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[VIRTUAL] Saving Local News: The Story of the Storm Lake Times

PEN America has been sounding the alarm as a deluge of misinformation and partisan punditry have damaged public trust in journalism, threatening the foundation of our democracy. The urgency of saving ethical, local journalism is powerfully demonstrated in Storm Lake, the new documentary from Beth Levison and Jerry Risius premiering November 15 on PBS.

How can local journalism bring together a community in the face of division and public health disasters? Join us with Pulitzer-prize-winning editor Art Cullen, co-directors Jerry Risius and Beth Levison, and PEN America’s Program Director of Digital Safety and Free Expression Viktorya Vilk for an important conversation about how a small, family-run paper is keeping accountability alive while local outlets across the country die out. The conversation will be moderated by Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins, Emmy Award-winning journalist and vice president of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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Ashanti Blaize headshotAshanti Blaize-Hopkins is a full-time journalism professor at Santa Monica College (SMC) and an Emmy Award-winning journalist, producer, and public relations expert. She has worked as a TV news anchor, reporter, and producer in television markets in Florida, Texas, and Nevada, and produced branded video content for several national companies. Before coming to SMC as an associate professor, she was the assistant director of student media at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), also having taught journalism courses at LMU, UCLA Extension, USC Annenberg, and Richland College, as an adjunct professor. Blaize-Hopkins has been a member of the SPJ/LA Board since 2017, and she currently serves as the board’s vice president and chair of the Distinguished Journalists Awards Committee.


Art Cullen headshotArt Cullen is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, editor of The Storm Lake Times (a family-run weekly newspaper in small-town Iowa), and author of the new book, Storm Lake: A Chronicle of Change, Resilience, and Hope from a Heartland NewspaperPhoto Credit: Tom Wallace

Beth Levison headshotNYC-based Beth Levison’s (director/producer) recent producing credits include Women in Blue (Independent Lens, 2020), Emmy-nominated Made in Boise (Independent Lens, 2019), and 32 Pills (HBO, 2017). Storm Lake, which she also produced, marks her return to directing. She is a cofounder of the Documentary Producers Alliance and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Jerry Risius headshotWith over 25 years experience as director of photography (DP) on such projects as The Kingmaker (Toronto International Film Festival, 2019), Generation Wealth (Sundance, 2018), Seeing Allred (Sundance, 2018/Netflix), Brave New Voices (HBO, 2009), The Devil Came on Horseback (Sundance, 2007), and more recently, as a field producer/DP on the Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and Parts Unknown series, Brooklyn-based Jerry Risius grew up on a hog farm about an hour from Storm Lake and brings a depth of filmmaking experience along with a local perspective that very few can.

Viktorya Vilk headshotViktorya Vilk is the program director of digital safety and free expression at PEN America. With over eight years of experience working in museums and arts nonprofits, she is firmly committed to protecting freedom of expression and expanding access to the arts.

Watch the Storm Lake Trailer

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