Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Nominations for SPJ's Black Hole Award, which spotlights government secrecy, are due by Friday, Feb. 16

The deadline for nominations for the Black Hole Award is Feb. 16. The award was established by the Society of Professional Journalists to draw attention to the worst violations of the public's right to know about a news story. Nominations can be from local SPJ chapters, SPJ members, other journalists or private citizens. Click here to read more and to see a list of previous winners.

Nominations should meet the following criteria:
1. Violation, in spirit or letter, of any federal or state open-government law. This means either a clear violation of the statute governing access to public records or public meetings, or using an ambiguity or loophole in the law to avoid having to comply with the law. For example: conducting multiple meetings with small groups that do not constitute a quorum, email discussions outside the public view, or charging unreasonable amounts to copy documents.

2. Egregiousness. In order to maintain the effectiveness of the Black Hole Award, it should not be given for just any openness violation. Recipients should know they are trampling on the public’s right, placing personal or political interests ahead of the public good or endangering public welfare. Examples might include an agency or official who attempted to keep information secret to avoid embarrassment or hide misdeeds.

3. Impact. The case should be one that affects the public rather than an individual. The award should not be used to settle vendettas against recalcitrant bureaucrats. Withholding information should hurt the general public rather than an individual.
Nominations should include supporting documentation where possible, including:
  • News coverage of the violation.
  • Public records chronicling the dispute.
  • Legal papers if there was a lawsuit or other legal action involved in the matter.
  • Any expert opinion from an attorney, official or open-government expert that the violation occurred.
  • Contact information for the parties involved to allow the committee to obtain more information if needed, including from the government official.
Submit nominations by emailing FOI Committee member Mike Farrell at farrell@email.uky.edu or mail to him at the School of Journalism and Media, 144 Grehan Building, University of Kentucky,
Lexington, KY 40506-0042.

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