For Immediate Release:
Lauren Rochester, SPJ Awards Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 210, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew M. Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215, email@example.com
INDIANAPOLIS – Renee Dudley is the winner of the Euguene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award for her work exposing a South Carolina state law that closed all emergency medical service records.
Dudley's work for the 22,000-circulation Island Packet of Bluffton, S.C. won the $10,000 award presented annually by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the educational branch of the Society of Professional Journalists. Judges chose Dudley for her dedicated work upholding First Amendment rights.
The 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 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. Click here for a list of previous honorees.
While reporting for The Island Packet during the summer of 2009, Dudley discovered a state law that restricted the press’ right to obtain raw data involving the publicly funded Beaufort County EMS system. Dudley began reporting on the EMS system the previous October when the community began questioning paramedics’ treatment of patients suffering head trauma.
In violation of the county’s EMS protocol requiring the transport of trauma patients to a better-equipped hospital in nearby Savannah, Ga., paramedics routinely brought head trauma patients to Hilton Head Hospital, a small, local medical center. Dudley’s reports sought to evaluate whether the EMS system was stretched so thin that patient care was compromised.
That July, a request for ambulance response time data by Dudley was denied by county officials, citing a 2004 state law that prohibited public access to all EMS records. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office affirmed the county’s denial, followed by similar denials affecting other publications in the state in the late summer and early fall 2009.
Dudley later contacted the veteran state senator who sponsored the original bill. Unaware of the law’s underlying provisions blocking First Amendment rights, he promised to sponsor a new bill to repeal the 2004 law.
Dudley’s further reporting showed that South Carolina was the only state among eight in the Southeast with such a law and prompted more support for repeal, despite resistance among some Beaufort County and EMS officials.
In May 2010, the state legislature passed a bill opening most EMS records. Signed into law on May 11, it became effective immediately. Through persistent reporting, Dudley eliminated a challenge to the First Amendment, protecting freedoms for reporters and citizens statewide.
Dudley, who now works for the Post & Courier in South Carolina, will be honored during a banquet Oct. 5 at the 2010 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Las Vegas.
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.