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Two Yale alumni will receive awards this May from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press for their achievements and leadership in journalism and media law.

Lynn Novick ’83, an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker, and Nabiha Syed LAW ’10, associate general counsel for BuzzFeed, will be honored with the 2018 Freedom of the Press Awards. The awards, which were presented to four recipients this year, recognize journalists who promote and protect First Amendment rights through their work.

“At a time when it’s more important than ever to protect press freedom, this year’s honorees have led the way in shedding light on some of today’s most important issues and made important strides in protecting and advancing the legal rights that journalists exercise every day to report those stories,” said Bruce Brown LAW ’95, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Novick, a documentary filmmaker at Florentine Films, graduated magna cum laude from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. Over the past three decades, she has won multiple Emmy awards, a Peabody award and other accolades for her documentary films, which explore different aspects of American history and culture. She has collaborated with Ken Burns on most of her projects.

In an interview with the News, Novick said she feels “extremely honored” by the award and grateful to live in a country with a free press, where she can shed light on important issues through documentaries.

“The work that I’ve been doing with Ken and my other colleagues is not journalism in the strict sense of the word,” Novick said. “But we are looking for deep truths about the past and bringing them to the public’s attention through the medium of film.”

In 2008, Novick’s film series, The War, which tells the story of World War II through personal accounts of nearly 40 Americans, received three Emmy awards. Novick also co-directed the most-watched series in the history of public television, Baseball, which won an Emmy award in 1995.

Novick said she is currently working on a documentary about incarcerated people in New York State who are earning college degrees through the Bard Prison Initiative. She said the project has made her reflect on her own college experience and “how lucky [she] was to get a Yale education.” The documentary will air in 2019 on PBS.

Yale recently launched the Yale Prison Education Initiative in partnership with Bard College, Novick added, but before the program’s launch, the University “was not putting any capital” into making a Yale education accessible to people in prison.

Syed will receive the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press’s first-ever Rising Star Award for her work helping journalists understand and navigate media law, according to Brown. Syed works as the chief newsroom counsel for Buzzfeed’s U.S. bureau and handles publication, privacy and access matters as Assistant General Counsel. In addition, she is a visiting fellow at both Yale Law School and Stanford Law School, and serves as vice chair of the Student Press Law Center, a committee member at the American Bar Association and treasurer for Upturn, a nonprofit organization that works to ensure that new technology benefits marginalized peoples. She did not respond to a request for comment.

While at Yale Law School in 2009, Syed co-founded the Media Freedom and Information Access legal clinic, which provides pro bono legal services to journalists on matters of free speech and press freedom and also promotes government transparency.

David Schulz LAW ’78, a lecturer at the Yale Law School and co-director of the legal clinic, called Syed a “visionary” who understood the potential problems that technology could cause a free press when she co-founded the MFIA. Her work continues to grapple with preserving freedom of expression in cyberspace, as well as countering attacks from the executive branch on America’s free press and judiciary, he said.

“She’s a force to be reckoned with,” Schulz said. “She is completely committed to First Amendment principles in this new technological world.”

Syed received her bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and, after graduating from the Law School, studied at Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar. Before joining BuzzFeed, she was an associate lawyer at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, a First Amendment law firm in New York, and an adjunct faculty member at Columbia Journalism School. Syed has also worked on legal access issues at Guantanamo Bay and advised documentary filmmakers.

In 2014, Forbes magazine described Syed as “one of the best emerging free speech lawyers.”

The other recipients of this year’s Freedom of the Press Awards are Dean Baquet, executive director of The New York Times, and Robert Siegel, the former host of NPR’s All Things Considered.

Novick and Syed will receive their awards at the Freedom of the Press Awards Dinner on May 22.

Alice Park |