Illustration courtesy of Logan Weaver, Unsplash

“Journalists are putting their health, safety, and wellbeing of their loved ones on the line to uncover today’s most vital stories,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel.

PEN America announced its Local Heroes: Journalists Covering COVID-19, a digital honor roll to recognize journalists and news organizations for their role in keeping citizens informed and for sustaining democratic accountability amid the coronavirus crisis. As part of PEN America’s work leading up the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the Local Heroes project is an online celebration of the work journalists are doing to provide life-or-death reporting at this precarious time.

Journalists are putting their health, safety, and wellbeing of their loved ones on the line to uncover today’s most vital stories,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel. “They’re doing so despite the incredible strain on the local journalism industry, which was facing crushing financial pressures and job cuts even before the pandemic set in and is now hard-hit by the economic standstill. While we’re used to spotlighting journalists for World Press Freedom Day in places like Azerbaijan, China and Turkey, this year we’re training our lens closer to home, on Austin, Chicago, Tulsa, and other U.S. cities where journalists are on the frontlines of a story that is dangerous in a different way.”

As part of the Local Heroes initiative, PEN America is profiling and elevating the work of journalists from Atlanta, Austin, Birmingham, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Raleigh-Durham, Tulsa, and more. Online interviews spotlight ways that journalists are combating misinformation, providing accountability over local and regional officials, and shielding civil liberties at a time when leaders are keen to exploit a crisis to curtail rights.

Alysia Harris and Anna Simonton of Scalawag Magazine in Atlanta, GA and Durham, NC say: When we publish a COVID-19 related story, we ask how can this empower people right now to protect their families, to advocate for their rights as workers, or organize with their neighbors for housing protections.”

Connor Sheets of in Birmingham, AL says: “One big concern is that many agencies, local governments, law enforcement agencies and other public entities are failing to respond to records requests, denying them on dubious grounds, or delaying response for extended periods of time, and blaming it all on the coronavirus.”

Between now and World Press Freedom Day in May, PEN America is accepting recommendations from across the country to say #ThankYouJournalists. The project will continue to profile reporters who work in for-profit and non-profit newsrooms, for community papers and online-only outlets, for broadcast and print outlets. PEN America is providing seven additional ways for Members and supporters to support strong accountability journalism at a moment of crisis. And this week, PEN America will launch a nationwide petition calling for federal relief funds for local reporting.

Last year, PEN America brought World Press Freedom Day to the U.S. for the first time, fanning out across the country to hold discussions and events about the powerful role of local news,” said Katie Zanecchia, director of national outreach at PEN America. “A global pandemic forced us to change up those plans this year. But it’s also provided us a stark example of the crucial role journalists are playing during this emergency when their own industry and their own lives are in jeopardy.”

This feature is courtesy of PEN America.


PEN America last year released Losing the News, a comprehensive national report looking at the bleak financial picture of local reporting across the country, but also proposing innovative new ways to transform local journalism. The organization is also leading a campaign on Capitol Hill to ensure the next coronavirus relief package includes funding for local press.

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