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 three individuals and one news outlet with the Sunshine Award in recognition of their important contributions in the pursuit of open government.
Winners include Anne Geggis of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Samantha Turley and Marcus Constantino of Marshall University in W.Va., and The Wall Street Journal staff.
Recipients will be honored at 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.
In May 2010, the board of taxpayer-financed Bert Fish Medical Center announced plans to merge with the private Adventist Health System, a deal potentially worth hundreds of millions of tax dollars that had never been publicly discussed.
Anne Geggis took on the case, and, meeting resistance from leaders at the hospital, she requested records related to the merger. After discovering 21 closed board meetings that took place over 16 months, Geggis published a story that had an immediate effect. The hospital foundation sued the board, which decided to hold a public meeting to re-do the decision and undo any Sunshine Law violations.
Unconvinced, Circuit Court Judge Richard Graham ruled in December 2010 that the hospital board had violated the Sunshine Law, directly attributing public revelation of the violations to Geggis’ work.
“It’s hard to overstate the importance of this case,” said Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Florida First Amendment Foundation after Judge Graham’s ruling.
Samantha Turley and Marcus Constantino
Working together on Marshall University’s newspaper, The Parthenon, crime reporter Samantha Turley and photographer Marcus Constantino uncovered knowledge of a secret set of crime reports, kept separate from the one available for student reporters.
In an effort to obtain information on a reported double gang rape on campus, Turley and Constantino pressed the campus police department for access to the hidden crime reports. Amid accusations from the police of spying, unprofessionalism, making up the story and illegally trying to obtain records, the duo persisted in the public’s right to know.
While limitations remain on access to these crime reports, Turley and Constantino’s efforts have made the information in the documents more available to reporters and the public, and have shed light on troubling secrecy practices in one campus safety department.
Wall Street Journal Staff
Wall Street Journal staff is to thank for revealing extensive acts of taxpayer abuse by doctors billing Medicare for hugely improbable sums of money.
After analyzing Medicare data never before obtained by a news organization, WSJ published a series that has prompted investigations by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission, hearings by the Senate Finance Committee, and requests by government medical auditors in two states for advice on how to screen for abuse.
While prohibited by a three-decade-old court ruling from publishing the names of the doctors alleged to have abused Medicare, WSJ still turned the spotlight on the laws that protected these them. The staff went through extensive trouble to obtain and process the information that revealed the tremendous significance of open government and honest gatekeepers.
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.