The Society of Professional Journalists presented its 1994 First Amendment Awards to one organization and five individuals at its National Convention Oct. 11-14, in St. Paul, Minn.
Each winner was awarded a plaque "in recognition of strong and continuing efforts to preserve and strengthen Freedom of the Press and the First Amendment of the Constitution."
The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council received an award for its efforts in getting open records and open meetings laws in the state strengthened. The council convinced the State Supreme Court to conduct a one-year experiment with cameras in the courtroom. It also provides commentary on pending bills in the legislature and on issues impacting the state's openness statutes.
Individuals earning recognition for their work are:
• Lisa Abraham, a reporter at The Tribune Chronicle in Warren, Ohio. Abraham spent 22 days behind bars for refusing a grand jury request that she reveal a source. This is considered the modern day record for a journalist in the U.S. to be jailed on an ethical stance. Through it all, she maintained that the issue was one of trust and credibility.
• Twila Decker, a reporter at The State in Columbia, S.C. Decker faced a jail term for refusing to reveal a source during the Susan Smith trial. She said the state's shield law legally protected her from having to reveal her sources and that revealing those sources would jeopardize her credibility and that of other journalists.
• Robert Lewis, a teacher at Charles Henderson High School in Troy, Ala., and Jason Peel, a freshman at Troy State University. The two spent almost two years fighting for the right to publish a high school newspaper and soften the school's pre-publication review policy.
• Jeffrey S. Portnoy, a partner in the Hawaii law firm of Cades, Schutte, Fleming and Wright. Portnoy and associate Mark. D. Lofstrom represented the University of Hawaii SPJ chapter seeking the release of the names of Honolulu Police Department officers disciplined for misconduct. In addition to his efforts to defend the First Amendment on the legal front, Portnoy has been a frequent speaker and mentor for the student SPJ chapter.