Joel Simon to Head New Initiative to Combat Growing Threats to Journalism

  • By Newmark J-School Staff

Joel Simon, who has worked tirelessly as a champion of press freedom around the world, will join the Newmark J-School on February 1 as the founding director of the Journalism Protection Initiative.

The Journalism Protection Initiative will conduct and host research into the growing threats to journalism and journalists in the U.S. and around the world, with a focus on disinformation and propaganda, tech regulation and policy, rising authoritarianism, and the use of violence, repression, and lawfare to suppress critical voices. Through convenings and public events, it will establish a pioneering presence, positioning itself to meet the tremendous demand from scholars, educators, academics, and journalists, as well as policy makers seeking to address the global press freedom crisis.

For 15 years between 2006 and 2021, Simon served as the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He traveled the world defending the rights of journalists, effectively saving lives and getting innumerable people out of harm’s way. Simon helped establish CPJ’s Emergencies Department, which provides safety information and direct support for journalists under threat, including placement for at-risk journalists at leading journalism schools, the Newmark J-School among them. For the last year, Simon has been a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University and a senior visiting fellow at the Knight First Amendment Institute, also at Columbia.

Simon is the author of four books, including most recently The Infodemic: How Censorship and Lies Made the World Sicker and Less Free, co-authored with Robert Mahoney. He writes on press freedom issues for The New Yorker and produces a regular column for Columbia Journalism Review.

A Brooklyn native and fluent Spanish speaker, Simon started his career in the 1990s as a journalist covering the Guatemalan conflict. He also reported from El Salvador, Cuba, and for a full decade, Mexico, where he covered the Zapatista uprising and the assassination of the presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. His first book, from 1998, Endangered Mexico: An Environment on the Edge, was named one of the 100 best books of the year by the LA Times.

“I am delighted to welcome Joel Simon into our school community,” said Graciela Mochkofsky, dean of the Newmark J-School. “This initiative is critical to the school’s strategic vision under my leadership, and Joel’s stellar trajectory, his deep personal commitment to journalists safety, his global perspective, and his intellectual caliber make him the perfect person to lead it.”

“The Journalism Protection Initiative will seek to ensure that journalists have the skills and resources to defend themselves and the integrity of their work in an increasingly adversarial environment,” said Simon. “It will also help to shape the information space in which journalists operate, via research and convenings. The Newmark J-School was born in innovation and is deeply committed to providing an accessible journalism education. It’s the perfect home for this new undertaking.”

The Newmark J-School is launching the initiative with seed funding from the Craig Newmark Philanthropies.