The Foley Foundation’s “World Press Freedom Award” brings a heavy responsibility to keep fighting for journalism and democracy

I was in Washington, DC this week at the National Press Club for The James Foley Freedom Awards which recognize “moral courage” in journalism and advocacy for wrongfully detained Americans around the world. I was deeply honored to receive the World Press Freedom Award on behalf of GroundTruth and in recognition of four decades of work as a journalist and social entrepreneur. It is truly the honor of a lifetime, but much more importantly the award represents an extraordinary opportunity to highlight the heroic work of colleagues around the world who are willing to put their lives on the line in dedication to the service of journalism.

As you might remember, Jim Foley was one of those who lost his life in that pursuit. Jim was captured while on assignment in Syria and killed by ISIS in 2014. He was my friend and we worked together at GlobalPost and in the very earliest days of GroundTruth. So you can imagine how profoundly meaningful this award is for our team. To receive the award from Diane Foley, Jim’s mother who has become a good friend, was truly humbling. She is an extraordinary woman who lives her faith every day while honoring her son’s memory through grace, courage, and a relentless effort to support freelance journalists and advocate for Americans to come home from unjust detention. I hope you will follow the work of the Foley Foundation.

At GroundTruth we see ourselves as mission-aligned with the Foley Foundation and have worked closely with them throughout the last ten years.

This award inspires us to keep fighting for press freedom, and for all of us to try to find ways to protect journalists on the ground and to offer hope to a new generation who will serve in the field. We can’t forget those journalists who are still being held hostage or wrongfully detained like Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal, currently being arbitrarily detained in Russia, and Austin Tice, a freelance reporter with the Washington Post believed to be still held in Syria, and too many others to name.

It is heart-wrenching to think of our colleagues in prisons in Egypt and Myanmar or those left behind in Afghanistan and Iraq as the foreign press corps has moved on from those datelines. I think of those reporters right now in Ukraine and Gaza facing one of the deadliest years on record with nearly 100 journalists killed in Gaza alone.

Accepting this award must come with an honest re-assessment of the limitations of the old, failing models of “foreign correspondents” parachuting into countries writhing in conflict or calamity.  We have worked on changing that model since we launched GlobalPost in 2009 and then stepped up our efforts when we founded GroundTruth in 2012 focusing on our reporting fellowships, trying to make sure that a network of journalists could live in the region where they work and understand the language and its culture and bring it into their reporting.

But that idea—as important as it is—is not enough.

We have to concede that there is a deeper crisis in journalism, a crisis of faith in what it does, a loss of trust. Places where I have reported – where many of us have rushed in to step up coverage over the years – are almost all worse off than when we started filing from there: Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Egypt, Myanmar, the list is long.

I believe the challenge now for all of us who care about press freedom is not just to cover the story, but to help build local news ecosystems in each of these places. We have to support local reporters who serve their own local communities in their own countries if we are going to truly affect change. And this is now the focus of GroundTruth which we are carrying out through Report for America and Report for the World.

You can read a full transcript of my remarks in accepting the World Press Freedom Award here.

Thank you so much for being a part of this journey and following our work through the newsletter. Together, we can create a safer and brighter future for a free and independent press. Tomorrow, I will be traveling to Ukraine for the second annual Bucha Conference, where local journalists in Ukraine will assemble to highlight the struggles they are facing in covering the conflict and the challenges they will face in establishing a free press as they try to build their democracy from the wreckage of the war. We are proud to be supporting Ukraine’s leading newspaper, Ukrainsa Pravda, and I will be writing the newsletter from on the ground in Ukraine next week. Thanks so much for following our work and for your support.