The Pittsburgh Foundation

New $5,000 award program to honor fearless journalism

Sally Kalson Courage in Journalism Fund to encourage reporting in spirit of namesake

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 19, 2019 – Throughout Sally Kalson’s 30-year journalism career, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter and columnist put the spotlight on injustice and wrote truth to power. After her death in 2014 from ovarian cancer, family and friends were intent on honoring her legacy by encouraging the bold reporting that marked her career.

This year, they established the Sally Kalson Courage in Journalism Award Program at The Pittsburgh Foundation, which will reach statewide to identify a broadcast, print or online media journalist annually, whose work embodies what Kalson was known for: “fearlessness, fortitude and excellence in taking on issues of our time,” according to the nomination materials.

The deadline for nominating a journalist is Feb. 22, 2020. Full details and the nomination form are available online at https://pittsburghfoundation.org/kalsonnomination

In announcing the program, Ed Feinstein, Kalson’s husband for 26 years, said the idea originated in discussions with their daughter, Zoe, family and friends. There was a sense of urgency, they said, given the increased political polarization of the last four years, and the continuing business decline of newspapers and other forms of journalism. The family believes that both forces have made it more difficult for journalists to write critical and incisive stories or essays as Kalson did.

“Sally was such an original thinker who never wanted to write anything derivative of what others were already doing,” said Feinstein. “Nothing got Sally going quite like hypocrisy, especially when it came from public officials and leaders of powerful institutions. She always thought long and hard before writing anything negative about people, but when she smelled hypocrisy, that’s when the gloves came off,” he said.

The Kalson Award is meant to support writing “that doesn’t necessarily reflect a popular or dominating political view,” said Feinstein. “This program is our small effort to encourage people to look for and report stories that go against the grain, despite that they implicate powerful interests.”

Criteria for the award: The Sally Kalson Courage in Journalism Fund award honors a writer living or working in Pennsylvania and/or writing on issues relevant to the state. The award will be granted for a single story or series of works that embody the characteristics of Kalson’s writing – fearlessness, fortitude and excellence in taking on issues of our time. The work must adhere to journalistic principles and must go through a fact-checking or editing process. Works submitted for consideration should also shine a light on an under-reported and/or controversial issue, and demonstrate:

  • Compassion, going beyond empathy to demonstrate solidarity with others.
  • Effectiveness in raising the public’s consciousness and leading to action around an issue or set of issues.
  • A commitment to justice and initiating or effecting structural change that increases the opportunity of those who are least supported economically, politically and socially.

Kalson’s contributions as a writer: Her columns and stories transformed the way readers thought about the world. Her “Window on Nicaragua” dispatches explored how western Pennsylvanians were volunteering in that war-torn country and striving to help those entrapped in the morass of politics and violence. Her “Lords of the Court” series opened courtroom doors to reveal the audaciousness and arrogance of certain judges. “Going Hungry Here at Home” series, which was conceived and co-authored by Bob Hoover, opened the community’s eyes—and hearts—to food insecurity in the region. Kalson and Hoover shared a Golden Quill award for the series. 

Kalson’s columns “motivated readers to invest their emotions in an issue, to think and even to act,” said her longtime Post-Gazette colleague, Ellen Mazo, in a profile of Kalson she wrote for the Foundation’s annual report. “From elected officials who wanted a constitutional amendment to protect the flag from desecration to the intrusion of the ‘faceless and monolithic’ World War II memorial that was to be constructed on the Washington Mall to the absurdity of a $15 million U.S. Agency for International Development program to research and teach ‘natural birth control, “[Sally] was courageous in holding everyone accountable.”

How to nominate: Journalists may nominate themselves or be nominated by a colleague or supervisor in the field of journalism. The nominator must complete a form and answer questions about the story or series of stories and include a summary of the piece’s impact. Nominations should be submitted at https://pittsburghfoundation.org/kalsonnomination. Once eligibility is determined, the nominee will be asked to submit the nominated work. Guided by the standards of courage and outstanding communication exemplified by Kalson’s body of work, an advisory committee-- selected by the Foundation and including journalists, academics and media experts-- will convene to review works submitted for consideration.

The advisory committee members are:

  • Andy Conte, director, Center for Media Innovation, Point Park University.
  • Mila Sanina, executive director, Public Source.
  • Vernon Loeb, politics editor, The Atlantic.
  • Jenise Armstrong, metro columnist, Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • James Steele, investigative reporter, Barlett and Steele.
  • Amy Ginensky, First Amendment attorney, Pepper Hamilton.
  • Ed Feinstein, Kalson’s widower, and a partner with the Pittsburgh-based law firm of Feinstein Doyle Payne and Kravec, will serve as the representative of the family on the awards committee, a position that will rotate annually.

Nominations will be accepted through Feb. 22 of next year. The panel will review the entries in March and a winner will be announced in April.

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Media Contact: 
Kitty Julian 
The Pittsburgh Foundation
412-394-2643
juliank@pghfdn.org