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Society recognizes work on behalf of first amendment and open records


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The Society of Professional Journalists has honored the work of six individuals and organizations with presentations of the group’s Sunshine and First Amendment awards.

Five Sunshine awards will be presented Nov. 15, to The Tribune-Star in Terre Haute, Ind.; Forrest Landon of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government and John Edwards of the Virginia Press Association; the Brechner for Freedom of Information; The Miami Student, the student newspaper of Miami University at Ohio; and Bill Rogers and the South Carolina Press Association.

A First Amendment Award will be presented to The Baltimore Sun and reporters Gary Cohn, Ginger Thompson and Mark Mathews.

“Ensuring public access to the public’s business is vital to the functioning of an open, democratic society,” said Fred Brown, president of the Society. “As protecting First Amendment freedoms is one of SPJ’s most important missions, so is honoring those who devote themselves to furthering those protections.”

Sunshine awards recognize those who make important contributions in the area of open government. First Amendment awards honor individuals and organizations in recognition of strong and continuing efforts to preserve and strengthen freedom of the press and the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The Tribune-Star received the award for its efforts to obtain information and report on an investigation into more than 150 patient deaths at a small community hospital. Forrest Landon and John Edwards were honored for their individual efforts on behalf of open records and for their work during the establishment of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida received a Sunshine Award in acknowledgement of its ongoing support as a state resource for information concerning Freedom of Information issues and open records issues. The Miami Student received its award in recognition of its staff’s battle to have the university turn over information regarding non-academic disciplinary cases heard by the university’s judicial board. The South Carolina Press Association and Bill Rogers were honored for taking the lead in mounting a challenge to congressional closure of state records.

The First Amendment Award presented to The Baltimore Sun and its reporters recognized the paper’s award-winning series the documented how a CIA-trained Honduran army unit kidnapped, tortured and executed hundreds of suspected subversives during the 1980s with U.S. knowledge and complicity.

The awards were approved by the Society’s board of directors during the group’s national convention, Oct. 3-6, in Denver, Colo. The awards will be presented at the Society’s annual Pulliam Editorial Banquet, Nov. 15, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Tickets are $55.

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