Dana Priest captures 2016 Zenger Award for Press Freedom

May 3, 2016
Dana Priest accepts the school's 2016 Zenger Award

Dana Priest of the Washington Post accepts the school's 2016 Zenger Award for Press Freedom at the Westward Look.

Washington Post reporter Dana Priest inspired students, donors and faculty alike in receiving the Zenger Award for Press Freedom, then the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner talked about a bold partnership with the University of Arizona School of Journalism.

Priest, who accepted the Zenger award at a gala dinner at the Westward Look Resort on Oct. 21, hopes to collaborate with students and faculty here to bring more attention to the number of journalists being killed in Mexico — and the “growing news deserts here in the U.S., mainly because of market forces, and the demise of independent media overseas brought on by autocratic regimes.”

“We have to think of more creative ways to get people to understand that right across our border is terrorism — as brutal and violent as anything ISIS has done,” she said.

Priest hopes the school can assist her students at the University of Maryland with a proposed website called “Blackout,” to publish original stories about the attack on independent news media here and abroad. Earlier, her students began a “Press Uncuffed” bracelet campaign to help the Committee to Protect Journalists try to gain the release of imprisoned journalists across the world. Four journalists have been freed so far.

In her speech, Priest recounted her Pulitzer Prize-winning stories on the deplorable treatment of veterans and secret CIA prisons, saying she felt close to the Zenger Award because “there were people after I wrote the story about the ‘black site’ prisons who really wanted to charge me with sedition (like John Peter Zenger) ... and treat me like a traitor."


Priest said she enjoyed talking to UA students, who had “great, sophisticated questions.” She also attended an Oct. 20 mixer at the Marriott, sponsored by the school’s Center for Border & Global Journalism.

Nancy Montoya of Arizona Public Media emceed the Zenger dinner and introduced Priest. School of Journalism Director David Cuillier presented the award to Priest.

Priest ended her speech with a hopeful message.

“Students nowadays have technology skills that we never had — and I’m not going to learn now,” Priest said. “If we can convince them of the value, the fun, the reward and the power in becoming good beat reporters, they will become the best generation of journalists yet.”

Given by the school since 1954, the award is named after John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger and honors journalists who fight for freedom of the press and the people’s right to know.

Past winners include Bob Woodward and Carl BernsteinBill MoyersWalter Cronkite and Associated Press foreign correspondent Kathy Gannon, who returned to reporting this year after being wounded in a 2014 attack in Afghanistan.

“Dana Priest epitomizes what journalism is all about – courage, truth-seeking, holding those in power accountable, and providing people the information they need to adequately self-govern,” Cuillier said.

Priest won a 2006 Pulitzer for uncovering secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and a 2008 Pulitzer for reporting on deplorable conditions for veterans at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington. She also is a John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

A three-time Pulitzer finalist, Priest is an alumna of UC Santa Cruz and is the author of two best-selling books: “The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military” (2003), and “Top Secret America: The Rise of the National Security State” (2010). The first book was a Pulitzer finalist and is still used in military academies. The second, developed into a “Frontline” documentary, covered the buildup in top-secret intelligence organizations in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

Priest appeared on the May 3 NPR Diane Rehm show in honor of World Press Freedom Day, which was proclaimed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993 to celebrate and assess press freedom, defend the media from attacks on their independence, and recognize journalists who lost their lives in the line of duty (see story).

“Today is World Press Freedom Day, which makes me particularly grateful to be receiving this award from the UA School of Journalism,” Priest wrote in an email. “The school’s award-winning work is an example of American journalism at its finest and a reminder of the power of investigative reporting to change lives.”