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INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor two journalists and a high school student with national Sunshine Awards, recognizing them for their important contributions in the area of open government. Awards will be presented to Ryan Nees of Kokomo, Ind. and Nancy Conway and John Hughes, both of Salt Lake City.
Indiana high school student Ryan Nees’ request for information turned into a city wide legal battle. After registering for a city e-newsletter, Nees received notices about fund-raising events for the mayor. He wanted to see whether there was any connection between the e-mail address lists for the city newsletter and city Mayor Matt McKillip’s promotional material, so he requested the newsletter e-mail address list. This request was denied.
“Ryan found an attorney to take the case pro-bono after researching the law and securing a favorable opinion from the Public Access Counselor,” stated the nomination letter for Nees. “He also became part of the mayor’s newsletter, dubbed a ‘youthful political operative’ with questionable motives – as the city administration tried to explain away the lawsuit and its non-disclosure of public records by scaring up privacy concerns.”
Nees was jointly nominated by SPJ State Sunshine Chair Kyle Elyse Niederpruem, SPJ Indiana Professional Chapter Immediate Past President Kevin Finch, Steve Key, general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association, and Marian Pearcy, immediate past president of the Indiana Coalition for Open Government.
“We nominated Ryan Nees for a state sunshine award based on his youth, tenacity, understanding of the law, and his courage in the pursuit of public records,” they wrote in the letter.
Shortly after Nees won his battle to see the e-mail list, the state legislature passed a bill closing e-mail lists to the public for inspection and copying, unless the government decides the records can be disclosed.
Nancy Conway, editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, and John Hughes, executive editor of the Deseret Morning News, will receive the award for forming the Utah Media Coalition. The coalition fought against bills in the state legislature aiming to restrict public access to government records and make access more expensive and difficult.
“Without the leadership of Conway and Hughes in convincing the Utah news media to put aside their competitive differences and band together to fight these dangerous legislative proposals, several of these bills would have passed and the Government Records Access and Management Act (“GRAMA”) would have been crippled,” wrote Jeff Hunt, media attorney, and Joel Campbell, SPJ’s National Freedom Of Information Committee co-chairman, in their nomination letter. “As a result of their leadership, however, the Utah Media Coalition energetically battled these dangerous bills and defeated all of the bills that would have gutted GRAMA.”
“John and Nancy co-chaired the ‘war room’ that on a daily basis coordinated and executed the Media Coalition’s lobbying efforts against these bills during the legislative session. They contributed dozens of hours to this cause and personally appeared before numerous legislative committees and legislators to argue against these bills,” the letter said. “Not since GRAMA was enacted more than 15 years ago, have Utah’s news media organizations banded together with such focus and commitment to protect the public’s right to know.”
The three individuals will be recognized Saturday, Aug. 26 during the President’s Installation Banquet at the 2006 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, 151 E. Wacker Dr.
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.