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SPJ seeks nominations for 2012 Black Hole Award


For Immediate Release

Mike Farrell, SPJ FOI Committee member,
Abby Henkel, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is seeking nominations for the 2012 Black Hole Award, which highlights egregious abuses 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.

In 2011, the Black Hole Award went to the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert for passage of the most regressive freedom of information legislation in recent history. After the award was "presented," and a large public backlash ensued, the measure was repealed.

Deadline for 2012 nominations is Monday, Feb. 21. Submission information is below.

“The first national Black Hole Award had tremendous impact,” SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairwoman and Utah FOI advocate Linda Petersen said. “The award’s real power is the exposure it gives to those practices by some elected officials who seek to undermine, and in some cases, eliminate open government.”

In addition, SPJ handed out dishonorable mentions to five other government entities for their secrecy.

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. The recipient(s) will be announced during Sunshine Week, March 11-17, 2012.

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:
Deadline for nominations is Monday, Feb. 21.

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

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