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Open Government Hall of Fame Inducts First Honorees


Ian Marquand, SPJ FOI Committee Chairman, 406/542-4449 or ian@kpax.com
Katherine Garner, NFOIC Executive Director, 214/977-6658 or kgarner@airmail.net

“Heroes of the 50 States” from New Mexico, Oklahoma, Vermont

NASHVILLE, TENN. – Three long-time advocates of open government and freedom of information were honored as the first “Heroes of the 50 States” on Saturday, as they became the first inductees into a new State Open Government Hall of Fame.

The first three inductees are Robert Johnson of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Sue Hale of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Michael Donoghue of Burlington, Vermont.

The ceremony took place during a joint conference by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) in Nashville. The awards were announced at a luncheon awards ceremony by SPJ Freedom of Information Co-chair Ian Marquand of Missoula, Mont.

“Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame” is a joint venture by NFOIC and SPJ. It was developed over the past year by leaders in both organizations as a way to recognize long-term contributions of individuals to open government in their respective states.

Specifically, induction into the Hall recognizes “long and steady effort to preserve and protect the free flow of information about state and local government that is vital to the public in a democracy.”

Plans call for three people to be inducted each year at the joint NFOIC-SPJ event. At present there are no plans for a physical location for the Hall; SPJ will host the “virtual” version on its Web site, www.spj.org

The three winners were among eleven people nominated for the Hall earlier this year, following a national call for nominations. The three were chosen by a screening committee of SPJ and NFOIC members. The inductees did not know of their honor until their names were called.

Robert Johnson has been the executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government since helping form the organization in 1989. He is a literal one-man shop, responsible for operations, public education, legislative advocacy, litigation coordination, and fund raising. He publishes the organization’s newsletter, “The FOGlight,” and oversees a Hotline team of 14 lawyers who provide pro bono advice on FOI-related issues. Since its establishment, the Hotline has received an estimated 11,000 calls.

Under his leadership, FOG was a runner-up in the 2000 Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Awards for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and Johnson himself was presented the “Liberty Bell Award” from New Mexico’s legal community in May of 2002.

Before retiring to New Mexico, Bob worked for The Associated Press for 42 years.

Sue Hale is the executive editor of The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City and has been active in freedom of information issues in her state for more than 15 years. In 1990, she led the effort to create FOI Oklahoma, a statewide educational organization to promote openness in government. She recruited members of the original steering committee and chaired the group that wrote the by-laws.

In the organization’s early years, Hale helped organize seminars for government officials around the state, a joint effort between FOI Oklahoma and the state Attorney General. She also formed a committee that launched First Amendment Centers at libraries across the state.

Hale also has served as president of NFOIC and has been closely involved with the First Amendment Congress, bringing that group’s “Education for Freedom” project to Oklahoma. She also developed an introductory program called “The Privacy Triangle.”

She is a previous recipient of the “Liberty Bell” award from the Oklahoma Bar Association and the National Headliner Award.

(Hale could not attend the Nashville conference and received the news in Oklahoma City in a surprise presentation.)

Michael Donoghue is a long-time staff writer for the Burlington (Vt.) Free Press. He also has been an adjunct professor or journalism and mass communications at St. Michael’s College for 18 years and has been either an officer or the executive director of the Vermont Press Association for 23 years.

He is credited with being the driving force behind getting cameras into Vermont courtrooms and with convincing legislators to improve the state’s Public Right to Know law. His testimony also has helped kill bad legislation, including bills establishing a “veggie libel” statute and others that would remove government records from public view.

Donoghue has taught at the Vermont Police Academy, helped write the Student Press Law Center’s book, “Covering Campus Crime” and established Vermont’s first statewide high school journalism conference. His work even has taken him to Dublin, Ireland, as one of only four Americans who participated in a 1998 conference on that country’s new FOI law.

According to SPJ’s Marquand, the Open Government Hall of Fame is an overdue recognition by First Amendment and FOI advocacy organizations of good work at the state and local level. “This is an area that has fallen through the cracks,” he said. “No national award has recognized the combination of long-term achievement at the state level before now. We’ve recognized individual elements of that, but never the combination. It’s about time we did.”

Marquand notes that the creators of the new Hall took inspiration from the national FOIA Hall of Fame, which was created in 1996 to honor people who have made contributions to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


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