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SPJ Black Hole Award open for nominations through Feb. 26



SPJ Black Hole Award open for nominations through Feb. 26

Jan. 18, 2016

Jonathan Anderson, SPJ FOI Committee Chair, 920-676-5399, andjonc@gmail.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is now accepting nominations for the Black Hole Award, which will be awarded during national Sunshine Week, March 13-19.

The Black Hole serves as the counterpoint to the Sunshine Award, highlighting a particularly heinous violation of the public’s right to know. By exposing the bad actors, SPJ hopes to educate members of the public to their rights; call attention to those who would interfere with the people’s right to acquire government information; help citizens hold their elected officials accountable; and enhance self-governance.

“Citizens should know when their government conceals information in bad faith,” said Jonathan Anderson SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chair. “This award does just that and sends a message to public officials that improper secrecy will not be tolerated.”

Nominations should meet the following criteria:

1. The violation by a government agency or official, in spirit or letter, of any federal or state open-government law. This would mean 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, e-mail discussions outside the public view or charging unreasonable amounts to copy documents. Another triggering event would be any attempt to change government transparency laws in a way that would diminish the ability of the public to learn of the actions of their governors.

2. Egregiousness. In order to maintain the effectiveness of the Black Hole award, it should not be given for just any openness violation. There needs to be a demonstration that this was not an isolated incident or done in relative ignorance. 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. We want to avoid using the award to settle vendettas against recalcitrant bureaucrats. Essentially we want to see a case where withholding the information hurt the general public rather than an individual, or its release would further public welfare.

4. Be timely. Nominations should be for situations that are either ongoing or have had developments within the last year. That includes disputes that might have been dragging on for a long time and were resolved only recently.

The SPJ Freedom of Information Committee will announce a “winner” or “winners” during Sunshine Week in March along with the Sunshine Award.

Deadline for nominations is Friday, Feb. 26. Nominations need to include supporting documentation to allow SPJ to determine if the criteria have been met. The documentation can include any of the following, although the more documentation the better:

• News coverage of the violation.
• Public records chronicling the dispute.
• Legal papers if a lawsuit or other legal action has been 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.

Please email nominations to FOI Committee member Mike Farrell, farrell@uky.edu, or mail them to:

Mike Farrell, Ph.D.
Director, Scripps Howard First Amendment Center
Associate professor, School of Journalism and Telecommunications
220 Grehan Building
Lexington, KY 40506-0042

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 about SPJ, please visit spj.org.


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