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 AL.com 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.

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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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Craig Newmark Philanthropies Awards PEN America $250,000 To Combat Disinformation and Harassment Online


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Graphic showing differences between (deliberate) disinformation, unintentional misinformation, and hoax according to Wikimedia Research courtesy of Srijankedia under CC BY-SA 4.0 license

This gift will also allow PEN America to expand its continued efforts to fight against disinformation by engaging with digital platforms to identify ways to counter the spread of disinformation while preserving free expression.



This week PEN America announced a $250,000 gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies for its work to combat disinformation and harassment online over the next year. This significant investment will allow the literary and free expression organization to re-energize its work ahead of the 2020 US presidential election cycle.

Through this gift, PEN America will expand its online harassment self-defense trainings for newsrooms, journalism schools, and writers’ associations. The organization will also work closely with major news organizations, including the San Diego Union Tribune and Dallas Morning News, to develop best practices for protecting journalists from online abuse.

How Disinformation Can Be Spread, explanation by U.S. Defense Department (2001) / United States Department of Defense / Public Domain

“During a fraught political moment, we’re especially honored that Craig is doubling down on his contributions to our vital work in promoting truth and transparency and defending journalists and writers from online abuse,” said Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America. “As social platforms and digital spaces explode with vitriol, combating online harassment – and the chill on free expression that it represents – has never been more crucial. We are grateful to Craig Newmark Philanthropies for supporting our efforts to push back against disinformation and help ensure that the American people have the information they need during the upcoming campaign.”

This gift will also allow PEN America to expand its continued efforts to fight against disinformation by:

  • Engaging with digital platforms to identify ways to counter the spread of disinformation while preserving free expression;

  • Organizing an expert convening to spotlight and respond to online disinformation campaigns throughout the 2020 election cycle;

  • Encouraging 2020 Democratic and Republican party platforms to include language on addressing the fight against disinformation;

  • Mobilizing PEN America Members in all 50 states to press candidates and elected officials to reject the use of disinformation; and

  • Advocating for federal legislation that promotes information integrity and digital freedom.

“We face a set of complex challenges ahead of the 2020 US presidential election, especially when it comes to combatting the spread of disinformation and the harassment of journalists online.” said Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies. “PEN America’s holistic efforts will help prepare journalists and elected officials to preserve our democracy and elections in this information war.”

In 2017, PEN America surveyed writers and journalists to assess the impact of online abuse. The survey found that, of those who had experienced online harassment, two-thirds reported reacting severely, including refraining from publishing their work, permanently deleting their social media accounts, and/or fearing for their safety or the safety of their loved ones. These findings contributed to the creation of the organization’s Online Harassment Field Manual and online harassment self-defense trainings, which equip writers and journalists with the best available methods and means to protect themselves and their freedom to write. Thanks to this gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, PEN America will be able to continue this work.

This post is compiled courtesy of Wikipedia, PEN America, and Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and the United States Defense Department.

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

Craig Newmark Philanthropies was created by craigslist founder Craig Newmark to support and connect people and drive broad civic engagement. It works to advance people and grassroots organizations that are getting stuff done in areas that include trustworthy journalism & the information ecosystem, voter protection, gender diversity in technology, and veterans & military families.



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“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton