PEN America Launches: Journalists Covering COVID-19 Digital Honor Roll; Journalists Combating Misinformation, Supporting Civil Liberties

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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Poet and Editor Krysia Jopek on “Diaphanous: an e-journal of literary and visual art”

GRAPHIC DESIGN BY Dale Houstman (c) Diaphanous Press

Diaphanous Press was founded in February 2017 to publish contemporary, cutting-edge poetry, short fiction (under 750 words), and art in the online journal, Diaphanous. As a poet, literary fiction writer, scholar of postmodern literature and poetics, and wannabe visual artist (my predilection as a child was to be a painter first, then a writer), I wanted to provide a free, high-quality, e-journal to showcase and promote the creative work of writers and artists—and in turn, offer a wide audience free access to the best contemporary literature and visual art that I can find.

logo (c) Diaphanous Press

I chose the title “Diaphanous,” as the word evokes an image of a light, gauzy material (such as gossamer); a veil or dress draped elegantly over a woman or the semi-sheer, wind-tossed curtain covering a window or storm door. The word “diaphanous” often elicits images of a fragile, intricately-constructed spiderweb that can be destroyed with the swift swat of a human hand or a broom. The word and its image have also been thought of historically—as a filmic layering over one’s vision, the ancient Sumerian, Hindu and Buddhist Veil of Maya that prevents humans from perceiving “true reality” or representation; reminding us, as philosophers have, that perception; experience; emotional, intellectual, psychological responses to art and life; and the meaning we confer upon all of these human facets—are subjective and take place in the non-transparent, human medium of language that is a bi-product of civilization and one that evolves in its historical and cultural contexts over time.

As the title “Diaphanous” implies, I’m interested interested in writing and art that is slightly opaque or hazy, like language itself—that invite the reader/viewer in to experience the process of creating the specific text/image that is embedded in the final product–and to ascribe/construct possible meaning(s) and values to/for the linguistic/aesthetic experience. My hand-picked, small editorial staff and I gravitate towards a postmodern poetics and aesthetics that, as aforementioned, engage the reader/viewer in the experience the texts and images offer each, subjective reader. We are interested in language-centered poetry that foregrounds the medium of literary texts as slippery at best versus traditional, “I-centered” lyrics or straight, narrative poetry. Similarly, we value short fiction with challenging uses of language, composition, and condensed plot.

We are huge fans of writing that blurs the boundaries of genre (prose poetry, hybrid, flash fiction, micro-fiction) and subsequently, choose to feature experimental writing or writing that “leans toward the experimental,” as I like to say. Our Art Editor, Dale Houstman and I, solicit visual images that like the writing we value, are postmodern, experimental, and for the most part, non-representational. At the end of the day, we appreciate and choose to publish amazing, arresting, and haunting works of art. We have featured paintings, photography (acrylics, watercolors, and mixed media), digital art, mixed media collages, visual poetry, collage poems, text-based art, asemic writing, communal calligraphy, architecture—and seek to incorporate sculpture into our 2018 issue.

In terms of submissions, we receive a ton of poetry, a lot of art, and some fiction (not enough yet) due to the tagging of members of our facebook community and creative peers, direct soliciting from writers and artists, and now–as a result of our incredibly well-received inaugural Spring 2017 and Fall 2017 issues, people who have seen what kind of writing and art makes us swoon as well as the high-quality of our journal. In addition to the continued flow of poetry submissions, we would like more art and fiction submissions as well as more submissions from non-US writers and artists.

In our first two issues, we have published writers and artists from Australia, Tunisia, South Africa, Iran, Macedonia, Hungary, Italy, and England. We would love to represent talented writers and artists aligned with our mission statement in even more geographical locations across the globe. We are proud of a balance of male and female, established and new contributors—and the inclusion of diverse contributors in the context of ethnicity, race, and social status. Well, let’s face it, many artists and writers, yours truly included, are a bit financially-challenged due to the life choices we make that enable us to create and work in creative and academic environments, when possible. Many of us hold non-creative day jobs or temp when needed to support our art. Others, like Dale Houstman, are “gleefully retired” per his facebook bio description.

It is critical for me to note that this labor of love would not have been possible without the beautiful website design of my dear friend and writing colleague, Michael Dickel (Meta / Phor(e) /Play). A shoe-string volunteer staff who are all passionate and talented writers and artists, including, Art Editor, Dale Houstman; Poetry Editor, Thato Andreas Mokotjo; and Managing Editor, Meg Harris–assisted in the stunning, well-received first two issues of Diaphanous. Dale will remain as Art Editor and Thato as Poetry Editor for our third, 2018 issue.

Due to time constraints with my own writing, the intense workload, and unfortunately, my own battle with a cluster of serious autoimmune diseases—beginning next year, Diaphanous will be an annual publication instead of biannual with a new, small staff in place working alongside Art Editor, Dale Houstman and Poetry Editor, Thato Andreas Mokotjo. 

Our reading period and release date for our 2018 issue of Diaphanous is to be determined. We will update our Diaphanous Press facebook page and our website, as soon as we know.

I thank all of those involved with this amazing Diaphanous journey and look forward to reading and showcasing more of the highest-quality, cutting-edge, and exquisite poetry, short fiction, and art from around the world.


1. Sleeping close to the reef, the traveler holds a teal cup to the ear to hear the blue-green kelp gone lazy and dry, lost from the ink [stomach].

2. The chair in the suitcase packed to find the third shore, [w]here another narration varies.

3. In the dirt lit with Chinatown, the refrain apprehended in part; the loss of the second hand.

4. Send for the sample only to be plagued by more questionnaires.

5. The contents of the bag turned inside out. Borrowed and given back: a loose tooth, address book, bit of red mountain in a jar.

6. The lover’s eye spinning estuary coin.

7. Pulled out of slumber across the daybook filled to echo formulas for [sw]allowed halos.

8. The clock in hand the confused woman swallows the key to a diary the pages disappear waiting for the trump finale.

9. The [n]arrow boatride toward daybreak before the mountains crumbled [into] sound.

10. Pendulum’s dialectic of true and false, and all those shades of gray in between conspire hungry.

11. To prove the best design, the tincture couldn’t be documented to ensure the singular.

12. The hemlock given with an even hand, the logician attacked in the folds of a proposition, knotted in the tide’s undercurrent, wakes to find everyone missing–all of the main beams.

© 2017, header illustration, logo, essay, poem and portrait (below), Krysia Jopek and/or Diaphanous Press, All rights reserved

Krysia Jobpek

KRYSIA JOPEK‘s (Krysia Jopek, poems and poetic fiction)  poems have appeared in many literary journals, including Great American Literary Magazine, Crisis Chronicles Cyber Litmag, Meta/Phor(e)/Play, Syllogism, The Woven Press, Columbia Poetry Review, and The Wallace Stevens Journal. She reviewed the poetry of Ann Lauterbach, Michael Palmer, Anna Rabinowitz, and Rosemarie Waldrop for The American Book Review as well as literary criticism for The Wallace Stevens Journal. Her first novel, Maps and Shadows (Aquila Polonica 2010), was praised as “a stunning debut novel, beautifully written, lyrical and poetic” and won a 2011 Silver Benjamin Franklin award in the category of historical fiction. Her sequence poem, Hourglass Studies (Crisis Chronicles, 2017) was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize in Poetry. She holds four degrees: a B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of Connecticut, an M.Phil. in English from the City University of New York Graduate Center, and an M.F.A in Literary Fiction from Albertus Magnus. She is the Founding Editor of Diaphanous: an e-journal of literary and visual art. She can be contacted via Diaphonous Press  or her author website (linked above).


PEN America’s new report…Trump the Truth: Free Expression in the President’s First 100 Days

PEN America Executive Director, Suzanne Nossel

PEN America’s new report Trump the Truth: Free Expression in the President’s First 100 Days clocks more than seventy separate instances where President Trump or senior Administration officials have taken potshots at the press, including Presidential tweets decrying “fake news,” restrictions on media access, intimations that the press has “their reasons” for not reporting terror attacks, and branding press outlets as “the enemy of the American people.” These instances amount to near-daily efforts by the Trump Administration to undermine the press during the President’s first 100 days. Such efforts not only chip away at public trust for the media and its indispensable role in keeping the public informed, but also signal to regimes abroad that the United States will not stand up for press freedom.

“President Trump has aimed more barbs at the press than he has served working days in office,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s Executive Director. “Trump has set a tone whereby government officials are not obligated to answer tough questions, be transparent to the American people, or demonstrate basic civility toward those who report on their policies. The Trump Administration’s posture towards the press has severe ramifications for America’s democracy and for governments abroad that are looking to legitimize abuses of press freedom. His snide, sneering approach to media he considers unfriendly is unbefitting a President of the nation that has prided itself on being a global standard-bearer for free expression.”

The thirty-three-page report—launched to evaluate Trump’s first 100 days from the perspective of free expression and press freedom—also details President Trump’s attacks on the truth, as well as his administration’s efforts to delegitimize dissent, draw the curtains on government transparency and reduce privacy rights at the border.

2014 Press Freedom Index: dark pink, very serious situation; medium pink, difficult situation; yellow, noticeable problems;, light green, satisfactory situation; dark green, good situation;  gray, not classified / no data

Trump the Truth is the newest installment in PEN America’s efforts to safeguard press freedoms and free expression rights under the Trump Administration. On January 15, PEN America held the flagship “Writers Resist” event on the steps of the New York Public Library before submitting a petition asking President Trump to commit to upholding the First Amendment and to refrain from his attacks on the press. The petition, which collected over 100,000 signatures, included the names of every previous living Poet Laureate. In March, PEN America submitted another petition, again with over 100,000 signatures, to Rep. Louise Slaughter, co-chair of the House Arts Caucus, to protest the proposed defunding of the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities under the Trump Administration. More recently, on April 25, PEN America awarded the Women’s March its 2017 PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, for its “clarion call that Americans would not sit back in the face of threats to values and freedoms.”

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

This feature and the photograph is courtesy of PEN America. The photograph is under CC BY-SA 4.0 license; world map showing Press Freedom Index classification by country based upon the report Press Freedom Index 2014 from Reporters Without Borders.


FREE SPEECH AND UNFREE NEWS, The Paradox of Press Freedom in America by Sam Lebovic, Assistant Professor of U.S. History: 20th century culture and politics; U.S. and the world; media history; democracy; civil liberties; cultural globalization.

Some of us are old enough to remember when freedom of the press went beyond the misconception that the right to free speech also meant a free press, times when cities had multiple newspapers and when journalists – and citizens – had fairly unrestrained access to news and information.

With the current decline of daily newspapers and of corporate consolidation of media and national security that is ever more secretive, Lebovic shows that the right of free speech is insufficient. It does not insure a free press. Lebovic’s exploratiom of the history of mid-20th Century press freedom obliges us to remember, explore – and perhaps begin to expect again – the citizen’s right to unfettered news and information.

Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump … “Wall Street Journal” Foreign Affairs Columnist, Bret Stephens, Speaks Out

A few days ago, February 18, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Bret Stephens gave the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at the University of California, Los Angeles. Time magazine reported on it and you can read the entire text HERE. I urge you to do so.

In his talk Intellectual Integrity in the Age of Trump Stephens, a conservative, warns us not to “dismiss President Trump’s attacks on the media as mere stupidity.” He writes that open-mined and diligent reporting is important and that “truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder.”

I admit to being beyond irritated with news-as-entertainment that caters to the sensational and salacious, that betrays us by serving up too much free on-air time to people with questionable intentions and morally deficient characters. This is unfortunate, but thankfully it is not descriptive of the whole of the American press.

Let’s give kudos were kudos are deserved: to those hard-working truth-seekers, our occupational cousins: professional journalists who put the truth first and work hard to bring it to us. They don’t deserve to be denigrated by a Republican administration that has lost its backbone participating in attempts to suppress what is crtical to the maintenance of a functioning democracy – an independent press working with impunity.

Our journalists – as with any other professional group – don’t deserve to be painted with one broad brush by us – their readers (customers). Let’s not confuse earnest journalists with celebrity journalists who often deliver nothing more substantive than political gossip.

Among Bret Stephen’s points:

“Many people say” is what’s known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.

“We are not a nation of logicians.

“I think it’s important not to dismiss the president’s reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it’s darkly brilliant — if not in intention than certainly in effect. The president is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have on an argument.” MORE

Photo by Вени Марковски | Veni Markovski under CC BY-SA 3.o license