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CBS’ Holly Williams on Winning George Polk Award: ‘It’s a Story That’s Close to My Heart’

Holly Williams may be a relative newcomer to CBS News, but her experience as an international reporter is already bringing attention to the network. Williams was recently honored with a George Polk award for her coverage of Chinese human rights campaigner Chen Guangcheng.

Receiving the award for this particular story was especially rewarding for Williams, who tells TVNewser Guangcheng’s escape to the U.S. embassy in Beijing  was “the most exciting story” she covered during the time she was based in China. Williams met Guangcheng before he went to prison and was “very impressed” with him as a person, she says.

“It’s a story that’s close to my heart. It was wonderful to be honored for it,” Williams says. “I tend to think history isn’t about big, broad trends. It’s about individuals that make a difference. I think the great escape was a great example of that.”

To cover the story, Williams and her cameraman snuck into Guangcheng’s hometown at night when the village was unprotected. After being spotted by a local official during their first attempt to enter the village, the pair made a “hasty escape.” They were subsequently tailed by the official for several miles.

“I thought really that we’d blown the story,” Williams recalls.  “Based on previous experiences in China, I thought he would pursue us until we left the province and he would make efforts to detain us. I don’t know why he didn’t … I think we were very lucky.”

More recently, Williams presented a series of reports on India’s booming and unregulated surrogacy industry that aired on CBS News last week. She said the reports were intended to “pose the question about the impact of globalization.”

“I am really interested in the consequences of globalization. I’ve lived in the developing world for so long. So I think that globalization can have a really positive impact, and it can also lead to exploitation, and that can have a devastating impact,” she says.

Looking ahead, the Istanbul-based Williams says she’s interested in examining Turkey’s role in the world in the coming months. Williams notes there are many stories to tell, but acknowledges that she’s less willing to take risks since becoming a mother.

“I really want to cover Syria, and I think I can do that in some sense from outside of Syria,” she says. “I don’t particularly want to [travel there] at the moment. I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult for journalists.”

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