Fourth Estate Gala honors Lester Holt, Haze Fan, Danny Fenster, and The Marshall Project

The 2021 Fourth Estate Award Gala took place in the National Press Club ballroom and online on Oct. 20, 2021, bringing together journalists, communicators, and supporters from around the world to recognize excellence in a year of extraordinary challenges.

The evening honored:

  • Lester Holt, anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News and anchor of Dateline NBC, with the esteemed Fourth Estate Award
  • Haze Fan, a Chinese citizen working for Bloomberg News, with the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award (international)
  • Detroit native Danny Fenster, managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, with the John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award (domestic)
  • The Marshall Project with the Neil and Susan Sheehan Award for Investigative Journalism

You can learn more about the program in this visual guide, which includes information about the evening, honorees, and sponsors. The gala is a fundraiser supporting the National Press Club Journalism Institute, whose work powers journalism in the public interest. You can donate here to support the Institute’s work.


Meet the honorees

Fourth Estate Award

NBC News’ Lester Holt, whose seasoned career in journalism over four decades and role as anchor of NBC Nightly News has earned him the title as most-trusted anchor in America, received the National Press Club’s most esteemed prize, the Fourth Estate Award. He is the 49th recipient of the award, which recognizes journalists who have made significant contributions to the field. 

Holt is an award-winning journalist at NBC News. He serves as anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt,” the network’s flagship broadcast, as well as the anchor of “Dateline NBC.” Holt also leads NBC News’ special reports, breaking news and primetime news coverage.

Holt was named “NBC Nightly News” anchor in June 2015 after eight years as anchor of “NBC Nightly News” weekend editions and 12 years as co-anchor of “Weekend TODAY.” In addition, Holt has served as principal anchor of “Dateline NBC” since September 2011, and now also anchors “Nightly News Kids Edition,” a digital award-winning newscast aimed to inform and educate children, which he launched at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Known for his outstanding work in the field, as well as reporting and anchoring breaking news events across the globe, Holt has spent the past four decades in journalism. Most recently, he has been in Tokyo to cover the 2020 Olympic Games as the world was coming together for the first time since the global pandemic. Also, this year, Holt traveled to Geneva for President Biden and Russian President Putin’s in-person summit. Previously this year, he interviewed Vice President Kamala Harris in Guatemala in one of her most significant interviews since she took office and he anchored live from Surfside, Florida, following the deadly condo collapse.  

Last year, Holt anchored NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Presidential Election, including Election Night and the days following, the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and the presidential debate and vice presidential debate. Holt also conducted the first interview with President Joe Biden following the election. In 2016, Holt was also selected to moderate the first presidential debate, which continues to hold the record as the most-watched debate in American history. 

Holt has distinguished himself as the leading broadcast journalist reporting on the criminal justice system and the efforts to reform it. For the “Justice for All” series he launched, Holt was embedded for three days inside the largest maximum-security prison, Angola, and also anchored the first televised town hall from a maximum-security prison, Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

Before becoming co-anchor of “Weekend TODAY” in 2003, Holt anchored MSNBC’s “Lester Holt Live” and served as a primary anchor for MSNBC’s coverage of major news events, including Operation Iraqi Freedom and the war in Afghanistan, as well as coverage of Decision 2000. Holt came to MSNBC after 14 years at WBBM-TV in Chicago. He began his television journalism career as a reporter at WCBS-TV in New York in 1981.

Holt has been recognized with numerous honors, including multiple Emmy Awards and a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award. In 2021, he was honored with the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Lifetime Achievement award. In 2019, he was honored with the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism and in 2017, he received the Quinnipiac University’s Fred Friendly First Amendment Award. In 2016, Holt was featured on TIME’s “100 Most Influential People” list and was named “Journalist of the Year” by the National Association of Black Journalists.

John Aubuchon Press Freedom Awards

Named for a former Club president who fervently advocated for press freedom, this award is given each year to one journalist in the United States and one journalist overseas who bravely pushes to disclose the truth in trying circumstances.

The 2021 Aubuchon honorees are Haze Fan, a Chinese citizen, who has been detained in Beijing while working for Bloomberg, and Danny Fenster, managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, who has been jailed in Myanmar since May 24.

Fan had been covering global business as a news assistant when she was detained in December 2020 by the Beijing National Security Bureau on unfounded allegations of engaging in criminal activities that jeopardized national security. Her case, which remains under investigation, comes as dozens of foreign journalists have been forced to flee amid increased hostilities between China and international media outlets.

Fenster, meanwhile, was taken into custody at Yangon International Airport as he was on his way home to Detroit, Michigan to see family. He was charged with incitement in connection with a previous employer, Myanmar Now, which had its license revoked by a Myanmar government intent on silencing news outlets. Fenster had resigned from Myanmar Now 10 months prior to his arrest. He remains in Insein Prison until his trial. During a video hearing he told his lawyer he had become infected with the coronavirus while in detainment and was denied medicine.

Neil & Susan Sheehan Award for investigative journalism

The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system, received the National Press Club Journalism Institute’s 2021 Neil and Susan Sheehan Award for Investigative Journalism.

Through award-winning journalism, The Marshall Project has revealed fundamental flaws within the criminal justice system and engages millions of people whose lives have been ensnared in it. Recent accolades for its work include the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in the National Reporting category for “Mauled: When Police Dogs Are Weapons,” and the 2021 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting and a Harry Frank Guggenheim Award for Excellence in Criminal Justice for coverage on the Mississippi prison system.

The Marshall Project partners with national and local media outlets to reach diverse audiences and produces deeply researched narratives with resource-strapped newsrooms. Its work informs criminal justice experts, policymakers, elected officials, and other journalists.

Thank you to our generous sponsors

Gold Sponsors

Al Jazeera | Bloomberg Philanthropies | CNN | Discovery, Inc. | NBC | NCTA – The Internet and Television Association

Silver Sponsor


Bronze Sponsors

American Press Institute | APCO Worldwide | Craig Newmark Philanthropies | L3Harris | Toyota | Trident DMG | Visby Medical | The Washington Post

Patron Sponsors

Axios | CRAFT Media | Digital |Distilled Spirits Council of the United States | Gannett/USA TODAY network | HBCU National Center | SKDK | The Associated Press

Photos from the gala 

Thank you to Visby Medical, which provided on-site rapid Covid testing services for the event. 

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