For Immediate Release
Lauren Rochester, SPJ Awards Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 210,
Abby Henkel, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS—The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor two recipients with the First Amendment Award, in recognition of their extraordinarily strong efforts to preserve and strengthen the First Amendment.
Award winners are the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press and Mark Prendergast of Stars and Stripes.
Winners will be recognized Sept. 27 during the President’s Installation Banquet at the Excellence in Journalism 2011 conference in New Orleans, hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association. Click here for a list of previous honorees.
Burlington Free Press
In a three-year campaign for open government, the Burlington Free Press ran more than 100 editorials that had a far-reaching effect on government transparency. The Free Press staff used these editorials to address institutionalized secrecy in Vermont government records and meetings, revealing more than 250 laws and exemptions that permit public officials to shield themselves from accountability.
Because of the Free Press’ efforts, 2010 election candidates addressed transparency and open government in speeches. Police records on candidates came to light, and now the governor, speaker of the House and Senate president pro tem have proposed changing laws to require more openness. The honest and forthright editorials of the Free Press have led to several changes in the law, shining a light on government activities and asserting the power of a free press.
Mark Prendergast serves as the ombudsman for Stars and Stripes, a daily military paper owned by the Department of Defense but with explicit protections from government censorship. His efforts to defend the rights of a free press make him a champion of the First Amendment.
In response to WikiLeaks’ disclosures of U.S. diplomatic cables, DOD distributed several notices barring department employees, including reporters and editors at Stars and Stripes, from looking at classified material already in the public domain, including the Pentagon Papers, which have been public for more than 40 years.
Prendergast wrote articles about the restrictive rules and personally challenged the Pentagon, DOD, and editorial staff at Stars and Stripes on the policy. One article was initially held back by editors but was eventually published after Prendergast insisted that the ombudsman position was not subject to “editorial oversight.”
Later, although not officially attributed to Prendergast’s efforts, DOD officials declassified the Pentagon Papers. Another of his articles on vague reporting of expenditures by government agencies was followed by statements from the White House Office of Management and Budget, DOD, and the General Services Administration, all urging their personnel to follow the Transparency Act more closely.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information on SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.
NOTE: This release has been updated to correct an error regarding the number of articles initially held back by editors.