The Ledger (Lakeland) has been named the winner of the 28th Annual Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Award for its investigative series. The award-winning series highlights the difficulties reporters and citizens face when they try to exercise their fundamental constitutional right to access government information.
Ralph Lowenstein, Dean Emeriti of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, presented the $3,000 prize to The Ledger’s Editor, Lenore Devore and Investigative Reporting Team Editor Lyle McBride at the Florida Free Speech Forum’s annual Buddy Davis award luncheon today.
“The series exposed blatant violations of the law, and forced a number of local agencies and officials to change their procedures to comply with the law,” Sandra F. Chance, executive director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, said.
“The two-year-long investigation uncovered a stunning lack of understanding of the state’s government in the sunshine law by many of Lakeland’s public officials. They found an appalling lack of compliance with the law and a disturbing failure by these officials to understand the important role theses laws play in protecting our democracy and our ability to oversee our government,” Chance continued.
Devore, a UF alumna, said it was particularly meaningful to return to Gainesville for the special event and accept the award.
“Our staff has done an amazing job holding our government officials accountable,” she said. “We all believe in journalism and the first amendment…I just could not be more proud.”
The annual award was established by the late Joseph L. Brechner, an Orlando broadcaster. Previous award winners include: the AP, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Miami Herald, The Washington Post, the Columbia Journalism Review, The St. Petersburg Times, The Dallas Morning News, the (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel and the Houston Chronicle.
Located at the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville, Fla., the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information exists to educate and promote freedom of information laws and policies. It serves the students of UF, Florida citizens, media lawyers and journalists nationally and internationally by providing training sessions, answering queries and conducting scholarly research on First Amendment and freedom of information issues.