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Project Sunshine
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FOI Committee
This committee is the watchdog of press freedoms across the nation. It relies upon a network of volunteers in each state organized under Project Sunshine. These SPJ members are on the front lines for assaults to the First Amendment and when lawmakers attempt to restrict the public's access to documents and the government's business. The committee often is called upon to intervene in instances where the media is restricted.

Freedom of Information Committee Chair

Jonathan Anderson
Public issues investigative reporter
Marshfield News-Herald
Marshfield, Wisc.
Phone: 920-676-5399
Bio (click to expand) picture Jonathan Anderson is a public issues investigative reporter for the Marshfield News-Herald in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Before joining the News-Herald, in 2015, Jonathan was a reporter for a pair of newspapers in northern Wisconsin for nearly two years. He has held internships at the First Amendment Center, Wisconsin Law Journal, Wisconsin Public Radio and WISN-TV, and was also editor in chief of his college newspaper, the UWM Post.

Jonathan is an avid requester of public records, and his work in the FOI arena has also entailed advocacy and research. He has been the plaintiff in two lawsuits challenging improper government secrecy. He helped obtain a legal opinion from the Wisconsin attorney general that found University of Wisconsin System student government groups subject to the state’s open meetings law. His master’s thesis, “Resolving Public Records Disputes in Wisconsin: The Role of the Attorney General's Office,” investigated how the Wisconsin attorney general reviews and sometimes intervenes in access disputes. And he has volunteered for the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Home > Freedom of Information > Awards > Black Hole Award

The Black Hole Award

Previous ‘winners’

— Oklahoma State University
Read about 2013's ‘winner’

— The Georgia Legislature’s 2008 law and 2011 amendments to that law providing tax credits for private schools
— Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services
— Wisconsin State Legislature
Read about 2012's ‘winners’

— Utah the darkest pit in the United States
— Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services: Hiding Child Deaths
— University of Maryland: Pricing People out of their Government
— Fairfax County Police Department: Hiding the Killers of Unarmed Citizens
— Central Intelligence Agency and A.G. Eric Holder: Flagrant Destruction of Embarrassing Records
— Broward County, Fla., School Board: Inaccurate Records
Read about 2011's ‘winners’

The Society of Professional Journalists launched the Black Hole Award to highlight the most heinous violations of the public's right to know.

By exposing such abuses, SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee seeks to educate the public about their rights and call attention to those who would interfere with openness and transparency.

Nomination criteria

Black Hole Award nominations should meet the following criteria:

1. Violation, in spirit or letter, of any federal or state open-government law. This means either a clear violation of the statute governing access to public records or public meetings, or using an ambiguity or loophole in the law to avoid having to comply with the law. For example: conducting multiple meetings with small groups that do not constitute a quorum, email discussions outside the public view, or charging unreasonable amounts to copy documents.

2. Egregiousness. In order to maintain the effectiveness of the Black Hole Award, it should not be given for just any openness violation. Recipients should know they are trampling on the public’s right, placing personal or political interests ahead of the public good or endangering public welfare. Examples might include an agency or official who attempted to keep information secret to avoid embarrassment or hide misdeeds.

3. Impact. The case should be one that affects the public rather than an individual. The award should not be used to settle vendettas against recalcitrant bureaucrats. Withholding information should hurt the general public rather than an individual.

SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee welcomes nominations from local SPJ chapters, SPJ members, other journalists and private citizens.

Nominations should include, where possible, supporting documentation. Documentation can include any of the following:

— News coverage of the violation.
— Public records chronicling the dispute.
— Legal papers if there was a lawsuit or other legal action involved in the matter.
— Any expert opinion from an attorney, official or open-government expert that the violation occurred.
— Contact information for the parties involved to allow the committee to obtain more information if needed, including from the government official.

How to submit your nomination

Please email nominations to FOI Committee member Mike Farrell, or mail to:

Mike Farrell, Ph.D.
Director, Scripps Howard First Amendment Center
School of Journalism and Telecommunications
144 Grehan Building
Lexington, KY 40506-0042

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