March 2023

FCCJ launches program to defend journalists’ right to report in an increasingly hostile world

Photography by Stirling Elmendorf

The FCCJ Free Press Fellowship program offers new opportunities to volunteer for or sponsor efforts to expand the club’s work to promote press freedom.

From its founding, the FCCJ has been a bastion for freedom of the press. For decades, the club has highlighted the work of journalists taking sometimes grave risks to report the news. It has also been calling attention to any attempt to block or suppress such work, and demanding counter action.

Yet the mission remains incomplete. Reports from organizations including Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and the United Nations show media freedom has been deteriorating around the world over the past decade.

These threats are worrisome, especially as they have the potential to erode democracy itself. Still, there is cause for much hope, says Freedom House in hits 2019 report on freedom and the media:

“Experience has shown that press freedom can rebound from even lengthy stints of repression when given the opportunity. The basic desire for democratic liberties, including access to honest and fact-based journalism, can never be extinguished.”

Defending the right to report is a mission we intend to share with every FCCJ member at every level. For members and supporters of the club, there has never been a better time to join the fight for press freedom.

To make it easier for members and others to help, we have launched the FCCJ Free Press Fellowship. The program offers free club memberships to individuals who agree to perform at least two hours a week of volunteer work on the FCCJ’s press freedom activities. Corporations and generous individuals fund the program by agreeing to donate membership fees. While the standard corporate or wealthy individual sponsorship is for 10 memberships for one year, larger and smaller offers are welcomed.

Interested? The program welcomes input and volunteers, whether or not you intend to apply for a fellowship. We also need more sponsors! If you can sponsor even one fellow, please contact us immediately, or, of course, if you have any leads or ideas to share about other potential sponsors. Reach us at or personally to the program director at

As of this month, you may notice some new faces around the club, as several sponsors have come forward to get the program started quickly. The program’s founders and several volunteers are already boosting the club’s press freedom work.

Volunteer projects for Free Press Fellows are organized under three categories:

Endowment development

The club has long considered seeking support from philanthropic organizations and wealthy individuals. Generally, this is a labor-intensive process that requires persistent focus on filing applications and seeking out suitable donors. Under the guidance of the program’s leaders, Free Press Fellows will work to make this such fund-raising efforts successful.

Content and events

As most members and readers of the Number 1 Shimbun will know, the club already regularly generates content in the form of statements supporting journalists who have come under attack from governments or others for reporting the news. Those efforts involve a great deal of volunteer work by members of the freedom of the press committee. With the help of Free Press Fellows, that work will be expanded to include more such statements and related content, including renewed efforts to use social media to draw even more attention. As the program expands and adds fellows, content creation will include documenting the club’s historic role in promoting and protecting freedom of the press across the decades.

The freedom of the press committee also produces and presents the annual Freedom of the Press Awards. Fellows will also be helping out with that, including an effort to add new awards and seek more attention for the prizes and the ceremony. Other planned events include a celebration of the UN’s World Press Freedom Day

Program leadership development

Free Press Fellows will be a diverse group to include professionals, journalists, academics and others, all at varying career stages. Some have leadership experience and vision that will benefit the program and all the other fellows. The goal of this third track is to channel this expertise to constantly improve and build the program based on focused input and leadership development from the highest levels of journalism and other fields.

Dave McCombs is a rewriter at NHK World and founder of Julio Platforms, a startup that provides student news media programs. He is a director-at-large on the FCCJ board of directors.