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‘This isn’t a vocation, it’s a calling’: Susan Zirinsky, Ed Yong, Maria Ressa and Linda Tirado exemplify journalism excellence

At a time when journalism is under threat in the U.S. and around the world — with a global pandemic bearing down — hundreds of attendees gathered virtually for the Fourth Estate Award Gala, to celebrate four incredible journalists who have made significant contributions to the field. 

Here are highlights from honorees Susan Zirinsky, Ed Yong, Maria Ressa and Linda Tirado.

Fourth Estate Award recipient: Susan Zirinsky, President and Senior Executive Producer of CBS News

“We’ve been living in a world where journalism has been denounced as fake news, and blamed for the deep divide we see in this country. We all know democracy — real democracy — cannot exist without a free press. A true press, objective, unbiased, not a press with a point of view. We witness and record history as it unfolds every day. This isn’t a vocation, it’s a calling.”

“The nation’s divided with more 73 million people voting for the candidate not elected. In order to heal that divide, we as journalists have to report on that divide fairly. In order to understand what separates us as people, we have to understand what they’re going through, their beliefs, their guiding principles. We have to understand. We have to have empathy. To serve the American people, you have to ask the questions and get answers for all Americans. The most important thing we can do right now is get it right.” 

Neil & Susan Sheehan Award for investigative journalism recipient: Ed Yong, the staff writer at The Atlantic

“I’ve likened the pandemic before to a raging torrent, a rising flood, perhaps some massive body of water swirling around us, threatening to drown us. And good journalism, I believe, can act as a platform, a rock in the middle of that — a stable piece of land on which people can stand and observe what is happening around them without being swept away in it.” 

John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award international honoree: Maria Ressa, CEO and president of Rappler

“This is how democracy dies. I learned that you don’t really know who you are until you’re forced to fight for it. It’s like I spent my entire career going to the gym training for this moment. And I’m now ready for battle. Because that’s exactly what this is. It’s a battle for facts, a battle for meaning, a battle for values.”

John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award domestic honoree: Linda Tirado, author and freelance photographer

“I think that we’re going to have to reckon with it as an industry: Of the risks that we are taking, of the fact that these risks keep changing, of the fact that these risks keep increasing. Because it used to be that you could go cover a story and there would be some respect for the fact that you are out there doing your job, the same as these police are out there doing their job. That line seems to be breaking.”

Watch the full 2020 Fourth Estate Award Gala event or download the digital program to learn more about the honorees.

Thank you to the Fourth Estate Award Gala sponsors!

Gold sponsors 

Al Jazeera | Amanda Bennett’s Girl Reporter Fund | Bloomberg Philanthropies | NCTA – The Internet & Television Association | POLITICO | The Washington Post

Silver sponsors  

Andrea and Michael Edney | CNN | Craig Newmark Philanthropies | Discovery, Inc. | Syngenta | Toyota

Bronze sponsor  


Supporting sponsors 

The Associated Press | Baltimore Sun Media | Barbara and John Cochran | Brown Capital Management | Charter Communications | The Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman Foundation | Gannett / USA TODAY Network | Marvin and Madeleine Kalb | Michael and Renee Freedman | Ms. Magazine | New York Times Company

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