[VIRTUAL] Keeping it Local: Trust & Local Journalism in Atlanta

After years ravaged by press layoffs, newsroom shutterings, and attacks on the media, the need for a community-driven rescue mission for local journalism has never been more evident. But first we must understand the problem and collectively reaffirm how integral local news coverage is to the health of a community, both literally and figuratively. In order to begin this conversation and foster public awareness and grassroots advocacy for local news media, PEN America is launching a series of town hall convenings to bring together members of the press, elected officials, and the public to discuss the landscape of local news in 2021.

This town hall will address the topic of trust in the local journalism in Atlanta, GA. Bringing together key players in the local media landscape, this conversation will address methods of building trust between local reporters and community members in areas where there is historically a lack of trust and lack of transparency. By bringing local media makers into conversation with policymakers about what can be done legislatively to support a free press on the local level, this dialogue will encourage policy action in support of local news outlets. PEN America will additionally provide resources for community members to engage with their local and state elected officials and advocate for support of their local news outlets.


Sheena Roetman is a Lakota journalist living in Atlanta, GA. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from Georgia State University, with an English minor and a research specialty in American Indian Media and advocacy journalism. She works at the Atlanta Press Club as Director of Membership and Programs as well as continuing to work as a freelance journalist, with bylines in the New York Times, Woman’s Day, House Beautiful, Indian Country Today and others. In her free time, she enjoys playing with her miniature Dachshund, gardening and assisting her father, a stunt pilot, at airshows around the world.


Willoughby Mariano headshotWilloughby 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.

Sonam Vashi headshotSonam Vashi is cofounder and operations director of Canopy Atlanta, a community-led nonprofit newsroom. She is an award-winning freelance reporter from Norcross, GA, whose work covering criminal justice, immigration, and the South has appeared in The New York Times, Atlanta magazine, ProPublica, CNN, National Geographic, and several others. She has also investigated Jim Crow-era racial terrorism in Georgia with Emory University.

Janis L. Ware headshotJanis L. Ware has practical, hands-on, and well-documented experience in the field of low- and moderate-income housing and community economic development. As such, she has served the citizens of the metropolitan Atlanta area for more than 40 years. Additionally, a multitalented and dynamic entrepreneur, Ware is the publisher of The Atlanta Voice newspaper that has served the Atlanta community since 1966. It provides news and information on matters of concern to the African American community. She began working for the paper after college and took over the organization after the death of her father, J. Lowell Ware, in 1991. The Atlanta Voice has transitioned to online coverage, electronic distribution, and digital content production. The Atlanta Voice has served Metropolitan Atlanta for over 53 years.

Tell Congress: Support Local News

PEN America and several partner organizations are mobilizing our Members and Americans across the country to use their voice to save local news. Join us by calling on your U.S. senators and representatives to support the Future of Local News Act, which would establish a federal advisory commission to study the decline of local news and propose solutions for the industry’s revitalization.


If you would like to help us spread the word about the Future of Local News Act and/or this town hall series, we hope you’ll check out our social media toolkit to access links, visual assets, and sample copy for you to use in original posts across Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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