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This committee is the watchdog of press freedoms across the nation. It relies upon a network of volunteers in each state organized under Project Sunshine. These SPJ members are on the front lines for assaults to the First Amendment and when lawmakers attempt to restrict the public's access to documents and the government's business. The committee often is called upon to intervene in instances where the media is restricted.

Freedom of Information Committee Chair

Danielle McLean
Investigative reporter
ThinkProgress
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@DanielleBMcLean
Bio (click to expand) picture Danielle McLean is an investigative reporter at ThinkProgress and chair of SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee. Over the past five years, McLean has worked as an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News and has been published in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the MetroWest Daily News, the Milford Daily News, and dozens of weekly Massachusetts publications. She was ranked no. 13 in Scout Somerville magazine’s list of the top 40 local leaders in the City of Somerville, Massachusetts for her reporting at the Somerville Journal newspaper and has won the New England Newspaper and Press Association’s government, transportation, business and economic, and courts and crime reporting awards. McLean previously served as president of SPJ’s New England chapter, pushing for public records reform and a free press. Under her watch, the chapter won SPJ’s 2014-15 Circle of Excellence award for Freedom of Information.

Home > Freedom of Information > Awards > Black Hole Award

Awards
The Black Hole Award

Deadline for nominations: February 16



Previous ‘winners’

2018
— President Donald Trump and his administration
Read news release

2017
— New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission
Read news release

2015
— U.S. Virgin Islands government
Read news release

2014
— U.S. Forest Service
Read news release

2013
— Oklahoma State University
Read news release

2012
— The Georgia Legislature’s 2008 law and 2011 amendments to that law providing tax credits for private schools
— Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services
— Wisconsin State Legislature
Read news release

2011
— Utah Legislature and Governor Gary Herbert
Read news release

The Society of Professional Journalists launched the Black Hole Award to highlight the most heinous violations of the public's right to know.

By exposing such abuses, SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee seeks to educate the public about their rights and call attention to those who would interfere with openness and transparency.


Nomination criteria

Black Hole Award nominations should meet the following criteria:

1. Violation, in spirit or letter, of any federal or state open-government law. This means either a clear violation of the statute governing access to public records or public meetings, or using an ambiguity or loophole in the law to avoid having to comply with the law. For example: conducting multiple meetings with small groups that do not constitute a quorum, email discussions outside the public view, or charging unreasonable amounts to copy documents.

2. Egregiousness. In order to maintain the effectiveness of the Black Hole Award, it should not be given for just any openness violation. Recipients should know they are trampling on the public’s right, placing personal or political interests ahead of the public good or endangering public welfare. Examples might include an agency or official who attempted to keep information secret to avoid embarrassment or hide misdeeds.

3. Impact. The case should be one that affects the public rather than an individual. The award should not be used to settle vendettas against recalcitrant bureaucrats. Withholding information should hurt the general public rather than an individual.

SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee welcomes nominations from local SPJ chapters, SPJ members, other journalists and private citizens.

Nominations should include, where possible, supporting documentation. Documentation can include any of the following:

— News coverage of the violation.
— Public records chronicling the dispute.
— Legal papers if there was a lawsuit or other legal action involved in the matter.
— Any expert opinion from an attorney, official or open-government expert that the violation occurred.
— Contact information for the parties involved to allow the committee to obtain more information if needed, including from the government official.


How to submit your nomination

Please email nominations to FOI Committee member Mike Farrell, or mail to:

Mike Farrell, Ph.D.
Director, Scripps Howard First Amendment Center
School of Journalism and Telecommunications
144 Grehan Building
Lexington, KY 40506-0042

Nominations are due February 16.


Project Sunshine
Information
A Winning Strategy


Freedom of Information
FOIA Home
News/Articles
Find FOI in your state
FOI step-by-step guides

Quill: Stories About FOI
– Why the #FreePress editorials were not enough
– Meet the victims of violence against journalists
– World Press Freedom Day hits home

FOI Committee
This committee is the watchdog of press freedoms across the nation. It relies upon a network of volunteers in each state organized under Project Sunshine. These SPJ members are on the front lines for assaults to the First Amendment and when lawmakers attempt to restrict the public's access to documents and the government's business. The committee often is called upon to intervene in instances where the media is restricted.

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