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SPJ honors Ceppos, Prather, Van Natta, as Fellows of the Society for exceptional service to journalism



Abbi Martzall, SPJ Awards Coordinator, (317) 920-4791, amartzall@spj.org
Maggie LaMar, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 920-4785, mlamar@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor Jerry Ceppos, Laura Prather and Don Van Natta, Jr., as Fellows of the Society. This is the highest professional honor given by the Society and is awarded for extraordinary contribution to the profession.

Jerry Ceppos is currently Dean and William B. Dickinson Distinguished Professor at the Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University. Previously, he worked for the San Jose Mercury News and its owner, the Knight Ridder Inc., for 33 years. He received the SPJ Ethics in Journalism Award in 1997, the first year it was awarded.

With a 45-year career of accomplishments under his belt, Ceppos has been an advocate for the industry, from educating students on journalism ethics to fighting for diversity in the newsroom.

“Because of him I have I have been a member (of SPJ) for nearly half a century, reading The Quill each month to better explain FOI, the importance of shield laws and the difference between bias and editing decisions to other non-journalists like myself,” says Sam Kaplan, past president of the University of Maryland SPJ chapter (then known as Sigma Delta Chi).

Throughout his career, Ceppos recognized the ways in which technology was changing the field of journalism, and the importance of staying on top of those changes. In 2008, he organized a symposium on digital media ethics for the American Society of News Editors and the Marrkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. In his current position of Dean of the Manship School of Mass Communication, he helped the faculty revise the curriculum to reflect the importance of online media, and supported establishment of the Social Media Analysis and Creation Lab, the first at a journalism school.

Laura Prather has dedicated her career to advocating for protections in the law for the freedom of speech for journalists both in the courtroom and at the legislature. Recognized as one of the top 45 women attorneys in the nation by Texas Lawyer, Prather focuses her practice on First Amendment, intellectual property and media and entertainment litigation and appeals.

Prather changed the legal landscape for journalists in Texas. She was the lead draftsman and negotiator for the four most significant pieces of First Amendment legislation in recent history in Texas ‐ the reporters' privilege, the anti‐SLAPP statute, the Defamation Mitigation Act, and Texas’s version of a neutral reportage privilege. All of these measures are designed to promote and protect free speech rights in Texas, and since the passage of these laws, Prather has worked tirelessly to defend them in the judicial system including representing many of journalists and media organizations in cases where legal challenges are being made to the integrity of these laws.

Prather is currently working on efforts to create a federal anti-SLAPP statute which will help defendants win early dismissal of cases brought by plaintiffs looking to stop their journalistic activity.

“There is no one who has had a greater positive impact on the ability of journalists to do their jobs in the state of Texas than Laura Prather. And in recent years, she has achieved a national profile that I anticipate will grow as time moves on,” says Lucy Dalglish, Dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and past Fellow recipient.

In addition to the work done in Texas, Prather also works with organizations around the country to draft and pass similar legislation in their states. Through her work with the Media Law Resource Center, Prather helped form its State Legislative Committee bringing together lobbyists from around the country to work on legislation affecting the media and ensuring government transparency.

Don Van Natta Jr. has been an investigative reporter for nearly 25 years, including his current position as senior investigative reporter for ESPN The Magazine.
Prior to his time at ESPN, he was an investigative correspondent for The New York Times. While at the Times, he covered a wide range of stories including the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996, the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and the 9/11 attacks. He also served in London as the newspaper’s first investigative correspondent based in a foreign bureau.

Prior to working at the Times, Van Natta worked as an investigative reporter at The Miami Herald. There, he was part of a team that covered Hurricane Andrew and its aftermath. Van Natta wrote a first-person, front-page account of riding out the hurricane in a Florida City, Fla., motel, which was torn apart by the Category 5 hurricane’s 165 mph winds.

After joining ESPN The Magazine in 2012, Van Natta continued to work on hard-hitting stories. Van Natta’s first major piece at ESPN examined the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at Penn State. His stories since have ranged from holding the NFL accountable on domestic violence to a re-examination of one of America’s most iconic events, the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

“Van Natta has become a model modern-day journalist who takes his reporting and storytelling to multiple platforms as national TV correspondent, senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and one who has immersed himself into ESPN’s numerous digital properties,” says Chad Millman, vice president, editorial director, domestic digital content at ESPN.

Van Natta twice was a member of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting teams at The New York Times – in 1999 for national reporting and in 2002 for explanatory reporting. He was a member of the staff at the Miami Herald awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1993 for coverage of Hurricane Andrew and its aftermath. He has been honored with numerous other awards for his work including a Green Eyeshade Award, an Investigative Reporters & Editors Award and the America Bar Association Silver Gavel.

Van Natta is also the New York Times bestselling author of “First Off the Tee,” “Wonder Girl,” and co-author, with Jeff Gerth, of “Her Way.”

Ceppos, Prather and Van Natta will be honored at the Excellence in Journalism 2016 conference in New Orleans. Each will receive a jeweled key and plaque at the President’s Installation Banquet on Tuesday, Sept. 20, during the conference. Click here for a list of previous honorees.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.


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