The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard will present the Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism to William Worthy on Feb. 22.
During his long and distinguished journalism career, Worthy traveled extensively to report on global events for news outlets that included the Baltimore Afro-American and CBS News. A man of strong convictions and a crusader for equal rights, he challenged U.S. government policies several times and won.
In announcing the award, Nieman curator Bob Giles said, “Throughout his life in journalism Bill Worthy demonstrated a remarkable spirit of courage and independence in his determination to inform readers about places our government wanted to keep hidden from public view.”
Worthy traveled to both China (1956-57) and later to Cuba (1961) in violation of U.S. travel restrictions. The United States subsequently tried and sentenced him to jail. A federal appeals court overturned that conviction in 1964, ruling that the travel bans were unconstitutional. Worthy continued to report from overseas, visiting North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia.
In 1981, when Worthy and two CBS colleagues returned to Boston from Iran, the FBI and CIA confiscated their baggage and Iranian paperback reprints of classified CIA documents. With support from the American Civil Liberties Union, Worthy and his co-workers sued the two government agencies and won $16,000 in Fourth Amendment damages. Worthy later shared those documents with The Washington Post, which published a five-part series, “Iran Documents Give Rare Glimpse of a CIA Enterprise,” in 1982.
Worthy served as special assistant to the dean of the School of Communications at Howard University, where he taught from 1990 to 1993 as an Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Professor. He is a 1942 graduate of Bates College and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in the class of 1957. During his career, he won a Ford Foundation grant and freedom-of-the-press awards. He now lives in Boston.
Folk singer Phil Ochs immortalized Worthy in his “Ballad of William Worthy,” which is an account of Worthy’s trip to Cuba and its consequences.
The Nieman class of 1964 established the Louis M. Lyons Award in honor of the Nieman Foundation curator who retired that year after leading the institution for a quarter of a century. The award honors displays of conscience and integrity by individuals, groups, or institutions in communications. In presenting the award to Worthy, the Nieman Foundation recognizes his lifetime of achievement in journalism.