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SPJ honors acclaimed writer, Illinois center with First Amendment awards

For Immediate Release:

Heather Porter, Programs Coordinator, (317) 927-8000, ext. 204, hporter@spj.org
Alyson Ahrns, SPJ Communications Department, (317) 927-8000, ext. 200, aahrns@hq.spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor Toni Locy and the Illinois First Amendment Center with a First Amendment Award.

Locy is a well-known name in the realm of media groups fighting for the First Amendment, specifically those pushing for a federal shield law that would protect journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources in federal court. Locy was a reporter for USA Today when she covered the anthrax mailings in 2001 that killed five people and sickened 17. Sources that asked to remain anonymous identified Steven J. Hatfill as a person of interest, and Hatfill later sued the Department of Justice and issued 13 subpoenas to find out who leaked the information. Because Locy wouldn’t reveal her sources, she faces fines of nearly $50,000 -- which she would be required to pay with no help from her employer or others. She is currently awaiting a ruling from her appeal issued May 9.

SPJ Freedom of Information chairman David Cuillier said in his nomination letter that Locy’s case is noteworthy because, in his opinion, “Locy has been very vocal about the issue and has been inspirational in her struggle, urging journalists to ‘turn and fight.’”

After she was informed of her award, Locy said she took comfort in knowing she was not alone in her fight to protect the public’s right to know.

“I am grateful for the recognition of the stand I took against the misuse of civil lawsuits to coerce news organizations into large cash settlements,” Locy said. “It’s nice to know that I have the support of my peers in the battle against such a significant threat to journalism.”

Locy is currently the Reynolds Professor of Legal Reporting at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va.

The Illinois First Amendment Center had its beginnings in 2001 as a division of the Illinois Press Foundation. In late 2005, the IFAC became its own corporation but remains closely affiliated with the Illinois Press Foundation and the Illinois Press Association.

According to the center’s Web site, the IFAC’s mission is to “promote First Amendment rights and responsibilities through education designed to raise awareness of the need to understand, preserve and protect the First Amendment.” The center works closely with educators to accomplish this goal. In 2005, Congress mandated that schools receiving federal money must teach about the Constitution on Sept. 17 of each year, which greatly expanded the goals and initiatives of the IFAC.

The IFAC has created several programs and events to promote First Amendment education, including the annual First Amendment poster contest, which awards cash prizes totaling $2,175 to those Illinois students whose art best exemplifies Freedom of the Press. In the coming years, the IFAC is planning to host the first annual First Amendment Conference and continue to market its educational programming and learning materials to Illinois newspapers and educators.

“We’re thrilled to receive this recognition,” Sue Montalvo, the Illinois First Amendment Center’s director said. “An honor like this invigorates the staff, as it validates that we’re doing meaningful work with implications far beyond our own office walls. We’re hopeful that this honor will help us grow our First Amendment message even further with its national credibility.”

The Society’s First Amendment Awards recognize individuals and groups for extraordinarily strong efforts to preserve and strengthen the First Amendment. The awards are open to individuals and organizations, and are not limited to journalists.

Locy and the Illinois First Amendment Center will be recognized Saturday, Sept. 6 during a dinner at the 2008 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Atlanta. To learn more about the event, visit www.spj.org/convention.asp

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information on SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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