National Press Club

Club honors journalists, expands fight for press freedom

August 6, 2016 | By Louise Walsh | ldwalsh@earthlink.net

NPC President Thomas Burr presents member Joe Morton with his award for Washington Regional Reporting - honorable mention.

NPC President Thomas Burr presents member Joe Morton with his award for Washington Regional Reporting - honorable mention.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Tricked by traffickers and savagely beaten, more than 2,000 enslaved fishermen were freed from brutal conditions at sea, thanks to dogged reporting by four Associated Press journalists honored August 4 at the National Press Club annual awards dinner.

The “Seafood from Slaves” series by Martha Mendoza, Margie Mason, Robin McDowell and Esther Htusan tracked seafood coming into the United States from Southeast Asia where forced laborers were caged and held for years. It won the NPC Consumer Journalism Award for Newspapers. Consumer awards also went to broadcast, online publications and periodicals and were among the 17 Club categories representing the best journalism in 2015.

During the evening celebration, NPC President Thomas Burr explained how the Club has taken its fight for a free press to a new level.

“In 2014 we noticed a decided turn and acceleration in the dangers confronting the press,” Burr said. “In July of that year, Washington Post Reporter Jason Rezaian and his wife, Yegi, were wrongly detained and imprisoned in Iran for doing their jobs. And in January of 2015, the attack on the Paris offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo sent shock waves throughout the journalism community.”

“For us,” he said, “fighting back meant an entire array of new strategies and activities designed to keep individual cases at the front of the mind of the public and the journalism community.” Burr said the NPC is “now geared up to use its unique brand and power to shine a light on individual cases where we think our voice can make a difference.”

At last year’s dinner, none of the three press freedom award winners could attend because they were jailed or missing. This year, two have been freed: Jason Rezaian and foreign correspondent Khadija Ismayilova of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Burr again called on Syria to release the third: freelance reporter Austin Tice.

Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh (Yegi) got a standing ovation. Yegi thanked journalists around the world, praising the “very inventive ways” used to raise consciousness about Jason. She has joined the Club’s Press Freedom Committee: “Every time I walk through the Club, I feel at home.”

Burr also welcomed the family of Alison Parker, a young television reporter from WDBJ in Roanoke who was shot along with photojournalist Adam Ward last August as they prepared a live broadcast, becoming the seventh and eighth journalists killed on the job in the U.S since 1992. “They were filled with joy and good humor and professionalism,” Burr said, “and their loss was felt deeply in our community.”

Click here for the full list of 2016 awards/honorees

Other consumer awards went to Pro-Publica’s Paul Kiel, Annie Waldman and Al Shaw for their coverage of the impact of debt collection lawsuits on minority communities. KDVR-TV Denver won for its coverage of the widespread use of anti-inflammatory drugs among student athletes at Colorado universities, enabling them to play through pain and injuries.

Managing Editor Sam Davis of The Baltimore Sun accepted the Breaking News Award for its coverage of riots in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray. Davis said his reporters and photographers were tear-gassed, attacked and threatened, “risking their lives to bring these stories to the citizens of Baltimore.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous and Jill Lawrence, a free-lance journalist now with USA Today, won top awards. So did Mark Follman of Mother Jones for writing about how the media unknowingly inspires mass shootings.

Three scholarship and fellowship winners were: Tomas Mier, Pathik Root, and Fidelity Ballmer. Mier said his parents “crossed the border from Mexico, mopped floors, cleaned houses and worked double shifts” to provide him a better life. He vowed to speak for the voiceless in Latino and undocumented communities.

On a lighter note, the Angele Gingras Humor Award went to Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post for her funny columns: “Growing up, I asked myself, ‘Do I want to be a columnist or write about dystopian horror?’ I want to thank 2015 and 2016 for not making me have to choose.”