Amid the turmoil of firings at the Santa Barbara News-Press, former Executive Editor and current UCSB Storke Publications Director Jerry Roberts received the PEN Society’s 2007 First Amendment Award at a ceremony yesterday.

The prestigious accolade honors those who brave personal consequences in order to protect freedom of expression. It was presented to Roberts yesterday night in recognition of his resignation in the face of multi-billionaire News-Press owner Wendy McCaw’s alleged attempts to influence the content of the newspaper in June 2006.

Following the incident, McCaw, through her holding company Ampersand Publishing, sued Roberts for $25 million, claiming a breach of contract and a violation of confidentiality agreements. Meanwhile, Roberts and the other editors involved in the resignations have received widespread support from Santa Barbara citizens and journalists alike.

While he was at the ceremony in Los Angeles, Roberts said in a phone interview that he was grateful for the award.

“I feel very honored and humbled,” Roberts said. “It was just an incredible feeing to be on the same platform as Linda Deutsch who is a court reporter for the Associated Press … I accepted the award on behalf of all of the journalists who left the News-Press.”

The Ernest Hemingway Foundation and PEN New England sponsor the annual awards with the intention of defending free expression and advancing the appreciation of literature and writing. This year’s awards were held at the Beverly Hills Hotel and co-hosted by Larry Gelbart and “West Wing” producer Lawrence O’Donnell. Film director Taylor Hackford, a former News-Press paperboy, presented the award.

In addition to the PEN First Amendment award, Roberts has previously received other journalism ethics honors, including the National Ethics in Journalism Award, presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Before he was hired as the News-Press executive editor, Roberts served as the vice president and managing editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. As the current Storke Publications director, Roberts acts as the business manager and financial officer for the Daily Nexus and La Cumbre yearbook.