Pulitzer Center CEO and President Jon Sawyer announced the new mission, vision, and funding commitments for the Pulitzer Center on September 21, 2023, at the Yale Club in New York City. The following are his remarks.
Thank you all for being with us today. It’s wonderful to see so many friends, journalists, education partners, donors, staff, and board members who have been part of the Pulitzer Center story for going on two decades.
These are dark, challenging times. We are well into the second year of Europe’s bloodiest conflict since World War II. The U.N. comes together for its most important gathering of the year, and the leaders of China, India, and Russia don’t bother to come—and at today’s special session on climate, there will be no speakers from China or the United States, the world’s biggest sources of carbon emissions, because the records of those countries are so poor. Public confidence in the credibility of journalism is near record lows.
But in the face of all that, I believe you will leave this gathering on a more hopeful note, with the realization that people of good faith across the globe are working to address these challenges—and to find solutions together.
It’s our hope and intent that in the work ahead the Pulitzer Center can play a significant role.
In just a few minutes we’ll be hearing about some exciting new initiatives for the Center, and from a panel of journalists and other partners about the work that makes the Pulitzer Center so distinctive among journalism and education organizations. But first, just a moment on the new mission statement, vision, and ambition that we’re launching today on our website (and that you can preview, via the QR codes on the cards at your table).
The mission is this: The Pulitzer Center champions the power of stories to make complex issues relevant and inspire action.
What that means to us is that stories—original, compelling journalism of the highest quality—are at the heart of what we do. Stories on complex issues, from human rights to global health to climate, that journalism done well is uniquely positioned to demystify and untangle. Stories made relevant, to the disparate audiences who engage with them around the world. And stories that inspire action, by helping readers and viewers see the value in getting engaged as active citizens themselves.
We intend to draw on the communities of learning we are building, our “network of networks” among journalists, academics, educators, and policy activists. We believe this approach will result in journalism initiatives with more powerful impact, and with a strategic focus on reaching the audiences that matter most.
Our vision? To become the venue for the world’s most innovative and consequential global reporting, with journalism as the key element for mobilizing society through active audience engagement.
So much of what we have learned—about how to build these networks, these communities of learning, and how to make audience engagement central to everything we do—is the result of the support we’ve had over the past five years from Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) and from Norad, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.
The Rainforest Journalism Fund, initiated in 2018, has supported projects by hundreds of journalists in more than 50 countries, with a focus on the principal tropical forest regions of the Amazon, the Congo Basin, and Southeast Asia. Two years later, the introduction of our Rainforest Investigations Network gave us the resources to tackle more ambitious cross-border and collaborative investigative projects, with yearlong fellowships for full-time journalists representing media outlets across the globe. It also allowed us to hire expert data and research staff in-house to assist the journalist Fellows in their projects—and nearly a dozen education and engagement specialists who are themselves from, and based in, the rainforest regions.
At the beginning of this year, additional Norwegian support allowed us to apply this same model—short-term reporting grants, long-term investigative fellowships, a focus on collaboration, communities of learning, and audience-centered engagement—to our work on oceans.
I’d like to pause here to share a brief video, with just a few of the many journalists who have participated in this work thus far.
If you’re not familiar with this part of our work, I hope you’ll take a look at the rainforest and oceans sections of our website—an astonishing run of breakthrough reporting and productive collaborations, such as those between The New York Times and Intercept Brasil on illegal gold mines in the Amazon and among NBC News, Indonesia’s Tempo, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on the rampant deforestation caused by the nickel mines serving Tesla’s electric-car batteries.
This “communities of learning” model has also spawned compelling engagement initiatives—from new rainforest curricula in Congolese secondary schools and universities in the Amazon, to art exhibitions and social media influencer campaigns in Southeast Asia.
We believe this model works—and that with additional support it can achieve even more. I’m thrilled to say that our colleagues in Norway agree.
We are announcing today a commitment by Norad and NICFI over the next five years of 170 million Norwegian kroner—$16 million in U.S. dollars—in support of our continued initiatives on rainforests and oceans, but extending now to include work as well as on commodity supply chains, financial transparency, and corporate/government accountability.
I am honored to introduce Espen Barth Eide, Norway’s minister of climate and the environment.
Thank you, Minister—and I want to thank as well your colleagues Per Pharo, Andreas Dahl-Jørgensen, and Ragnhild Eikenes, of Norad and NICFI, who have been such champions of these initiatives all along.
I said before that Norway’s support has been crucial to the Pulitzer Center’s own evolution, with an increasing focus on longer-term and collaborative reporting initiatives, these “communities of learning” I’ve described, and the strategic focus from the outset on targeted audience engagement.
Thanks to two other significant funders, the Laudes Foundation and the Open Society Foundations (OSF).
We have also applied this model to our work on the nexus between climate and labor rights and on artificial intelligence (AI) accountability. I’m pleased to say today that Laudes and OSF are doubling down on their commitments, with multi-year general operating support of $2.4 million from Laudes and $900,000 from OSF. We are incredibly grateful to you both.
In our conversations with Norad, NICFI, Laudes, OSF, and others, one frequent topic is our own sustainability: How does the Pulitzer Center, as a nonprofit, ensure its own survival and continued value to the many communities we serve?
One answer is that we have to demonstrate that value every day, as we have tried to do through 17 years of thus-far unbroken growth. Another, crucial part of the answer is our determination, at the staff and board of directors level, to give the Pulitzer Center the financial resources and stability it must have if we are to be that engine of innovation we envision.
Beginning with the establishment of a reserve fund more than a decade ago, we have endeavored to raise not just operating revenue but also the endowment gifts that ensure income in perpetuity to sustain our work. We have today, as a result, what I believe is the largest endowment of any nonprofit journalism organization that has emerged in the past two decades.
That endowment will soon be larger still.
Emily Rauh Pulitzer, our board chair, in the hope of encouraging the sort of long-term support we need, agreed to match up to $10 million any multi-year support that we raised during 2023. With these commitments from Norway, Laudes, and OSF, we have met that challenge.
Emmy has chaired our organization since its creation, tirelessly working to leverage her own contributions so as to bring in additional support and to make the Pulitzer Center the permanent resource we both intend it to be.
We have done this in tandem with our magnificent board of directors, a number of whom are with us today. I’d like for you all to stand. My thanks to Emmy and to Dick Moore, Bill Bush, Sam Dolnick, Azmat Khan, Joel Motley, and David Rohde.
Could the Pulitzer Center staff members present also stand? I am so grateful to you and to our nearly 60 Center colleagues across the globe, including Executive Editor Marina Walker Guevara and the Pulitzer Center staff and grantees who are sharing our work on these topics at the Global Investigative Journalism Conference this week in Sweden. Also, to the 2,000-plus journalist grantees and education partners with whom we’ve had the privilege to work, and to my wife, Kem, our Reporting Fellows director, who has been my most steadfast, wisest partner throughout. I salute you all.