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SPJ announces sunshine and first amendment awards

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The 1998 First Amendment and Sunshine Award winners were announced by the Society of Professional Journalists on Saturday, Nov. 14.

The work of 18 individuals and/or organizations was recognized by the Society with an awards presentation during the annual Freedom of Information conference, sponsored by the Society and the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. Nearly 60 people were on hand during the presentations held in Nashville, Tenn.

Both SPJ awards recognize the on-going efforts made by either individuals or organizations in the name of journalism and public freedoms. The Society's board of directors presents the Sunshine Award to individuals and organizations that have made important contributions in the area of open government. This year the committee presented nine of these awards.

The First Amendment Awards specifically honor those people and organizations whose efforts strengthen and preserve freedom of the press and the First Amendment to the Constitution. The SPJ national board of directors awarded four First Amendment Awards. The winners of each award are highlighted below.

“These people, these organizations are owed a debt of gratitude from working journalists across the nation and around the globe,” said SPJ President-elect Kyle Niederpruem, The Indianapolis Star-News environmental reporter and past chairwoman of SPJ's Freedom of Information committee. “These are the people that keep the doors to government open and working journalists free from harm.”

Sunshine Award winners for 1998 included:

The Students and Faculty of Brown University and the University of Rhode Island.

Students worked with faculty members to create an independent study project on Freedom of Information in Rhode Island's cities and towns. The project revealed noncompliance with state laws and raised public awareness of Freedom of Information issues.

James Langevin, Rhode Island Secretary of State

Langevin won the award for the changes he and his office have made in access to public records and open meetings in the state of Rhode Island. After his report, the state's noncompliance rate went from 52 percent to 3 percent.

Ian Marquand, president of the SPJ Montana Professional Chapter and the Montana FOI Hotline Board of Directors

Marquand produced a 30-minute video for airing on Montana Public Television and distribution to service clubs, conferences, state agencies and news organization. The video walks viewers through Montana’s laws on open government and freedom of information in an entertaining, often humerous, way. Viewers follow the misadventures of a fictional board of commissioners

The Miami Herald

The Vote-Fraud Team from the Miami Herald, through investigative reporting and computer-assisted analysis, uncovered hundreds of phony, tainted or illegal ballots. The investigation resulted in arrests, the further examination of laws and punishment for vote fraud, an overturned election and the appointment of a new mayor in Miami.

Goodloe Sutton, publisher, The Democratic-Reporter (Linden, Ala.)

A 50-year newspaper veteran, Sutton struggled with a four-year campaign against corruption in the Marengo County sheriff's department. Despite a loss of $50,000 per year in advertising revenue from sheriff supporters, Sutton pursued his investigation and now the sheriff is in a federal prison in Memphis for extortion. Through it all, he kept writing the truth. He said, "We may go broke and out of business, but I'm going to be able to sleep at night."

Cory Reiss, Kirsten Mitchell and The Wilmington Morning Star (Wilmington, N.C.)

Two reporters and the newspaper faced criminal and civil contempt charges for publishing “confidential” information left in a public folder. The paper and the reporters are still in an appeals process, with assistance from The New York Times Company.

The Minnesota Joint Media Committee

For two years, this committee has worked to pass amendments to the Minnesota Free Flow of Information Act, also known as the shield law. The group also publishes a state-wide newsletter, offers a Web site, and is host of this year's National Freedom of Information Coalition annual meeting.

Participants in the project, “The State of Secrecy: Indiana Fails the Test on Access” (The Evansville Courier, Terre Haute Tribune-Star, Muncie Star-Press, the South Bend Tribune, The Times of Northwest Indiana, The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette and The Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News)

Journalists for the seven participating newspapers, presenting themselves only as citizens, visited each of the state’s 92 counties, trying to access records that are lawfully open to the public.

Charles Davis, Southern Methodist University

Davis researched and prepared for the Society of Professional Journalists a comprehensive report on the state of access to America's prisons.

First Amendment Award winners:

William A. Orme, Jr. and the Committee to Protect Journalists

Under his leadership, the vitality of CPJ to both journalists and news organizations around the world has grown immensely. After five years as the executive director Orme will be stepping down to return to the practice of journalism.

David Lawrence, Jr., publisher, The Miami Herald

Lawrence was nominated and honored for his ongoing tenacity to improve the quality of political discourse in Miami and his continued effort to fight for the First Amendment.

SPJ Campus Courts Task Force and Howard and Connie Clery and Daniel Carter, Security on Campus, Inc.

These individuals and two organizations have made a tremendous impact on improving public access to campus crime information. Security on Campus was co-founded by Howard and Connie Clery after their daughter, Jeanne, was raped and murdered in her dorm room at Lehigh University in 1986.

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