SPJ honors Hannah Eason with Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award
Matthew Kent, SPJ Program Coordinator, 317-920-4788, firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoë Berg, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS — The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to award Hannah Eason with the Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award. The award honors an SPJ student member who has demonstrated outstanding service to the First Amendment through their work in journalism.
When issues of The Commonwealth Times, the independent student newspaper for Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, were being cleared from the racks Eason investigated and documented the theft. She saw someone who she recognized as an SGA member taking the papers. The issue featured a front-page story, written by Eason, critical of the University’s Student Government Association.
Eason took photographs and interviewed everyone she could find, including employees who saw the papers being taken and thrown into the trash. She tweeted about the incident and, with assistance from her editors to verify information, published an article online.
Campus newspapers being stolen and destroyed is an all too common form of censorship when coverage is deemed unfavorable. Eason demonstrated her commitment to and understanding of freedom of speech and of the press by using all means possible to bring to light the censorship
“At VCU, SGA members are elected officials. I cannot and will not stop covering their actions — both good and bad — during their time in office,” Eason wrote in her nomination letter. “Like any local newspaper, The Commonwealth Times must be a watchdog — and a place where stories can be heard, verified and published.”
Eason’s tweet about the incident reached more than 25,000 people, media outlets messaged her for interviews, the metro daily’s leading columnist wrote an article about the censorship and SPJ's Virginia Pro chapter passed a resolution condemning the theft.
“Hannah’s social media posts regarding censorship of the CT Times story that she wrote, which was critical of the university’s student government, caught the attention of local media and a state legislator, bringing an entire community of students and journalists together to condemn acts of censorship,” SPJ’s Journalism Education Committee said. “As Hannah’s story unfolded, the Virginia legislature passed the very timely House Bill 36, which affirmed the rights of student journalists at public institutions of higher education to exercise freedom of speech and the press in institution-sponsored media. Hannah’s commitment to freedom of the press surely provided inspiration for passage of a law that recognizes the importance of First Amendment rights for student journalists.”
The coronavirus outbreak brought school conduct proceeding to a halt. As of early May, there had been no punishments, the SGA members who were seen taking papers still held leadership positions and the CT Times was given no refund for the $2,500 they lost in papers.
Eason will be recognized virtually during the SPJ 2020 Journalism Conference.
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 SPJ Foundation.