Jose Antonio Vargas wins first Danny Schechter Award

Danny Schechter

Danny Schechter

My friend Danny Schechter, the progressive journalist and activist, died on March 19, 2015, at the age of 72. Today, on what would have been his 74th birthday, his longtime business partner Rory O’Connor announces the winner of the first Danny Schechter Global Vision Award for Journalism & Activism. The press release follows.

NEW YORK—The Global Center, a nonprofit educational foundation dedicated to developing socially responsible media, is pleased to announce Jose Antonio Vargas as the first recipient of a newly established annual award honoring the life and work of the late journalist and activist Danny Schechter, the “News Dissector.”

The Danny Schechter Global Vision Award for Journalism & Activism is awarded annually to an individual who best emulates Schechter’s practice of combining excellent journalism with social activism. The award includes a $3000 stipend to support future reporting and advocacy.

In 1993, when he was just 12, Vargas moved from his native Philippines to the United States. Four years later he learned he was an undocumented immigrant. By the time he turned 30, he had become a celebrated journalist: part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team at the Washington Post, a top executive at the Huffington Post, a writer for the New Yorker, a documentary filmmaker. But even after this meteoric rise, Vargas was still running from his past. “I spent all of my 20s being scared of the government, scared of myself,” he recalls. “I didn’t know if I could keep going, if I could keep lying.”

So Vargas took a bold and dangerous step, going public with his status in a 2011 cover story in the New York Times Magazine entitled “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” “After so many years of trying to be a part of the system, of focusing all my energy on my professional life,” he wrote, “ I learned that no amount of professional success would solve my problem or ease the sense of loss and displacement I felt…. I’m done running. I’m exhausted. I don’t want that life anymore. So I’ve decided to come forward.”

Vargas focused renewed attention to a volatile front in America’s ongoing cultural and political wars. His sudden flip from reporting to advocacy also led to greater recognition—within a year he and other undocumented immigrants were on the cover of Time magazine—but also to increased scrutiny and danger. Nevertheless he embraced his new role as an activist, even while expanding his efforts to reach people through journalism. Vargas says he always viewed his activism “as an act of journalism.”

To that end, he has added another title to his résumé: publisher. First came Define American, a nonprofit “using the power of stories to transcend politics and shift the conversation around immigrants, identity and citizenship in a changing America.” Most recently, he launched EmergingUS, an online news organization aimed at exploring the “evolving American identity” and creating“a new kind of journalism that represents all of us.”

What kind of journalism can we expect to see in the future from Vargas? One that is both factual and empathic. “Facts are to me, a religion as a journalist,” he says, but quickly adds, “I traffic in empathy. I try to be vulnerable with people so they can be vulnerable back.”