One organization, four individuals honored by SPJ with Sunshine Award
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Abbi Martzall, SPJ Awards Coordinator, (317) 920-4791, firstname.lastname@example.org
Maggie LaMar, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 920-4785, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS — Otterbein 360, Ed Timms and Kevin Krause , Brad Heath, and Carolyn James have been awarded the Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. The SPJ Board of Directors and Freedom of Information Committee honor people or organizations each year for their notable contributions to open government.
Otterbein University’s Otterbein360.com is a student-run website represented by Editor Anna Schiffbauer and Adviser Dr. Hillary Warren.
In 2014, a public records request for police reports of student and non-student criminal cases was put in by Schiffbauer. The request was denied on the grounds that “a private university’s police records are not public.” A mandamus action was filed, asking the Ohio Supreme Court to order the release of the documents.
In 2015, the Court ruled that police departments at private universities are public offices and therefore must provide public records.
Hagit Limor, SPJ Legal Defense Fund chair, said the LDF committee “felt so strongly [about Otterbein 360’s case] we awarded $5,000 toward the legal battle and recommended the Society of Professional Journalists Board of Directors approve an additional $5,000 in LDF funding.”
“Students fight many battles beyond the challenges facing professional journalists but this is one that will benefit all. Private universities now are compelled to provide records previously hidden from public scrutiny. While this case compels the Otterbein University police chief to produce criminal records crucial to student safety, one could see the application of this ruling expanded. The court said it would apply to any entity that exercises a ‘government function.’”
Ed Timms and Kevin Krause
Ed Timms and Kevin Krause of the Dallas Morning News launched a “groundbreaking” investigation into the practices of a non-profit created by local governments. The North Central Texas Regional Certification Agency, created to certify minority-owned businesses, was doing some questionable things and denying open records requests.
Bob Mong, the editor at the Dallas Morning News, recommended Timms and Krause for this award. Mong said that “open records laws in Texas are stronger” because of their work.
“Timms and Krause raised disturbing questions about the NCTRCA’s oversight and potential conflicts of interest -- and their reporting prompted many changes. They also exposed serious flaws in the use of temporary employees provided by All Temps and other companies to local governments.”
USA TODAY’s Brad Heath lead an investigation into the almost 200,000 fugitives in the United States who were secretly allowed to “escape justice merely by crossing a state border.” The work that Heath put into this investigation is outstanding.
John Hillkirk, investigations editor of USA TODAY, said that Heath “filed more than 150 open records requests and then stitched together federal, state and local law enforcement databases, mined millions of records from court websites and reviewed files in courthouses from Los Angeles to Boston.”
Heath’s hard work uncovered that in 186,873 cases, police didn’t retrieve fugitives from across state lines. This is an especially disturbing discovery after Heath’s work revealed that 3,300 of these fugitives were accused of sexual assault, burglary and murder.
“The head of the National District Attorneys Association called our findings ‘unconscionable’ and asked all 40,000 of the nation’s prosecutors to audit their felony warrants to make sure fugitives can’t escape so easily.”
Carolyn James is the SPJ Freedom of Information chair for New York State. Carol Fletcher, Department Chair of Journalism, Media Studies and Public Relations at Hofstra University, described James as a “tireless voice for open government.”
James has been a mentor in the journalism community, reminding others of the value of sunshine laws and the importance of open government.
“On countless occasions, she has served her readers and their communities by providing them with information that she acquired through skill, tenacity and broad knowledge of New York’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws. Her ability to do so has improved the lives of the residents of those communities and enhanced the operation of government,” said Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, of James.
The recipients will be recognized at the SPJ President’s Installation Banquet at Excellence in Journalism 2015 on Sept. 20.
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.