A writer who says she was harassed and blacklisted for her investigative reporting on worker safety at a paper mill was honored by a writers group that champions freedom of expression.
Terrilyn Simpson, who wrote dozens of stories about the Champion International Paper plant in Bucksport, Maine, claimed the 1998 PEN/Newman's Own First Amendment Award and $25,000 Monday night at Lincoln Center."It was easy to take freedom of the press for granted until I had that freedom denied," Simpson told the more than 600 guests, her eyes brimming with tears.
A former editor at the Bucksport Free Press, a small weekly in Maine, Simpson broke the story of two employee deaths and more than 30 illnesses allegedly resulting from exposure to chemicals at the mill, said Diana Ayton-Shenker, director of PEN's Freedom to Write Program.
Simpson endured telephone threats and harassment, including having 19 windows broken in her office, after the articles were published, she said. She subsequently lost her job and "when I applied for other jobs in the area I was told that my coverage of Champion was a liability," she said.
But PEN has been criticized by Simpson's former employer, Courier Publications of Rockland, Maine. Courier editors say her final investigative article was never published because Simpson resigned before reworking the piece and getting responses from Champion.
"We're being indicted for upholding the highest standards of journalism," said Michael McGuire, executive editor at Courier.
Ogaga Ifowodo, a poet and outspoken critic of the Nigerian government, and Liu Jingsheng, a pro-democracy activist in China, won the 1998 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. Neither attended the ceremony.