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The Black Hole Award

Deadline for nominations: February 26, 2024

Previous ‘winners’

— North Carolina General Assembly
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— Mark Fox Administration of the Three Affiliated Tribes
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— Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin
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— Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry
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— Connecticut State Police
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— President Donald Trump and his administration
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— New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission
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— U.S. Virgin Islands government
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— U.S. Forest Service
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— Oklahoma State University
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— 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
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— Utah Legislature and Governor Gary Herbert
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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, state, or Indigenous Nation 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 SPJ’s communications team.

Nominations are due February 26.

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