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SPJ honors Associated Press staff with Pulliam First Amendment Award


For Immediate Release

Lauren Rochester, SPJ Awards Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 210, lrochester@spj.org
Abby Henkel, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 8000 ext. 215, ahenkel@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS—Associated Press journalists and attorneys are recipients of the 2011 Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award for work uncovering federal documents of public interest.

Presented by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists’ associated educational arm, the award and its $10,000 prize recognize a person or organization that has fought to protect and preserve one or more of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is given in memory of Eugene S. Pulliam, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News from 1975 until his death in 1999. He was a staunch supporter of the First Amendment. Click here for a list of previous honorees.

Judges chose AP staff for their relentless efforts from 2009 to 2010 pressing federal agencies for information being kept secret to the detriment of the public.

Asserting rights guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act, the AP filed 40 appeals to federal agencies for information in 2009 and 64 in 2010, resolving a majority of these appeals and initiating the release of substantial volumes of information to the public. AP lawyer Karen Kaiser led the charge on submitting public records requests, developing compelling challenges to government secrecy that led to AP staff writing influential pieces to hold these agencies accountable for their responsibilities to the public.

One project concerned U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which safely landed in the Hudson River after colliding with a flock of Canada geese on Jan. 15, 2009. For many months the AP was involved in a seemingly futile quest for information from the Federal Aviation Administration on the prevalence of bird problems. The data were released only after news leaked of a surreptitious FAA-proposed regulation to permanently conceal bird-strike data from public view.

In another instance, AP pressured the Department of Homeland Security to share information regarding the department’s process of filing FOIA requests after President Obama issued the Open Government Directive in Dec. 2009, which called for federal transparency through deliberate compliance with FOIA. This appeal came after AP staff experienced unreasonably lengthy periods of time waiting for replies to its requests, only to have them frequently denied—a practice in conflict with the directive.

After the appeal sat unanswered for three months, AP submitted the matter to the Office of Government Information Services, which successfully negotiated release of the records. AP published a breaking story on the matter, which prompted other federal agencies to investigate their own practices. The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform launched a formal investigation of DHS compliance with FOIA, crediting AP’s disclosure as the basis for the investigation.

Because of these and many other efforts, AP staff will be honored Sept. 27 at the President’s Installation Banquet during the Excellence in Journalism 2011 conference in New Orleans. The conference is co-hosted by the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association.

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.


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