Heather Porter, Programs Coordinator, (317) 927-8000, ext. 204
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 927-8000, ext. 211
INDIANAPOLIS –The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor John Seigenthaler, Sr. founder of the First Amendment Center, with a First Amendment Award.
A former president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Seigenthaler served for 43 years as an award-winning journalist for The Tennessean, Nashville's morning newspaper. At his retirement he was editor, publisher and CEO. He retains the title chairman emeritus. In 1982, Seigenthaler became founding editorial director of USA TODAY and served in that position for a decade, retiring from both the Nashville and national newspapers in 1991.
Seigenthaler left journalism briefly in the early 1960s to serve in the U.S. Justice Department as administrative assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. His work in the field of civil rights led to his service as chief negotiator with the governor of Alabama during the Freedom Rides. During that crisis, while attempting to aid Freedom Riders in Montgomery, Ala., he was attacked by a mob of Klansmen and hospitalized.
“It’s hard to think of a more passionate or persuasive or persistent champion for First Amendment rights and values than John Seigenthaler,” said Paul McMasters, a former national president of SPJ and SDX and recently retired as the First Amendment ombudsman at the Freedom Forum.
Seigenthaler hosts a weekly book-review program, “A Word On Words.” He is a senior advisory trustee of the Freedom Forum. He chairs the annual “Profile in Courage Award” selection committee of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation and co-chairs with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for the RFK Memorial. Seigenthaler served on the 18-member National Commission on Federal Election Reform organized in 2001 by former Presidents Carter and Ford. He is a member of the Constitution Project on Liberty and Security, created after the Sept. 11 tragedies in New York and Washington.
In 2002, the trustees of Vanderbilt University created the John Seigenthaler Center, naming a building that houses the offices of the Freedom Forum, the First Amendment Center and the Diversity Institute.
A chair in First Amendment Studies was endowed for $1.5 million in Seigenthaler’s name at Middle Tennessee State University. Scholarship projects are endowed at both Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee State in Seigenthaler’s name.
Seigenthaler is the author of James K. Polk, a biography published by Times Books and released in January 2004.
The First Amendment Center works nationwide to preserve and protect First Amendment freedoms through information and education. The center, with offices at Vanderbilt and Arlington, Va., serves as a forum for the study and exploration of free-expression issues, including freedom of speech, of the press and of religion, the right to assemble and petition the government.
The Society’s First Amendment Awards recognize individuals and groups for extraordinarily strong efforts to preserve and strengthen the First Amendment. The awards are open to individuals and organizations, and are not limited to journalists.
Seigenthaler will be recognized Saturday, Oct. 6 during a dinner at the 2007 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Washington, D.C. at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, 400 New Jersey Ave., NW.
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.