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[VIRTUAL] Keeping it Local: Community Reporters Elevating Civil Discourse

Since 1993, World Press Freedom Day has served as a celebratory moment to honor the work of journalists and news organizations that use their platforms to hold the powerful accountable, provide fact-based news stories, and assert freedom of expression as a common good. PEN America has played a critical role bringing the celebration of World Press Freedom Day to its Members across the United States.

We are currently facing a moment when these vital local journalists and news sources are under threat. Wrought by a lack of financial resources and ruinous corporate media consolidation, local news coverage is experiencing an existential crisis. This World Press Freedom Day, PEN America is highlighting the work of a group of community-based journalists, editors, and publishers that demonstrate the necessity of local news stories in fostering informed civil discourse.

Join this distinguished group on Monday, May 3 at 8pm ET (via Zoom) as they participate in a moderated discussion in which they will discuss their work, the importance of regional journalism, and how to support local news sources.


Headshot Zach StaffordZach Stafford is an award-winning journalist who recently served as editor-at-large of BuzzFeed, was the first black editor-in-chief of The Advocate, and worked as an investigative reporter at The Guardian. He is the co-author of the anthology Boys, as well as the recently-released collection When Dogs Heal. And in 2019, he was named to both the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 and The Root 100. Stafford is currently a columnist for MSNBC.


Headshot Cierra HintonCierra Hinton is the executive director-publisher at Scalawag, a journalism and storytelling organization building solidarity, consciousness, and community by awakening the popular imagination to new possibilities that spark social change. In addition to her work at Scalawag, Hinton is a member of the Blue Engine Collaborative, a network of independent coaches, consultants, and advisors to media organizations around the world; she’s thrilled to be a coach for the Facebook Accelerator and UNC-Knight Table Stakes programs. Hinton previously served as the director of network building and operations at Press On, a southern media collective for movement journalism.

Headshot Willoughby MarianoWilloughby Mariano is an investigative reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she focuses on housing and criminal justice issues. She previously worked for PolitiFact Georgia, the AJC team that fact-checked the claims of elected officials, and at the Orlando Sentinel, where she covered crime and breaking news. Past honors include a National Headliner Award in investigative journalism and the Atlanta Press Club’s award for civil and human rights reporting. Mariano is an active member of the Asian American Journalists Association’s Atlanta chapter and chaired the national organization’s 2019 convention.

Headshot Sarah RahalSarah Rahal is a city reporter at The Detroit News. Aside from her city beat, Rahal has been focused on daily coronavirus reporting in Michigan, immigration topics, and helps with The Detroit News‘ investigations. She most recently partnered with Bridge Magazine to write a series on a national caregiver shortage during the pandemic. Rahal, 26, joined the breaking news desk in 2017 after graduating from Wayne State University with a bachelor’s in journalism and a minor in new media studies. She is a graduate of the Journalism Institute for Media Diversity, an honors program at the university. As a Dearborn native, Rahal also reports on culture and communities for The Detroit News.

Trelaine Ito headshotTrelaine Ito is a legislative assistant for U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) and is the policy lead on the education, arts and humanities, census, and civil rights and social issues portfolios. He is also the policy lead on judiciary issues, focusing on criminal justice and prison reform, drug reform, gun control, and religion. Ito is a graduate of Pacific University in Oregon, with a Bachelor of Arts in Ethics, Society and Law, and Politics and Government, and American University in Washington, D.C., with a Master of Science in Justice, Law, and Society with a concentration in Social Thought and Jurisprudence.

Belarusian protesters in background; on top: “I Support PEN Belarus” and PEN America logo

Our sister organization PEN Belarus has spent years uplifting writers and supporting the freedom to write. Now, the government is trying to shut them down. Show your support and tell them they’re not alone.