Press Freedom Incentive Fund
Stand up for press freedom in your community and
apply to PEN America’s Press Freedom Incentive Fund
Press freedom in the United States is under greater siege now than at any moment in recent memory. Denigration of journalism and the news media is becoming a line of political attack that threatens to undermine Americans’ commitment to press freedom as a foundation of democracy. The crucial role of independent reporting in keeping government accountable and citizens informed and engaged had long seemed protected by not only the First Amendment but also broadly held public consensus. Now, doubt is being seeded and—alongside significant shifts in news delivery and consumption—creating an increasingly polarized information environment where faith in factualness and the truth is weakening. PEN America believes it is critical to act. If press freedom is to survive in America, it will be because we rise up—in our communities, whether urban or rural, from coast to coast—to demand and defend an independent and robust press as a cornerstone of democracy.
PEN America’s Press Freedom Incentive Fund supports PEN America members and their allies to mobilize their communities around press freedom. During its pilot 2017-2018 year, this Fund supported initiatives in more than 20 cities and regions—in places like Detroit, Birmingham, and Denver—to build new local constituencies ready to defend press freedom.
The Fund, now open for 2018-2019 applications, calls on members and activists outside the major coastal metropolitan areas to join us in this effort, devising ways to engage and activate their communities. In addition to funding, PEN America’s experts on free expression, event planning, communications, audience building, and literary activism are ready to support these efforts.
We are accepting submissions for proposals and projects from individuals as well as local groups to support activities that bolster an understanding of and support for press freedom. The Press Freedom Incentive Fund is designed to provide grants of about $1,000–$4,000 to support these activities.
The Press Freedom Incentive Fund supports new initiatives to invigorate local communities with ideas, information, questions, and discourse around press freedom defense. Proposals may center on events, panel discussions, campaigns, outreach efforts, educational initiatives,workshops, media outlet partnerships, and other formats that can be effective in building local press freedom constituencies (a list of possible ideas for inspiration is contained in the FAQs below). Priority will be given to proposals that have the potential to reach a significant and diverse audience, engage and sustain that audience over time, and facilitate partnership with local groups and organizations.
How do journalists tell stories? How can we convey to the public the impact of journalism? What role does the press play in empowering citizens, stimulating social change, and holding leaders accountable? What makes press stories trustworthy?
For more information about eligibility, selection criteria, and additional resources we are offering, please refer to the frequently asked questions below. You can also contact us at [email protected].
We welcome applications from anyone outside the major coastal cities (New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles). Individuals need not be affiliated with an institution to apply.
No. We encourage applications from PEN America Members, but we are also pleased to offer one year of complimentary membership to the project lead for each accepted proposal.
Potential formats include—but are not limited to—civic dialogues, town halls, film screenings, rallies, readings, trainings, awards for local journalism, speaker and panel events, and petition drives.
Proposals may be for individual events, as well as sequenced programming.
Examples of specific programs could include:
Inside Local News – Panel discussion around how local news stories are conceived and reported, with participation from local media personalities and editors. Programs could focus on a particular local story of importance (e.g. Flint water crisis or hurricane coverage).
Representing Local Lives – Facilitated civic dialogue around how local individuals’ stories can be sought and/or brought to the attention of journalists.
Who’s Behind the News – Introducing influential local newspaper and television news editors to describe their processes and criteria for quality journalism and to answer questions from news consumers.
Issue-Specific Programs – Convening advocacy leaders, local writers and journalists, and other community members to discuss the press’s role in specific local issues.
Hometown Journalist Program – Inviting highly regarded national journalists to their hometown communities to participate in a 1–2 day program around press freedom issues including public forums, school visits, etc.
Advocacy Training – Delivering skills-building sessions around local organizing, campaign building, and mounting public actions in support of press freedom and other rights.
World Press Freedom Day Events – Programming timed for World Press Freedom Day (May 3) to highlight the work of local journalists and media outlets.
No. We are ready to work with you to develop a project based on your initial ideas. Please make contact via the application form. Don’t be hesitant to reach out if you are interested and need help developing your ideas.
Examples of budget line-items that could be supported through the fund include travel, honoraria, venue fees, printing and material expenses, and promotion. Specific questions about other budget line-items can be directed to [email protected]
Applicants can expect to receive a decision on their proposal within 2–3 weeks. Proposals for rapid response actions will also be considered; please indicate in your program/event description if you are requesting immediate support.
Favorably reviewed applications will include a strong argument for why the project will build understanding and support for the value of press freedom within the community, well-defined metrics for success, a clearly reasoned budget, support from other local partners, ability to reach diverse constituencies, and the possibility for ongoing community engagement.
PEN America has developed reports, an activist toolkit, and a tracking instrument for threats to free expression. We are continuing to develop other publicly available research and resources. Our staff includes experts on free expression, literary activism, publicity, and public programming who will be available to coach you as needed. We can also facilitate connections to our network and membership of more than 5,000 writers, reporters, and other individuals in the media and literary communities nationwide. In certain cases, we are also able to provide guidance on potential partnerships and promotional opportunities.
The Press Freedom Incentive Fund is established with generous support from the Democracy Fund, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation.