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Pulitzer Center Update June 6, 2024

Legacy and Transition at the Pulitzer Center


Celebrating 18 years of impactful journalism and engagement

Kem and Jon Sawyer, Lisa Gibbs and Dick Moore
Left: Kem Knapp Sawyer, Jon Sawyer, and Emily Rauh Pulitzer. Image by Annie Schlafly. United States, 2024. Right: Lisa Gibbs and Dick Moore. Image by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.

As the Pulitzer Center prepares to welcome Lisa Gibbs as the new CEO and president, our community gathered in Washington, D.C., on  June 3, 2024, for a celebration of the Center’s achievements and legacy under the leadership of Jon Sawyer, founder, CEO, and president; Kem Knapp Sawyer, Reporting Fellows director; and Emily Rauh Pulitzer, board chair. All three will be stepping down from their current positions this month, with Karima Haynes joining the team as the new Reporting Fellows director and Dick Moore becoming board chair.

The celebratory dinner was held at the Cosmos Club. Attendees included Pulitzer Center staff, board members, journalist grantees, education partners, and friends and family who have supported our work over the past 18 years.

Watch the event here:

The event began with a welcome from Pulitzer Center board member Azmat Khan. Khan, an investigative reporter at The New York Times and a professor at Columbia University’s Journalism School, highlighted the importance of the Pulitzer Center in her roles as both journalist and educator: “In the spaces I work in, I get to see the impact of the Pulitzer Center firsthand.”

Azmat Khan stands at a podium to speak at the ornate Cosmos Club event salon.
Azmat Khan speaks at the farewell dinner for Jon and Kem Sawyer at the Cosmos Club on June 3, 2024. Image by Grace Jensen. United States.

“Azmat represents not only extraordinary journalism and academic commitment, but also next-generation leadership,” Jon Sawyer said as he took the stage for his remarks.

Jon Sawyer speaks at the podium of the ornate Cosmos Club event salon.
Jon Sawyer speaks at the Cosmos Club on June 3, 2024. Sawyer announced an exciting new challenge grant commitment from Emily Rauh Pulitzer: a $10 million endowment match against any multi-year support the Pulitzer Center can raise. Image by Grace Jensen. United States.

Sawyer began by reflecting on important projects supported by the Center over the years, including reporting on migrants crossing Panama’s dangerous Darién Gap, the civil war in Yemen, China’s suppression of Uyghur minorities, and HIV/AIDS in Haiti. He also stressed the innovative reporting and engagement that has broken new ground in journalism—from college reporting contests, to circus performances and plays, art exhibitions, community events, and more.

“More important than the awards and innovative approaches are the communities we’ve built,” he added, from the 3,000-plus journalists who have received reporting grants from the Center to its investigative Fellowships, extensive network of news-media and education partners, and a Pulitzer Center staff of more than 60 that now spans 16 countries.

Sawyer announced an exciting new challenge grant commitment from Emily Rauh Pulitzer, champion of the Center’s mission since the beginning: a $10 million endowment match against any multi-year support the Pulitzer Center can raise. Pulitzer granted the seed funds that got the Pulitzer Center started 18 years ago, along with support from Dick Moore’s parents, David and Katherine Moore. At the dinner Sawyer also announced a major new gift from Dick Moore and his wife, Barbara: a five-year commitment of $500,000 per year in general operating support.

These extraordinary gifts represent “a tremendous vote of confidence in Lisa,” Sawyer said, “as the person we are confident will give us the leadership we need.”

collage of two pictures, one of Donnalie Wilson speaking to other people and another of Lisa Gibbs speaking to board members
Left: Donnalie Jamnah, senior program manager, K-12 Education. Right: Incoming Pulitzer Center CEO and President Lisa Gibbs, center, with board member Linda Winslow and Marie Ridder. Images by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.
Left: Board members Sam Dolnick, Bill Bush, and Tracey Riese with journalist grantee Melissa Noel. Right: Emily Rauh Pulitzer with two other Pulitzer family members: Michael Pulitzer Jr. and Deirdre Quesada. Images by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.
Board member Tracy Riese speaks with fellow members at a dinner table at the ornate Cosmos Club event salon.
Pulitzer Center board members Joe Pulitzer V (rear) and Tracey Riese. Image by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.

Kem Knapp Sawyer shared her gratitude and reflections as head of the Campus Consortium Reporting Fellows program, which today has over 40 college/university partners across the United States and has supported hundreds of student Reporting Fellows.

“Those of you who have been in this room at the Pulitzer Center Washington Weekend know how much it has meant to me over the years to work with our Reporting Fellows—and to watch their careers develop. So many of the stories they’ve told will stick with me:

“Food access in Detroit and New Orleans; acid attack survivors in Pakistan; support for young refugees who make their way to Greece, Turkey, and India; emergency health care for Ugandans; climate adaptation in Mongolia; stories of Venezuelan migrants starting over in New York City; or of the Rohingya diaspora as seen through the eyes of a City Colleges (of) Chicago student, himself a Rohingya refugee. I could go on.”

Karima Haynes, an accomplished educator and journalist, joins the Center as the next Reporting Fellows Program director.

Kem Knapp Sawyer
Kem Knapp Sawyer, Reporting Fellows Program director, with Board Chair Dick Moore. Image by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.
Karima Haynes speaks with fellow attendees at the farewell dinner
Incoming Reporting Fellows Program Director Karima Haynes with her husband, Dion, and Fuller Project journalist Jodi Enda. Image by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.

Nick Schifrin, PBS NewsHour correspondent and a multiple grantee of the Pulitzer Center, reflected on his experiences reporting with the Pulitzer Center and what it means to have a legacy.

“There are countless journalists and countless stories. Journalists who have been able to tell those stories around the world, that would not have been told without the Pulitzer Center, without the Sawyers,” he said. “The seeds that you have planted are seeds of empathy; they are seeds of understanding.”

Nick Schifrin speaks at a podium at the farewell dinner at the Cosmos Club
Nick Schifrin, PBS NewsHour correspondent and a Pulitzer Center grantee. Image by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.

The event also marked an exciting transition as the Pulitzer Center welcomes Lisa Gibbs as CEO and president. Gibbs is an investigative journalist, seasoned editor, and for the past seven years has been the first and highly successful head of the Associated Press’ news partnerships and philanthropic efforts. Her previous work, such as making journalism more economically sustainable and developing new ways to report on artificial intelligence, aligns closely with Pulitzer Center goals.

“I grew to love the Pulitzer Center as a grantee first,” began Gibbs, recalling the 17 projects the Center has supported at the AP since 2017.

Lisa Gibbs
Lisa Gibbs, incoming Pulitzer Center CEO and president. Image by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.

“I know very well the power of journalism to make a difference—and the struggles that news organizations face in finding the money and the time for this kind of impactful work,” she said.

Along with the groundbreaking journalism on important and pressing issues, Gibbs highlighted the importance of engagement in the Pulitzer Center model: “Tackling these challenges is where I believe Pulitzer Center can make transformative change going forward. With the powerful journalism we fund, the ways we bring the journalism to schools and universities, to new arenas like outdoor photography exhibitions and community events—the Center is and can lead the way in bringing important stories to these reluctant or unreached audiences.”

“Making journalism matter to new and future generations of consumers is a mission and opportunity that fills me with enormous excitement,” she said.

Gibbs will join the Center as CEO and president on June 17.

The evening ended with closing remarks from Dick Moore, board member and incoming board chair, and Emily Rauh Pulitzer, outgoing board chair. Moore succeeds Pulitzer as chair of the Pulitzer Center board this month. Moore has been on the board since 2016 and led the search committee for the Center’s next leader. Pulitzer will continue on the board as chair emeritus; Jon Sawyer will be senior adviser, to the board and to Gibbs.

“As a member of the board, I’ve been continually impressed by the full-hearted commitment to the Center and to its work by every one of its members,” Moore said, reflecting on how much it had meant to be with the Pulitzer Center staff at retreats in Panama and Portugal. “Being in the presence of and spending time with virtually the entire staff from all around the world, I was amazed at the passion, the dedication, the ability of people to speak and speak well. [It] just gave me so much confidence in what you, Jon, and Kem have built.” 

Pulitzer spoke about the Center’s growth, from its conception and founding to the global organization it is today.

Dick Moore and Emmy Pulitzer pose together at dinner
Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Dick Moore. Image by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.
photo collage
Left: Board member Joel Motley with Jeff Cohen of Arnold Ventures and Carroll Bogert, president of the Marshall Project. Right: Terry Samuel, editor-in-chief of USA Today, with Sudeep Reddy, managing editor, Politico. Images by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.

“Jon came to me with the most novel idea at the time, that because of the closing of many foreign bureaus and the reduction of sending journalists abroad, it was more important than ever that we know what was going on in the rest of the world,” she said. “'To illuminate,' as my late husband said, and ‘with a deep sense of responsibility, interpret these troubled times.’”

Stay tuned for more as we welcome Gibbs to the Pulitzer Center. Congratulations, Jon, Kem, and Emmy on your incredible careers and legacy—and for ensuring that our mission and work will continue with strong support in the years ahead.

Jon Sawyer looks on with a smile as Emmy Pulitzer makes her farewell address
Jon Sawyer watches a tribute video prepared by Pulitzer Center staff, board, and community members. Image by Grace Jensen. United States, 2024.


group picture of board members and the new CEO of the Center, Lisa Gibbs
Outgoing Pulitzer Center CEO and President Jon Sawyer, incoming CEO and President Lisa Gibbs, and board members at the Pulitzer Center office in Washington, D.C. Front row from left: William Bush, Betsy Karel, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, Tracey Riese, Linda Winslow, and Azmat Khan. Rear row from left: Dick Moore, Joel Motley, Joe Pulitzer V, Gibbs, Sawyer, and David Rohde. Image by Jazmyn Gray. United States, 2024.