Ian Urbina
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Ian Urbina
Ian Urbina
Ian Urbina.jpg
Ian Urbina
Born (1972-03-29) March 29, 1972 (age 47)
Alma materGeorgetown University
OccupationInvestigative Reporter
OrganizationThe New York Times, The Atlantic

Ian Urbina (born March 29, 1972) is an investigative reporter who writes most often for The New York Times, but is also a contributing writer for The Atlantic,[1] a regular contributor to National Geographic, and a member of the High Seas Initiative Leadership Council at The Aspen Institute.[2] Urbina is the author of The New York Times bestseller[3] "The Outlaw Ocean" (2019),[4] based on five years of reporting, much of it offshore, exploring lawlessness on the high seas.[5][6][7] As a journalist, his investigations typically focus on worker safety and the environment, and he has received a Pulitzer, a Polk, and has been nominated for an Emmy.

Personal life

Urbina currently lives in the Washington DC area with his family. As a student at St Albans[8] and at Georgetown[9] Urbina was an accomplished long-distance runner. His father is Judge Ricardo M. Urbina, who was also a collegiate runner and the first Latino on the federal bench in DC.[10][11]

Education and career

Ian Urbina has a degree in history from Georgetown University. Before joining The New York Times in 2003, Urbina was in a doctoral program in history and anthropology at the University of Chicago, where he specialized on Cuba.[12] As a Fulbright scholar he did his doctoral dissertation research in Havana.[13]

During those years, he wrote freelance for The International Herald Tribune, Harper's, The Los Angeles Times and The Christian Science Monitor. He is a regular contributor to NPR.[14] and CSPAN.[15] In 2016, National Geographic designated Urbina as one of its resident Nat Geo Explorers. Urbina became a Resident Fellow in 2017 at The Safina Center, a research and creative collective focused on environmental conservation, which was founded by the renowned naturalist writer and scholar, Dr. Carl Safina.[16] In 2019, he was brought on staff as an investigator for The United Nations in affiliation with the U.N.'s World Maritime University, based in Malmo, Sweden. Urbina also founded in 2019 a non-profit organization called The Outlaw Ocean Project, dedicated to producing journalism about the environmental, human rights and labor concerns that exist offshore around the world.

The New York Times

Urbina was initially a reporter on the Times' Metro desk. In 2005, Urbina moved to the Times' national desk to become its Mid-Atlantic Bureau chief, where he covered West Virginia coal mining disasters, the Gulf oil spill, the Virginia Tech shootings and numerous other breaking stories. He has also written extensively on criminal justice issues, including stories about the use of prisoners for pharmaceutical experiments,[17] immigrant detainees working as unpaid workers,[18][19] solitary confinement in immigration detention facilities,[20] and the dependence of the U.S. Defense Department on prison labor.[21] He became a senior investigative reporter for the National Desk in 2010, where he wrote a series in 2011, Drilling Down, about the oil and gas industry and fracking.[22][23][24]

On worker safety, in 2013, he wrote a story about longterm exposure to hazardous chemicals and the federal agency, O.S.H.A., which is responsible for protecting against these workplace threats.[25] For the New York Times Magazine, he wrote in 2014 a piece called "The Secret Life of Passwords", about the anecdotes and emotions hidden in everyday web-user's "secure" passwords.[26]

In 2015, Urbina wrote a series called "The Outlaw Ocean", about lawlessness on the high seas.[27][28][29][30] To report the stories, Urbina traveled through Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, much of that time spent on fishing ships, chronicling a diversity of crimes offshore, including the killing of stowaways, sea slavery, intentional dumping, illegal fishing, the stealing of ships, gun running, stranding of crews, and murder with impunity.[31] This series served as the basis of the book "The Outlaw Ocean" published by Alfred A. Knopf (2019).


Several of Urbina's investigative pieces have been adapted to film. In interviews, Matt Damon and John Kransinski have said[32] that the idea for their 2012 film Promised Land came partly from the Times investigative series, Drilling Down.

A 2007 Times investigation by Urbina about so-called "mag crews"--traveling groups of teenagers, many of them runaways or from broken homes, who sell magazine subscriptions--was optioned for a 2016 movie, American Honey, directed by Andrea Arnold and starring Shia LaBeouf.[33]

In 2010, Urbina wrote a profile for Vanity Fair magazine on Sam Childers, a former Hells Angels's biker and gun runner, turned born-again Christian preacher, who joined the guerrilla fighters in South Sudan. Urbina traveled with Childers, after he was ostensibly hired to kill a brutal warlord named Joseph Kony, leader of a group called the Lord's Resistance Army. In 2011, Childers' life story became the basis of a movie called "Machine Gun Preacher", starring Gerard Butler. Also, in 2011, Urbina's reporting was part of a story optioned for the film Deepwater Horizon with Mark Wahlberg.[34]

In 2015, Leonardo DiCaprio, Netflix and Misher Films bought the movie rights for The Outlaw Ocean series in The New York Times to produce a feature film. They also subsequently bought the movie rights for the book (2019) published by Alfred A. Knopf.[35]


  • Urbina was a member of the team of reporters that wrote a series in 2006 about diabetes, which received a public service award from the Society of Professional Journalists' New York City chapter and a Society of Silurians award for science health reporting. The series was a finalist[36] for the Pulitzer Prize.
  • In 2008 Urbina was also a member of the team of reporters that broke the story about then-New York Governor, Eliot Spitzer and his use of prostitutes, a series of stories for which the Times won a Pulitzer in 2009.
  • In 2010, Urbina wrote a series called "Running in the Shadows" which focused on the sexual trafficking of minors and the growing number of young runaways in the United States. This series received the New York Press Club's award for feature reporting.
  • In 2011, Urbina delivered the annual Kops Freedom of the Press lecture at Cornell University titled "Investigating the Natural Gas Drilling Boom" (video)[37] Drilling Down also received a Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), "Best in Business" award.
  • In 2014, his story about OSHA and worker exposure to Hazardous chemicals was a finalist in the Explanatory category for the Loeb Award. He was also on the Times team covering the death of thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh that was also a finalist for a Loeb that year in the international reporting category.[38]
  • In July, 2015, Urbina's "The Secret Life of Passwords" was nominated for an Emmy.[39]
  • In 2016, Urbina's series called The Outlaw Ocean won various journalism awards, including the George Polk Award for Foreign Reporting,[40] The Maritime Foundation's Desmond Wettern Media Award for Best Journalistic Contribution,[41][42] The Sigma Delta Chi Award[43] for Foreign Correspondence from the Society of Professional Journalists, The Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Media Excellence,[44] The Best in Business Award for Feature Writing[45] from the Society of Business Editors and Writers, and The Human Rights Press Award Online English Merit Award.[46] The Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) also awarded the series a prize in the Excellence in Digital News category, and an honorable mention in the Human Rights Reporting category.[47] Photos from the series won The National Press Photographers Association's 2016 Award for Best Of Photojournalism Multimedia,[48] and The Photojournalism/Documentary Award from Photo District News (PDN).[49] The series' videos won the National Edward R. Murrow Award for News Series.[50] The series was also a finalist for The Scripps Howard Award in Public Service Reporting,[51] The Gerald Loeb Award in International reporting,[52] and The Michael Kelly Award.[53] The series won an honorable mention for TRACE International's Prize for Investigative Reporting for "Maritime 'Repo Men': A last resort for stolen ships",[54] and won an honorable mention for The Anthony Lewis Prize for Exceptional Rule of Law Journalism given by the World Justice Project.
  • After The Outlaw Ocean book was published, it was placed on Amazon's List of "Best Books of 2019." [55]



  • 2019: The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier. Knopf Doubleday, New York 2019, ISBN 978-0451492944. New York Times Bestseller on first week of release.[56]
  • 2005: Life's Little Annoyances: True Tales of People Who Just Can't Take It Anymore. Reprint, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2010, ISBN 978-0805083033.

Selected Articles

External links


  1. ^ "Ian Urbina Joins The Atlantic as Contributing Writer". The Atlantic. The Atlantic. Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ "Aspen High Seas Initiative Team". The Aspen Institute. The Aspen Institute. Retrieved 2019.
  3. ^ "The New York Times Hardcover Non-Fiction Bestsellers". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 2019.
  4. ^ "The Outlaw Ocean". The Outlaw Ocean. Retrieved 2019.
  5. ^ "Kirkus Review". The Kirkus Review. Retrieved 2019. "Urbina's book ranks alongside those by Mark Bowden and Sebastian Junger."
  6. ^ Iglesias, Gabino. "'The Outlaw Ocean': A Forgotten Frontier Where Slavery And Illegal Activities Abound". NPR. NPR. Retrieved 2019."The Outlaw Ocean is an engrossing and immersive book that shows the ocean is the last frontier: a vast place where the laws don't apply. The narratives have a cinematic quality to them that is intensified by the many photos and drawings that accompany most each story. That he has condensed all that into 560 pages is a testament to his reporting skills and proof that outstanding writing is still one of the best tools we have to get to know the world we live in."
  7. ^ Braverman, Blair. "Pirates, Slavers and Poachers: Violence on the High Seas". The New York Times. The New York Times. Retrieved 2019."These chapters are vibrant as individual stories, but as a collection they're transcendent, rendering a complex portrait of an unseen and disturbing world. Urbina pursues a depth of reportage that's rare because of the guts and diligence it requires -- not to mention the budget, which must have been enormous. The result is not just a fascinating read, but a truly important document."
  8. ^ Sonner, Tim (1989-09-28). "Free from pain, St. Albans' Urbina regains momentum". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015.
  9. ^ Graber, Michael (1994-11-24). "Hoyas men chase 1st National Championship". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015.
  10. ^ Wilber, Del Quentin (2011-06-01). "Judge who had "no passion for punishment" retires after 31 years". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2016.
  11. ^ Gonzalez, Charlie. "TRIBUTE TO HONORABLE RICARDO M. URBINA". Scout - Sunlight Foundation. Sunlight Foundation. Retrieved 2016.
  12. ^ "Author Biography". Macmillan. Macmillan Publishers. Retrieved 2015.
  13. ^ "The University of Chicago". Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellows. The University of Chicago. Retrieved 2015.
  14. ^ "WNYC - People - Ian Urbina". WNYC. WNYC.org. Retrieved 2015.
  15. ^ "Natural Gas Drilling and the Environment". CSPAN. CSPAN. 2011-03-04. Retrieved 2015.
  16. ^ "Ian Urbina". The Safina Center. Retrieved 2019.
  17. ^ "Panel Suggests Using Inmates in Drug Trials". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016.
  18. ^ "Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016.
  19. ^ "Colbert Report - The Word - Debt or Prison". Comedy Central. Retrieved 2016.
  20. ^ "Immigrants Held in Solitary Cells, Often for Weeks". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016.
  21. ^ "Stars and Stripes" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 2016.
  22. ^ McKibben, Bill (2012-03-08). "Why Not Frack?". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2015. McKibben wrote: "In fact, the most remarkable work on the subject has been done by Ian Urbina, a New York Times journalist, and by the rebel filmmaker Josh Fox. Urbina's stories, which seem likely to win a Pulitzer, demonstrate why we can't do without serious newspapers. Beginning last spring, he documented the health risks, lax regulation, industry overstatement, and general corruption that have surrounded the boom."
  23. ^ Petit, Charlie. "New York Times Science Times". Knight Science Journalism at MIT. MIT. Archived from the original on June 2, 2012. Retrieved 2015.CS1 maint: unfit url (link) Petit wrote: "From here, it appears that the Times and Mr. Urbina are calmly saying we should learn a lesson from the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble, suggesting investors and regulators and gov't planners step with care and not be blinkered by all the money that's pouring in."
  24. ^ Kennedy, Robert F. (2011-10-20). "The Fracking Industry's War on The New York Times and the Truth". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2015.
  25. ^ Starkman, Dean. "Three things to like about the Times OSHA exposé". Columbia Journalism Review. Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 2015. The Columbia Journalism Review called the story a "magisterial probe", and "without doubt a great example of agenda-setting public-interest reporting of a kind that, sad to say, is becoming increasingly scarce among mainstream business news outlets."
  26. ^ Urbina, Ian (2014-11-23). "The Secret Life of Passwords". The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved .
  27. ^ Murphy, Tim. "Deep Dive". The University of Chicago Magazine. The University of Chicago. Retrieved 2016.
  28. ^ Torrence, Marc. "Murder, Slavery, A Harrowing Chase: Behind the Journalism Series That's Changing the Oceans". Patch.com. Patch Media. Retrieved 2016.
  29. ^ Damanski, Maria. "Quick Take: Growing Momentum to Fight Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing". Talk. Nature.org. Retrieved 2015. Damanski wrote: "If you haven't read it, it's a dramatic exposé about the chronic and widespread violence, oppression and lawlessness that exists out on the open ocean. In the series, Urbina shines an important spotlight on the magnitude of challenges facing ocean management and the need for governments to work together. The last in the series, The Longest Chase, gives us a glimpse into the $10 billion-per-year illegal fishing trade "that is thriving as improved technology has enabled fishing vessels to plunder the oceans with greater efficiency."
  30. ^ Ryan, Chris (2015-07-20). "'True Detective,' Season 2, Episode 5: 'Other Lives'". Grantland. Retrieved 2015. Ryan writes, in reference to "The Outlaw Ocean": "The web of holding companies and money; the apathetic, complicit, or handcuffed law-enforcement agencies and bodies of government; and the powerful men who escape any kind of justice -- Urbina's story has all the makings of a True Detective season."
  31. ^ 7th-annual-george-polk-awards-in-journalism-300219641.html "Long Island University Announces 67th Annual George Polk Awards In Journalism" Check |url= value (help). PR Newswire. PR Newswire. Retrieved 2016.
  32. ^ Karpel, Ari (2013-01-02). "Matt Damon and John Krasinski on making "Promised Land," A Non-Message Message Movie". Fast Company. Retrieved 2015. Karpel wrote: "After a moment considering the salmon industry, the pair settled on making a movie about hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. Krasinski was inspired in part by a series of stories in The New York Times, called Drilling Down. Thus, Promised Land, written by and starring Damon and Krasinski, and directed by Gus Van Sant, was born."
  33. ^ Rooney, David (14 May 2016). "The Hollywood Reporter". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2016.
  34. ^ Manly, Lorne (22 September 2016). "The New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016.
  35. ^ "The Tracking Board". The Tracking Board. 20 June 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  36. ^ Shafir, Doree (2007-04-17). "Bill Keller: Why is this Pulitzer different from all other prizes?". Gawker. Archived from the original on 2 July 2015. Retrieved 2015. "This year we had three Pulitzer finalists -- two of them emanating from that engine of excellence known as the Metro Desk. In the explanatory category, The NYT Staff was a finalist for our national wake-up call on the epidemic of diabetes. Sonny Kleinfield, Richard Perez-Pena, Marc Santora and Ian Urbina kicked off the year with an eye-opening series, and throughout the year we had contributions from other departments, accompanied by great video narratives and slide shows that brought the problem vividly to life."
  37. ^ "Cornellcast". American Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences. Cornell University. Retrieved 2015.
  38. ^ "Gerald Loeb Awards, 2014 Finalists". UCLA Anderson School of Management. Retrieved 2015.
  39. ^ "The New York Times Nominated For Eight News and Documentary Emmy Awards". NYTCO. The New York Times. Retrieved 2015.
  40. ^ "Long Island University Announces 67th Annual George Polk Awards In Journalism". Long Island University. February 14, 2016. Retrieved 2016. "The reporting also took readers aboard a ship operated by environmental activists in the culmination of a 10,000-mile chase leading to the sinking of a notorious pirate trawler that had eluded Interpol and other authorities for a decade. The series spurred Congressional hearings and testimony, class-action litigation against the seafood industry, and, abroad, a criminal investigation and convictions."
  41. ^ "New York Times reporter Ian Urbina lands 'best maritime journalism contribution in 2016'". Maritime Foundation. October 27, 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  42. ^ "Maritime Media Awards 2016: Ian Urbina, The New York Times". Maritime Foundation. October 27, 2016. Retrieved 2016.
  43. ^ "2015 SIGMA DELTA CHI AWARD HONOREES". www.spj.org. Society of Professional Journalists. Retrieved 2016.
  44. ^ "Ian Urbina | Peter Benchley Ocean Awards". peterbenchleyoceanawards.org. Retrieved 2016. "Urbina's riveting series has generated a high-level of public interest, a NYTimes editorial call for action, and opened the doors for discussion of new regulatory and law-enforcement approaches at the national and international policy-making levels."
  45. ^ "2015 Best in Business Honoree List «  SABEW". sabew.org. Retrieved 2016.
  46. ^ "2015 HRPA winners - English version | Human Rights Press Awards". humanrightspressawards.org. Retrieved 2016.
  47. ^ "SOPA 2016 Award Winners".
  48. ^ "NPPA Best Of Photojournalism Multimedia Category Winners Announced | NPPA". nppa.org. Retrieved 2016.
  49. ^ "PDN Photo Annual 2016". PDN 2016 Photo Annual. Retrieved 2016.
  50. ^ "National Edward R. Murrow 2016 Award Winners".
  51. ^ Company, The E.W. Scripps. "Scripps Howard Foundation announces winners of 2015 Scripps Howard Awards". www.prnewswire.com. Retrieved 2016.
  52. ^ "2016 Gerald Loeb Award Finalists". Retrieved 2016.
  53. ^ "The Michael Kelly Award". www.kellyaward.com. Retrieved 2016. "Urbina's series was brilliantly conceived and expertly told. "This is why we need newspapers," one reader wrote. Added The Wall Street Journal: "incredible, readable, riveting series.""
  54. ^ "TRACE International Prizes for Investigative Reporting". Retrieved 2016.
  55. ^ "Amazon's picks for best books of 2019 are out and on sale". Retrieved 2019.
  56. ^ "New York Times Bestseller". NYT Bestseller, Hardcover Non-Fiction. The New York Times. Retrieved 2019.

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