Heather Porter, Programss Coordinator, (317) 927-8000, ext. 204, firstname.lastname@example.org
Alyson Ahrns, SPJ Communications Department, (317) 927-8000, ext. 200, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor three outstanding individuals with national Sunshine Awards, recognizing them for their important contributions in the area of open government. Awards will be presented to Robert Faturechi, a student reporter from the UCLA Daily Bruin; Teri Henning, general counsel of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association; and Laurie Roberts, a columnist at the Arizona Republic.
As a student reporter for the UCLA newspaper, the Daily Bruin, Faturechi convinced the editor-in-chief to let him create and lead a new beat devoted to long-term investigative pieces. The major project that resulted from this new beat led Faturechi to spend six months acquiring e-mails and other internal documents and expose a system of preferential treatment where big donors secretly paid $500,000 to $1 million to the UCLA School of Dentistry in order to get their children accepted. In the process, the dean of the school tried to use public records law against Faturechi, demanding that he produce all of his notes about the story and threatened to sue for libel, both of which went nowhere.
The Los Angeles Times and several other media outlets quickly picked up on Faturechi’s story, and Faturechi was offered summer internships at several major metropolitan newspapers. Because of his in-depth investigative work and professional reaction to the university’s censorship threats, there is no more a deserving student of the Sunshine Award than Faturechi, Daily Bruin adviser Amy Emmert wrote in her nomination letter.
“He (Faturechi) deeply appreciates the role of journalists in a free, democratic nation,” Emmert wrote. “And I have confidence that Robert will move on from UCLA and into a professional newsroom where he will continue to uphold the principles of Freedom of Information and bravely shine a light into the darkest, most secretive corners.”
Henning has been the attorney for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association (PNA) for nearly six years, handling nearly 2,000 calls each year on its legal hotline, writing all of the association’s amicus briefs, provides training to PNA’s member newspapers, citizens and government entities throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is actively involved in PNA’s government affairs program.
Although these jobs are responsibilities of most lawyers working for various press associations, PNA COO Corinna Vecsey Wilson wrote in her nomination letter that Henning “distinguishes herself by her passionate, outstanding advocacy for open records, and her technical legislative drafting and negotiation skills that she uses to advance the cause.”
Until recently, Pennsylvania had arguably the weakest open records law in the nation. This year, Pennsylvania’s old law was overturned, and Pennsylvania Sunshine Chairwoman Susan Schwartz wrote in her nomination letter that she contributes a large part of that victory to Henning.
“Teri taught me how to get on the agenda to testify before state committees discussing open government,” Schwartz wrote. “She made sure I was kept in the loop about proposed changes to the law and invited me to meetings with the governor’s staff. I don’t think the law would have changed without Teri’s leadership.”
When the chairman of a key Arizona legislative committee announced in the spring of 2007 the committee that hearings into the deaths of three Tucson, Ariz., children that Child Protective Services (CPS) was supposed to be watching would be private, Roberts immediately asked, “Why?”
CPS refused to release the usual summaries of the agency’s involvement saying it might jeopardize the criminal cases, and the legislators who reviewed the records couldn’t explain the privacy rule either, stating even they had to sign confidentiality agreements to view the files.
Because these CPS documents are routinely open to the public, The Republic – Roberts’ newspaper – and The Arizona Daily Star each filed lawsuits requesting the CPS summaries. The Republic’s lawsuit specifically requested the actual case files under the reasoning that dead children no longer needed confidentiality. Roberts was a vital component in the suit, having researched and written about cases of child abuse and those cases’ correlation to CPS negligence frequently over the previous year
The Republic was successful in winning the lawsuit, and the public had the opportunity to witness a supreme example of why more openness in governmentally-funded agencies like CPS is needed.
Arizona Republic editorial director Ken Western wrote in his nomination letter that Roberts is deserving of the Sunshine Award “for her extraordinary diligence in investigating cases of child abuse, for shining the light on CPS for its failure to protect children and for paving the way for a successful public records lawsuit that has led to legislative hearings on CPS and key legislation.”
Faturechi, Henning and Roberts will be recognized Saturday, Sept. 6 during a dinner at the 2008 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Atlanta at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, 265 Peachtree St., NE.
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 about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.