Monday, June 24, 2019

Stout advocate for freedom of information wins top award from International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors

Brian Hunhoff
Brian Hunhoff, this year's winner of the top award from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, is only a part-time editor, "but produces full-time results," as his wife Roxann said in nominating him for the Eugene Cervi Award, given to an editor who consistently acts in the conviction that good journalism begets good government.

Hunhoff sold the Yankton County Observer in South Dakota 18 years ago but continues to write editorials and columns for the weekly, and has become a leading advocate among community journalists for freedom of information. That's all the more remarkable because he is also the county's elected register of deeds, and a former part-time county commissioner.

In his nomination, Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Dave Mitchell of Point Reyes, Calif., called Hunhoff "a first-rate journalist" and "an eloquent defender of open government."

Hunhoff's work has gotten greater circulation in recent years. In 2016, he wrote "Ten Commandments for Open Meetings," a Sunshine Week editorial that has been republished in every state. In 2015, he won the Freedom of Information Award from the National Newspaper Association. He doesn't hesitate to go after others in power; in 2017, he criticized the South Dakota Legislature for its lack of transparency: "Shouldn't people buying the sausage get to see it made?" The same year, he published a 19-part series about the value of governments' public-notice advertising. In 2014, he won ISWNE's Golden Quill Award for editorial writing with an editorial that criticized local governments in South Dakota for abusing exceptions to the state open-meetings law. In 2018, at 58, he became the youngest person ever admitted to the South Dakota Newspaper Hall of Fame, and this year, he joined the National Open Government Hall of Fame of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Hunhoff's interest go beyond open government. Recently The Rural Blog excerpted a column sparked by his speech at a naturalization ceremony is Sioux Falls, welcoming new Americans from 40 nations. He said that if more Americans could see such ceremonies, there might be less fighting about immigration to the U.S.

In his typically self-effacing way, Hunhoff said little about his work in his acceptance speech at ISWNE's annual conference in Atlanta Saturday night, but talked about some of the previous winners of the award, named for the crusading editor of the old Rocky Mountain Journal. Hunhoff never met Eugen Cervi, but he has met 16 of the 49 award winners, and he said of them, "They were small-town, but definitely not small-time. They were giants of our profession."

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