The Better Government Association has been selected to receive the Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award for its work that led Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to release correspondence in which he circumvented open records laws by using personal email accounts to conduct public business.
Presented by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the Society of Professional Journalists’ educational foundation, the award recognizes those who have fought to protect and preserve one or more of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is awarded 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.
The BGA took the mayor and the city to court after not receiving much of substance when requesting the mayor’s email records through the Freedom of Information Act. After losing nearly every legal battle for a year, the city attorneys released the emails and implemented a new policy preventing similar behavior going forward.
“We broke news and wrote dramatic stories about city government. But beyond that, our work was a win for open government,” Bob Secter, BGA Director of Investigations said. “Other media outlets across the country finally had access to essential communications involving the mayor. They wrote their own stories, conducted their own analyses and came to their own conclusions about how Emanuel was working the levers of government.”
Secter said the BGA performed a critical service for the public and inched Chicago one step closer to the transparency Emanuel promised but failed to deliver.
“Non-profit groups like ours have an even greater duty to stand firm for solid and traditional values of journalism,” Secter said. “That commitment can take many forms, from conventional news stories, to innovate online presentations, to taking government agencies to court.”
BGA will be awarded $10,000, a crystal award and travel accommodations to the Excellence in Journalism 2017 conference in Anaheim, California. There, the staff will be honored at the SPJ President’s Installation Banquet. The conference is hosted by SPJ, Radio Television Digital News Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Native American Journalists Association.