SPJ’s FOI committee restructures the Black Hole Award
For Immediate Release
David Cuillier, SPJ National President, 520.248.6242, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ellen Kobe, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317.920.4785, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists' Freedom of Information committee has decided to restructure the Black Hole Award, a three-year-old award that seeks to bring attention to institutions or individuals who flagrantly ignore the principles of open government.
In the past, a call for nominations was sent out in January each year, and the “winners” were announced during Sunshine Week.
However, after evaluating the program, the committee has decided to award the Black Hole on an as-needed basis.
In 2011, when the first year the Black Hole was awarded, it was given to the Utah Legislature which had just passed a bill that basically gutted the state’s open records law.
The Utah SPJ chapter flew in then-FOI committee chair David Cuillier to “present” the award to the legislature which had just recessed.
Cuillier laid a huge black wreath representing the Black Hole Award on the steps of the state capitol, then held a press conference.
That event, along with a lot of work from the Utah SPJ chapter and many other organizations, garnered bad press for the Utah Legislature and helped ensure that three weeks after passing the bill, HB477, into law, they repealed it.
In that case, the timing was co-incidental, but it showed that when given at the right time, the Black Hole Award has the power to make a difference in the fight for transparency.
“The award had a tremendous impact on our fight in Utah,” FOI Committee Chair Linda Petersen said. “Our governor and legislature did not appreciate being the objects of national scrutiny. That national attention brought pressure to bear that definitely helped our fight.”
The Black Hole Award will now be given when the FOI committee receives a nomination and, after review, feels the situation or the “perpetrator” is “worthy” of such an award.
“This is an award that should never have to be given,” Black Hole Award chair Mike Farrell said. “Sad to say, all around the country public officials at the local, state and federal levels deceive themselves into believe they have some proprietary ownership of the public’s business and the right to conduct that business in a black out of the public eye. This award is an attempt to shame them into following open records and open meetings laws.”
Members of the FOI committee will carefully consider whether awarding the Black Hole could do more harm than good in each situation and will only do so with the approval of the president of SPJ, the local chapter and the nominators.
Having SPJ’s president or FOI chair fly in to present the award will not necessarily be a part of the process each time but can be arranged with national approval.
For more information, contact Black Hole Award Chair Mike Farrell at firstname.lastname@example.org or FOI Committee Chair Linda Petersen at 801-554-7513 or email@example.com.
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.