By Sandy K. Johnson

That sound you heard was a 1,000-strong chorus of support for the First Amendment and a free press. At the National Press Foundation’s awards dinner Feb. 15, there were reminders aplenty why journalism matters.

A sampling from the NPF award winners’ remarks:

  • Nicole Carroll, the newly installed editor-in-chief of USA Today and winner of the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award: “Across this U.S.A, journalists fight for our First Amendment rights, even though there’s a powerful opposition. We take down the liars and bullies, even though they may retaliate. And we send our staffs into the field, cautiously, even when there is danger. Because we all know what Ben Bradlee said: ‘The truth is never as dangerous as a lie in the long run.’ … We are here for the long run. And we will keep telling the truth.”
  • Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune columnist who received the W.M. Kiplinger Distinguished Contributions to Journalism Award: “I have a new appreciation of the inspirational words etched into the cathedral-like lobby walls of Chicago Tribune Tower. Among them is this quote from our late publisher Robert R. McCormick: ‘A newspaper is an institution developed by modern civilization to present the news of the day, to foster commerce and industry, to inform and lead public opinion, and to furnish that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide.’ Ironically our newspaper, founded in 1847, is moving out of Tribune Tower. The news in our new age doesn’t need to be housed in grand cathedrals anymore. But the role of media as guardians of civilization, commerce and freedom is more essential than ever.”
  • Bret Baier of Fox News, winner of the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism, said journalists at their best can shed light and change the world. “We have to stand together and support each other. But we also have to make sure we are presenting facts. … When journalists stray into opinion and advocacy, it only empowers the people who are looking to attack the media.”
  • Michael E. Miller, Justin Jouvenal and Dan Morse of The Washington Post were honored with NPF’s Feddie Reporting Award, for their focus on a federal refugee resettlement program that was fueling MS-13 gang violence. Miller said, “What became clear was that the gang was indeed on the rise. Dozens of unaccompanied minors in the D.C. suburbs have been pulled into its orbit. At least 30 killings in the Washington area in the past two years have been linked to the gang. And it is immigrant communities that are livingDinner2018 with the reality of its resurgence.”
  • Sally Jenkins, columnist for The Washington Post and winner of the Chairman’s Citation, on sports journalism: “Sports are especially tricky subject matter because they are essentially stories we tell ourselves about who we would like to be – but aren’t. Champions are deeply flawed people and they frequently fail; they are not the perfect representations of virtue we would like them to be. And this is where the trouble starts. This is right where a good sports columnist has to go, and start digging. People tend to want reassuring answers from sports – clear-cut answers. But there is a real danger in writing about them simplistically just to please the audience: You run the danger of dividing the world into winners and losers, heroes and sinners.”
  • Tony Bartelme, an investigative reporter for The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.) described finding a way to marry technology (infrared cameras) with reporting on a critical issue (climate change). He literally made invisible carbon dioxide visible, to win the Technology in Journalism Award. “ ‘Chasing Carbon’ and our other climate change stories reshaped the debate in Charleston about how a place that’s barely above sea level will handle rising seas. Before, the city really had its head in the sand. Now, people are talking about sea walls, pumps, raising houses, protecting low-lying places – action. I’m so grateful for the passport journalism gives me to do this work.”
  • Zoeann Murphy, Anthony Faiola, Kevin Schaul and Samuel Granados of The Washington Post received the Innovative Storytelling Award for their project, “Raising Barriers.” The project involved a team of journalists specializing in film, design, coding and writing that created a collaboration between technologies and news. “Our reporting brought us to walls, razor-wire fences, and militarized zones around the world where we heard indelible stories of horror, heroism, survival, fear and hope,” Murphy said. “We talked to people living on both sides of the walls and many sides of the issue. We interviewed refugees and migrants fleeing for their lives, and those worried about the dangers of uncontrolled migration.”