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Gabler, Wallack named Pulliam First Amendment Award recipients


Mac McKerral, SDX Foundation Selection Committee Chair, (813) 679-5662, mac.mckerral@wku.edu
Abbi Martzall, SPJ Awards Coordinator, (317) 920-4791, amartzall@spj.org
Rachel Semple, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 920-4785, rsemple@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — Ellen Gabler from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Todd Wallack from the Boston Globe have been awarded the Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award for their work.

Presented by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists' educational foundation, the award recognizes those who have fought to protect and preserve one or more of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is awarded in memory of Eugene S. Pulliam, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News from 1975 until his death in 1999. He was a staunch supporter of the First Amendment.

Gabler received the Pulliam award for her work “Hidden Errors” and “Deadly Delays” on hospital testing failures. While filing more than three dozen open records requests and reviewing inspection and regulatory reports, Gabler found serious problems at lab and quality-control groups throughout the country.

“Hidden Errors” details the basic testing policies and procedures that laboratories throughout the U.S. do not follow. Gabler found the system hides mistakes from the public and medical labs’ cost-cutting results in unnecessary surgeries, repetitive testing due to incorrect results and preventable deaths.

“Without Gabler’s efforts to use First Amendment tools to expose these problems, they would have remained hidden — festering and putting more lives at risk,” said George Stanley, editor and senior vice president of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Her “Deadly Delays” series on newborn screening revealed that system failures exposed more patients to risk due to hospital lack of compliance. Newborn screening is required within 24 hours of birth, but hospitals sent samples later in batches to cut costs. Newborns were suffering easily preventable brain damage, disability and death, which today’s screening tests are meant to catch promptly after birth.

“The stories from ‘Hidden Errors’ and ‘Deadly Delays’ have sparked a powerful reaction in the laboratory community, spurring reforms and major changes throughout the country,” Stanley said.

Wallack is being awarded the Pulliam award for his work to catalyze an overhaul of Massachusetts public records law.

In his articles, Wallack reported on excessive delays in response to requests, refusals to release records that other states had available or excessive fee charges for basic documents. His research surveyed the laws of all 50 states to show that the Massachusetts response times were slower than all of the United States, except for one state.

“Wallack went beyond writing stories,” said Brian McGrory, editor of The Boston Globe. “He also filed more than 50 public records appeals with the secretary of state last year — far more than any other journalist in the state. And he worked with The Globe attorneys to file several public records lawsuits challenging the state’s denial of records. Wallack was also a force on social media, regularly flagging decisions to withhold records."

“For the first time since 1973, the Legislature voted to significantly overhaul the law. The governor signed the bill into law in June, and in the meantime approved his own guidelines to speed up requests. The secretary of state issued new regulations slashing the price agencies can charge for paper copies. And the attorney general vowed to start enforcing the existing laws for the first time in years. For the first time in decades, obtaining records in Massachusetts is becoming a bit easier.”

Gabler and Wallack will be awarded $5,000 each, a crystal award, and travel accommodations to the Excellence in Journalism 2016 conference in New Orleans. There, they will be honored Sept. 20 at the SPJ President’s Installation Banquet. The conference is hosted by SPJ, the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Native American Journalists Association.

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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