RTDNA Announces 2024 First Amendment Award Honorees

Awards, RTDNA News,

First Amendment Awards LogoThe RTDNA Foundation is pleased to announce its class of 2024 First Amendment Award honorees, recognizing 13 individuals and organizations for their efforts to promote responsible journalism and preserve the constitutionally guaranteed rights to do so.

All recipients will be honored March 9 at the 33rd annual First Amendment Awards at The Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. They will join 141 previous recipients who stood for the values of the First Amendment. 

“It is our sacred duty to promote, protect and defend the First Amendment, which makes journalism the only vocation specifically protected in our Constitution,” said RTDNA Foundation President Dan Shelley. “The individuals represented in this group of recipients embody the spirit of such journalism. And, their work reminds us why it is so important to defend the First Amendment each and every day.”

In addition to recognizing responsible journalism, the First Amendment Awards is the Foundation’s biggest annual fundraiser, enabling the Foundation to ensure the broadcast and digital news profession remains a critical part of our nation’s free press for generations to come and supporting scholarships for journalism students.

“The First Amendment Awards gives us all a chance to pause and reflect on the brave and brilliant work done in the name of journalism,” said RTDNA Foundation Chair Allison McGinley. “It is a true honor to get a chance to recognize these outstanding recipients.”

The 2024 First Amendment Award winners are:

Gio Benitez, ABC News

The RTDNA Foundation selected Benitez for his courageous reporting of the Maui wildfires. Benitez was on vacation in Hawaii when the wildfires started, and he did what came naturally to him: He reported the news. His work was thorough and inspiring and captured the horrific human toll of the natural disaster.

Lauren Chooljian, New Hampshire Public Radio

The RTDNA Foundation selected Chooljian for this honor because of her unflinching reporting on sexual misconduct allegations facing the owner of one of New England’s largest providers of addiction treatment. In the wake of her reporting, Chooljian was subjected to multiple instances of vandalism, threatening graffiti and a libel lawsuit.

Ingrid Ciprián-Matthews, CBS News

The RTDNA Foundation selected Ciprián-Matthews for her commitment to excellent and ethical journalism, especially at a time when the stakes are so high. Her leadership during some of the most challenging news stories in American history is a testament to the power of journalism.

Evan Gershkovich, Wall Street Journal

The RTDNA Foundation selected Gershkovich because he sits in a Russian jail cell for practicing journalism. His wrongful arrest is a reminder that press freedoms are not universally recognized and why they must be protected here in the United States.

Dylan Lyons, Spectrum News 13

The RTDNA Foundation honors Lyons with a Citation of Courage. Lyons was murdered while on assignment in Orlando, the victim of a senseless shooting spree. No journalist should fear for their life for seeking and reporting the truth.

Joan and Eric Meyer, Marion County Record

The RTDNA Foundation selected mother and son Joan and Eric Meyer for the brave and defiant response after police seized computers, cell phones and more during a raid on the Marion County Record’s office and Joan Meyer’s home. Joan, the owner of the newspaper, died the next day at age 98. The newspaper, where Eric is publisher, was not silenced by the raid and continues in its watchdog reporting. They have been honored with a Citation of Courage. 


The RTDNA Foundation selected ProPublica because of its groundbreaking approach in a challenging industry and its consistently excellent journalism that exposes wrongdoing and makes communities better. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin

The RTDNA Foundation selected Rep. Raskin (D-MD) for his tireless support for press freedoms during his time in Congress. Most recently, Rep. Raskin co-sponsored the PRESS Act, a federal reporters’ shield law that recently passed the House.  

Jesse Walden, Spectrum News 13

The RTDNA Foundation will honor Walden with a Citation of Courage. Walden was shot while on assignment in Orlando. Since then, he has displayed remarkable resilience that is revealed in his commitment to authentic storytelling.

Clarissa Ward, CNN

The RTDNA Foundation selected Ward for her brave, ethical, and thorough reporting from some of the most dangerous conflict zones in the world. Her recent work in Ukraine and Gaza has helped inform the world, and her advocacy for press freedoms in war zones is a testament to the spirit of the First Amendment.

Kristen Welker, NBC News

The RTDNA Foundation selected Welker for her outstanding political reporting during one of the most contentious periods ever in American politics. As the moderator of a journalism institution, she holds the powerful accountable and continually proves why the First Amendment matters.

Phil Williams, WTVF-TV

The RTDNA Foundation selected Williams for its Lifetime Achievement Award because his career as an investigative reporter has served as a model for what great journalism can do in a community. His reporting has uncovered corruption in the Tennessee government and numerous political scandals and has helped drive national conversations on important issues.

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About the Honorees

Gio Benitez, ABC News

Gio Benitez

Gio Benitez is co-anchor of “Good Morning America” Saturday and Sunday, and transportation correspondent for ABC News based in New York reporting across all ABC News programs and platforms.

Benitez is an award-winning reporter and has covered a wide range of stories for the network, including the Pulse nightclub shooting, El Chapo’s underground escape from a Mexican prison and the Boston Marathon bombing. He has a long history of breaking exclusive investigative stories, some of which resulted in important safety recalls.  In his role as transportation correspondent since 2020, Benitez has covered aviation during the industry’s near-total collapse in the pandemic as well as space at the onset of America’s private space industry.

Lauren Chooljian, New Hampshire Public Radio

Lauren Chooljian is a senior reporter/producer at NHPR’s DOCUMENT team, a narrative-driven, long form reporting project.

She is the host and reporter behind The 13th Step, a podcast about sexual misconduct in the addiction treatment industry. The 13th Step was recently named a finalist for a duPont-Columbia award, and The New Yorker, Vogue and New York Magazine called the show one of the best podcasts of 2023.

Lauren’s work has won numerous awards, including a National Edward R Murrow award and she has been recognized by the Third Coast International Audio Festival. Lauren has also been featured in the New York Times for co-hosting Stranglehold, an award winning podcast about New Hampshire’s first in the nation presidential primary. She was featured again in June 2023, for the retaliation she and her team and sources faced for her reporting in The 13th Step.

Before joining NHPR in 2017, Lauren spent nearly six years as a reporter, producer and fill-in host for WBEZ in Chicago. She has appeared on NPR, PBS NewsHour, CNN, CSPAN, MSNBC, and in The Washington Post, among others. She is a graduate of Saint Anselm College and received a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Ingrid Ciprián-Matthews, CBS News

Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews

Ingrid Ciprián-Matthews was named president of CBS News in August 2023.

In her role, Ciprián-Matthews has top editorial oversight for CBS News across all platforms, including all broadcast and streaming programs, all digital and radio editorial content, as well as global newsgathering, standards and practices, race and culture and more.

An award-winning journalist and newsroom leader, Ciprián-Matthews is the first Latina to hold that job and only the second woman in the company’s history to head up the Network News operation.

During her three decades at CBS News, Ciprián-Matthews has helped shape the coverage seen and heard by millions of viewers daily. She has guided CBS News’ reporting of many of the major news events of the modern era, from the COVID-19 pandemic, presidential elections, countless mass shootings, the war in Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war, ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, the bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; and more.

Ciprián-Matthews was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In 1981, she received a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and graduated from New York University in 1984 with a master’s degree in journalism.

Evan Gershkovich, Wall Street Journal

Evan Gershkovich

Evan Gershkovich is a Wall Street Journal reporter who was detained in Russia on March 29 while doing his job as a journalist. 

He is the American-born son of Soviet-era emigres to the U.S. Evan learned Russian from his parents and built a career as a journalist focused on the region. He joined the Journal in January 2022 and before that reported from Moscow for Agence France Press and the Moscow Times. 

Gershkovich is a gifted journalist who has reported extensively on Russia, illuminating developments on the ground at a crucial time.

Dylan Lyons, Spectrum News 13

Dylan Lyons

Dylan Lyons was a reporter for Spectrum News 13 in Orlando when he was killed while on assignment. He was 24. 

He was a proud University of Central Florida graduate with a degree in Journalism and Political Science. During his time at UCF, Dylan reported and anchored for the UCF Knightly News, the student-run news station.

Before joining the News 13 team, Lyons reported and anchored for WCJB TV20, a local ABC affiliate in Gainesville. In 2020, Lyons was awarded the best "Politics/Elections Series" by the Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists. In 2021, he was a finalist for Investigative Reporting.

When Lyons was not at work, you could find him taking advantage of the Orlando area's many different dining experiences and cuisines. He especially loved exploring Winter Park, Winter Garden, Celebration and or Downtown Orlando with his family and dog.

Lyons is survived by his parents, Gary and Beth (Leon) Lyons; sisters, Nicole Lyons and Rachel Lyons; fiance, Casey Fite; and niece Aaliyah Lyons; and nephew Easton Lyons.

Eric Meyer, Marion County Record

Eric Meyer

Eric Meyer, 70, returned to his hometown as editor and publisher of the Record after retiring as a tenured journalism professor at the University of Illinois. 

Twenty-five years earlier, he had become partners with his parents in purchasing the newspaper, which his father long had run, to prevent it from being sold to a chain. Before teaching, Meyer worked for nearly 20 years as an editor at the Milwaukee Journal and before that at the Daily Pantagraph in Bloomington, Illinois. He also was managing partner for nearly a decade of a news website that was the online home of American Journalism Review magazine. 

He is author of two books — one on information graphics, the other on strategic planning for online publishing — and was nominated for a Pulitzer for his coverage of computer hackers while at the Milwaukee Journal. While at the University of Illinois, he served as associate dean of the College of Media and was chair of the University Senate’s Educational Policy Committee.

Joan Meyer, Marion County Record

Joan Meyer

Joan Meyer, 98, still was working part-time as a columnist and copy editor for the Marion County Record on Aug. 11, 2023, when seven police officers invaded the home in which she had lived for 70 years. She died the next day, literally of a heart broken by laws being trampled. 

After 60 years as a copy editor, community news editor, associate publisher and later co-owner of the Marion County Record, she had deep respect for journalism’s role in society — and contempt for anyone attempting to intimidate journalists by doing such things as seizing computers over trivial, trumped-up, later disavowed allegations. A Marion native and daughter of a longtime town marshal, she had devoted her life to the community and served as its unofficial historian, producing a weekly Memories column for the paper and an award-winning series of more in-depth historical items accompanying that column. 

As someone who helped lead dozens of battlefield tours of Europe with her Battle of the Bulge veteran husband, Bill, with whom she worked alongside at the newspaper, she never casually accused anyone of Hitler-like tactics — until police descended on her home and remained there for nearly three hours.


ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. With a team of more than 100 dedicated journalists, ProPublica covers a range of topics, focusing on stories with the potential to spur real-world impact. Its reporting has contributed to the passage of new laws; reversals of harmful policies and practices; and accountability for leaders at local, state and national levels.

Rep. Jamie Raskin

Jamie Raskin

Congressman Jamie Raskin is the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District. He serves as the Ranking Member on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability. He served as the Lead House Manager in the second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, which ended with a 57-43 vote to convict the president for inciting a violent insurrection against the government to overthrow the 2020 presidential election. 

Raskin also served on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol and served three terms on the House Judiciary, Oversight and Administration Committees. He served two terms on the Rules Committee. 

Prior to Congress, Raskin was a three-term State Senator in Maryland and a professor of constitutional law for more than a quarter-century at American University Washington College of Law. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he served as an Editor of the Harvard Law Review. He has authored several books, including We the Students, the Washington Post best-seller Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court versus the American People, and the New York Times number #1 best-seller Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth and the Trials of American Democracy (2022).

Jesse Walden, Spectrum News 13

Jesse Walden

Jesse Walden, a dedicated photojournalist with Spectrum News 13, draws inspiration from daily encounters and community stories, fueled by a profound passion for visual storytelling. Joining Spectrum News 13 in August 2022, he brought expertise from roles at KSTU in Salt Lake City and KOB in Albuquerque, following his graduation from New Mexico State University with a BA in Digital Filmmaking.

Tragically, on February 22, 2023, Jesse and his coworker, Dylan Lyons, were shot while reporting on a story. It was only later in the hospital that Jesse learned of the devastating toll, with a total of 5 people shot and Dylan among the 3 who passed away from the lethal attack.

This event sparked newfound resilience in Jesse, shaping his approach to storytelling. Overcoming physical, emotional, and mental challenges, his journey to healing became an integral part of his narrative, enabling him to connect with people on a profound level and share stories of survival and resilience.

Clarissa Ward, CNN

Clarissa Ward

Clarissa Ward is CNN's multi-award winning chief international correspondent based in London. She has spent nearly two decades reporting from front lines in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and Ukraine for CNN, ABC, CBS and Fox News. Clarissa is the recipient of multiple awards for her journalism, including ten Emmy Awards, two George Foster Peabody Awards, three Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Awards, two Edward R. Murrow Awards and a George Polk Award. 

She is the author of “On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist,” which details her singular career as a conflict reporter. Clarissa most recently reported on the Israel-Hamas war from both Israel and Gaza, where she and her team became the only Western journalists to gain access to Gaza without the IDF. Clarissa has also spent more than five months in Ukraine covering nearly two years of war following Russia's full-scale invasion. She reported extensively from Afghanistan on life under Taliban control, a story she covered live on the streets of the capital as it played out in August 2021. 

She speaks fluent French and Italian, conversational Russian, Arabic and Spanish and basic Mandarin.

Kristen Welker, NBC News

Kristen Welker

Kristen Welker is the 13th moderator of Meet the Press, where she assumed the moderator chair on Sept. 17, 2023.

Previously, she was co-anchor of “Weekend TODAY” and NBC News Chief White House Correspondent, where her political reporting appeared across all NBC News and MSNBC platforms, including “NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt,” “TODAY,” “Meet the Press,” and NBCNews.com.

She joined “Weekend TODAY” as co-anchor in Jan. 2020 and began covering the White House for NBC News in Dec. 2011, traveling domestically and internationally with President Obama, the First Lady, and then-Vice President Biden. Welker also covered President Trump’s administration, the 2020 presidential race and is currently leading the network’s coverage of all aspects of the Biden administration.

During the 2020 general presidential election, Welker moderated the final presidential debate between former President Donald Trump and now-President Joe Biden on Oct. 22, 2020 at Belmont University in Nashville. Welker received universal praise for her performance, and USA TODAY wrote that she was “praised for ‘masterclass’ debate moderation.”

Welker, a native of Philadelphia, graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a Bachelor’s Degree in American history. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband John Hughes and daughter Margot Lane.

Phil Williams, WTVF-TV, Nashville

Phil Williams

Phil Williams is chief investigative reporter for WTVF-TV, NewsChannel 5, the CBS affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee. Williams has headed the station’s NewsChannel 5 Investigates team since October 1998, specializing in uncovering government corruption. During his nearly 40-year career, Williams has been recognized with journalism’s highest honors, including being a four-time recipient of the prestigious duPont-Columbia Award, a three-time recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award, as well as receiving the George Polk Award, the Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism, as well as numerous other national and regional honors. 

In 2023, Williams became the first local broadcaster to be honored with the highly coveted John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism and the first local TV journalist to receive the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. A former print reporter, Williams’ work was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. 

Williams’ world-class journalism has led to numerous political scandals in the state of Tennessee, repeatedly landing him on lists of the most influential people in Tennessee’s capital city. His work has been highlighted extensively by John Oliver on the HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” including an extended segment in 2023 that suggested that Williams’ tenacious style of reporting should be a model for the rest of the industry.

About the RTDNA Foundation

The RTDNA Foundation, a 501(c)3 educational foundation, was created to help RTDNA members embody and uphold the standards of ethical journalism and promote leadership in the newsroom. The Foundation works for an America in which the press is able to hold the powerful to account, shine a light on corruption and act as a catalyst for positive change in local communities without denial of access, undue restriction, or fear of attack. We train and equip local journalists and journalism students to know their rights and report seek and report truth ethically – upholding your right to know.