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Columbus Dispatch writers win Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award for reporting on FERPA


For Immediate Release:

Robert Leger, Grants and Awards Chair, Sigma Delta Chi Foundation,
(602) 444-6805,
Karen Grabowski, Communications Coordinator, Society of Professional Journalists, (317) 927-8000 x. 215,

INDIANAPOLIS – Jill Riepenhoff and Todd Jones are the 2009 recipients of the Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award presented annually by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the educational arm of the Society of Professional Journalists. The award is accompanied by a $10,000 prize. Judges chose Riepenhoff and Jones for their dedicated work upholding First Amendment rights.

As reporters for The Columbus Dispatch, Riepenhoff and Jones exposed misuse of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law created to protect students’ academic records, by universities across the nation. By auditing all Division I schools’ compliance with FERPA, their research and reporting revealed that the institutions were using the law to conceal certain violations and operations from the public. The article that resulted from six months of research and work showed the public and legislators that the application of FERPA must be reformed.

“… they have taken an arcane, little-understood federal secrecy law and made its harm real and salient to the average citizen,” Frank D. LoMonte, Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, wrote in a nomination letter to SPJ.

Approximately 20 other newspapers published the completed story in its entirety and dozens of others published parts of the piece. Riepenhoff and Jones’ work also spurred policy makers and university leaders to demand a change in the use of FERPA and a move toward more openness.

“The Columbus Dispatch has a long history of championing First Amendment rights, and we are deeply honored that (our reporters) are being recognized for their contributions to that effort,” said Alan D. Miller, Dispatch managing editor for news. “This award is among the nation’s highest honors for such work, and we couldn’t be more pleased that the judges chose Jill and Todd as this year’s winners.”

The Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award recognizes a person or organization that has fought to protect and preserve one or more of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. The $10,000 award is given in memory of Eugene S. Pulliam, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News from 1975 until his death in 1999. He was a staunch supporter of the First Amendment.

Riepenhoff and Jones are projects reporters for The Dispatch and both have extensive careers in journalism. Riepenhoff is an investigative reporter who joined the paper in 1985. She has covered numerous beats and currently reports on topics such as immigration and foreclosures in Ohio. She and a colleague wrote a 2007 series on Ohio’s flawed teacher-discipline system that won a dozen state and national awards.

Jones has worked for The Dispatch for 12 years where he is a sports blogger in addition to a narrative writer for the projects desk. He is also a state and national award winner, including best sports writer in Ohio in 2003 by the Associated Press of Ohio. Jones freelances for The New York Times and, before coming to The Dispatch, worked for The Cincinnati Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Riepenhoff and Jones will receive their award during a banquet Saturday, Aug. 29 at the 2009 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference at the Westin Indianapolis.

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


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