We’ll step up our defense of journalists in exile
Lynette Clemetson

2024 needs to be a year that our profession recognizes all journalism is local, including journalism in exile.

As American journalism focuses on reviving local news, building connected ecosystems, and targeting infusions of philanthropic support, one of the biggest growth areas for journalism in the coming year is one that none of us would wish for — the journalism of the displaced.

Providing for the alarmingly increasing numbers of journalists who have been forced to relocate is an area in which meaningful responses and collaborations are taking root among fellowships, universities, and press freedom organizations.

But more focus and strategic partnerships will be needed to respond to the complex long-term needs of displaced journalists unable to return to their home countries.

Around the globe, once emerging democracies have been backsliding.

The past several years have seen a surge in exiled journalists from places including Russia, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Sudan, Haiti, and Nicaragua, mostly to Europe and North America.

With 40 national elections in countries including Taiwan, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and the United States, 2024 is a consequential year.

Add the devastating instability of ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza, and Sudan, and needed support for international journalists will easily outstrip our current resources.

We must be poised to step in, because the journalists who need help are critical to shedding light on these crises.

Democracies thrive on a free flow of information. We have the technological and human resources to help enable that, even in the world’s darkest corners.

University-based journalism fellowships and residencies have long provided a safe haven to reporters and other journalists in danger.

Their vibrant, welcoming, campus communities, humming with intellectual and social connection, have, for decades, provided temporary solace and safety to journalists under threat.

But these programs were designed as way stations, giving endangered journalists a respite from threats. They were never designed to be resettlement agencies.

Journalists in exile require more comprehensive support, often over multiple years, to have a reasonable shot at reestablishing their lives and livelihoods.

If we want to defend journalism and secure democracy, we need to help them succeed.

Journalism and journalism-adjacent programs have stepped up in impressive ways in recent years: resettling families; providing housing, medical, and mental health care; supporting immigration efforts; and seeding new reporting projects on, by, and for exiled diasporas.

Rather than continuing to respond to individual crises, we have a chance now to develop strategic, networked frameworks to help ensure what exiled journalists want most: the ability to continue reporting on their countries.

In the coming year, here’s what journalism and other civil society organizations should build toward:

A network hub: The old system of fellowships operating completely separately is just that — an old system.

There needs to be a central clearing house for imperiled journalists and open channels of communication between organizations so we all know who can provide what, when, and for how long.

Shared resettlement resources: While every situation is different, exiled journalists do tend to have some common needs: language training, cultural adjustment training, trauma and psychological support, professional coaching.

Pooling resources to address these needs will help journalism organizations respond more quickly and effectively and to learn from one another.

Immigration assistance: Many exiled journalists prefer not to seek asylum. They hope to return to their countries one day. For others, asylum is the only choice.

Regardless of the path, all exiled journalists need legal status to work in their adopted countries.

We need shared legal resources and lawyers committed to helping exiled journalists understand their potential legal paths. Canada has set aside permanent resident status for 500 endangered human rights defenders annually, recommended by trusted organizations.

The U.S. could do the same.
Professional assistance and funding: Exiled journalists need to work, and with the crisis in American journalism, it’s not realistic to think most can be absorbed into domestic newsrooms in their new countries.

Universities are natural incubators for developing business plans, editorial strategies and platforms, and funding for news organizations for exiled communities. Journalism programs and philanthropies can collaborate to support new news organizations that report on and for displaced groups and growing diasporas.

Ultimately, press freedom advocates need to create a dedicated organization to address the myriad needs of journalists in exile.

University-based programs are well positioned to provide community and transitional support.

Pushing back the forces of darkness will require robust, systemic efforts to support "the bearers of light.” The best possible riposte to the dictators who want to silence journalists is to give exiled journalists back their voices and agency.