amnesty International Canada’s 2016 Youth Media Award.

Digital documentary 'Untitled' examines community's efforts to get legal deeds to family land

NSCC students hope the award brings more attention to the land-title issues in North Preston. (Nova Scotia Community College)

Journalism students at Nova Scotia Community College have won Amnesty International Canada's 2016 Youth Media Award.

The students were recognized Monday for a digital documentary called Untitled: The Legacy of Land in North Preston. The award honours the best human rights journalism from a Canadian post-secondary institution.

Rick MacInnes-Rae, one of the Amnesty judges, said their work showed "initiative and enterprise" in telling the long and complex story of how some North Preston, N.S., residents have struggled to get legal title to land that has been in their family for generations.

"The producers recognized that telling the story of the past was key to understanding the future, and found the video and archival pictures that let them do it with flair and fairness," MacInnes-Rae, a former CBC journalist, wrote on behalf of the judges.

"As one lawyer points out, part of the problem is that the Nova Scotia government views this as a land issue and not a human rights issue, which takes in a racial bias. As a consequence of the NSCC documentaries, the provincial government was moved to take the first of what may lead to other steps to resolve this historic indignity."

Shining light on North Preston

Student Whitney Middleton-Oickle said the team behind the project were delighted with the recognition.

"I was blown away. I was beyond honoured. I felt like it was another positive stepping stone to lead to more awareness to the land-title issue in North Preston, and not just beneficial to us as student journalists," she told CBC News on Monday.

Middleton-Oickle and the other students interviewed North Preston citizens and legal experts. The students also filmed and edited the documentary and did deep research.

She credited the people of North Preston with trusting the student journalists with their stories.

"I never thought, going into this program, that I would even have the courage to go and interview people in the first place, never mind trying to make a difference for somebody in their life," Middleton-Oickle said.

"I found it difficult almost to separate myself from being a human being and being a journalist, because it was so deep and heartwrenching, and the stories were so personal.

The students hope to travel to Toronto on April 5 to collect the award at the Gardiner Museum.