For Immediate Release:
Lauren Rochester, SPJ Awards Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 210, email@example.com
Andrew M. Scott, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215, firstname.lastname@example.org
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor four individuals and one newspaper with the national Sunshine Award for their important contributions in the pursuit of open government.
-David Andreatta, Democrat and Chronicle, Monroe County, N.Y.
-Jill Riepenhoff and Todd Tones, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch
-Charlene Padilla, non-journalist, in working with KPCC Southern California Public Radio
-The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.
All recipients will be honored during the President’s Installation Banquet, Oct. 5 at the 2010 SPJ Convention and National Journalism Conference in Las Vegas. See a list of past honorees here.
While researching a civil court case in Monroe County, N.Y., Democrat and Chronicle investigative reporter David Andreatta noticed that documents referenced in the judge’s opinion were not available to the public, as required by law. After careful research, he was able to determine that the lapses were not unique to his county but prevalent throughout much of New York state due to local customs.
Andreatta’s work uncovering this judicial practice resulted in a pledge from the New York Office of Court Administration to address the filing lapses. Memos to administrative judges from the office made it clear that judges who receive documents submitted directly to their chambers are responsible for ensuring that the documents are transmitted to the court clerk for filing.
Jill Riepenhoff and Todd Jones
To test the effectiveness of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act law, reporters Jill Riepenhoff and Todd Jones of The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch sent public-records requests to 119 colleges that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision. Their six-month investigation found serious flaws in the law’s protection of academic records to include athletes involved in criminal activity that were being shielded in the name of FERPA.
The findings of the study shocked former U.S. Senator James L. Buckley, who authored the bill. He called on Congress to fix the law, telling the Dispatch that universities had misused its purpose. Newspapers from around the country sought permission to reprint the package in their newspapers, and the public response to the article was overwhelming. The reporting of Riepenhoff and Jones brought exposure to college athletes and the inner-workings of athletics departments.
Riepenhoff and Jones received the Eugene S. Pulliam Award in 2009 for their previous reporting on FERPA.
Charlene “Charlie” Padilla
Months after an August 2009 inmate riot at the California Institution for Men at Chino, Charlene Padilla received a letter from her son, who was in custody there, describing his and other inmates’ confinement in outside cages without adequate clothing or shade to protect them from searing daytime sun or blankets during the night. Padilla’s letter-writing to develop evidence yielded scores of letters from inmates who described the build-up to the riot, the violence and injuries they saw.
Her materials were later used by KPCC Southern California Public Radio reporter Steven Cuevas to produce a three-part series on the events. Padilla, who had shied away from publicity about her role gathering accounts of the outdoor caging of inmates, eventually agreed to be interviewed by Cuevas.
Although she was not a trained journalist, Padilla’s qualities of true investigative journalism showed dogged determination, exhaustive documentation and research. As a mother and concerned Californian, she worked to expose and correct substandard conditions in a state prison.
In the days following Hurricane Katrina, volunteer state police from New Mexico and Michigan abruptly left Baton Rouge, La., due to the questionable standards of conduct from the city’s police department toward evacuees. For four years The Advocate newspaper fought denied access to information regarding the racist and abusive behavior.
In February, the paper produced a package of stories as well as an editorial describing the extent of the brutality. The expose included allegations of police officers using demeaning language, routinely harassing African Americans, physically abusing citizens and seeking to “make life rough for New Orleans evacuees so they would leave town.”
Against lack of support and financial odds, The Advocate established a precedent, rebuking the police contention that privacy issues and their volition did not override the public’s right to know how public officials conduct themselves.
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.