Nancy West of InDepthNH and Portland (Me.) Resident Susan Hawes Also to Be Recognized
The New England First Amendment Coalition will present its 2023 Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award to Brian McGrory, former editor of The Boston Globe and current chair of the Boston University journalism department.
NEFAC will honor McGrory at its 13th annual New England First Amendment Awards ceremony on June 1. The invite-only event will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Tuscan Kitchen Seaport in Boston.
Also to be honored at the event is Nancy West, publisher of InDepthNH. West will receive the Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award for her work on behalf of the online non-profit news organization. Portland, Maine, resident Susan Hawes will receive the Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award for her successful public records battle against Cumberland County.
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Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award
Named after the late publisher of The Providence Journal, the award is given each year to an individual who has promoted, defended or advocated for the First Amendment throughout his or her career.
BRIAN McGRORY is a former reporter, columnist and editor at The Boston Globe where he led the newsroom for more than a decade. He now serves as the chair of Boston University’s journalism department, a position he began in February.
McGrory began serving as the Globe’s editor in 2012, overseeing the newsroom during a time of financial uncertainty. Despite these circumstances, McGrory supported often lengthy and costly public records appeals and lawsuits to support the reporting of his staff. Under McGrory, the Globe’s legal efforts compelled the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to disclose death data during the COVID-19 pandemic, led to the release of police reports and booking photos of law enforcement officers arrested on criminal charges, and challenged restrictions on public access to clerk magistrate “show cause” hearings and electronic indices of birth and marriage data.
In addition to many other cases litigated by the Globe during his leadership, McGrory helped oppose subpoenas of his reporters in civil and criminal actions in state and federal court — and did so without the benefit of a state shield law.
McGrory also distinguished himself from other editors by publicizing his newsroom’s public record battles. While many news organizations shy away from reporting about behind-the-scenes newsgathering efforts, McGrory believed the public deserved to know about the culture of secrecy within state government. This philosophy led to increased reporting on public record disputes during his tenure which illuminated the need for stronger freedom of information laws in Massachusetts.
Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award
Named after the Vermont journalist and former NEFAC director, the award is given each year to a journalist or team of journalists for a body of work that protects or advances the public’s right to know.
NANCY WEST is founder of the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism and is executive editor of its website InDepthNH.org. West, who spent 30 years as a reporter for the Union Leader, eschewed retirement and began the non-profit online news organization eight years ago. The center’s mission is to help keep those in power accountable and to give voice to marginalized communities.
At a time when financial insecurity is threatening local newsrooms across the country, West is simultaneously serving as an investigative reporter and lead fundraiser for InDepthNH.org, which has grown to more than 2 million page views a year. West’s reporting last year included stories on the death of a mentally-ill inmate and the need for transparency within his prison, the lack of response by public officials to two tragedies involving homeless women, and the secrecy surrounding a car crash involving a Portsmouth Police Department employee.
As Bob Charest, chairman of the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism Board of Directors, explains: West’s supposed retirement consists of juggling many important stories at a time, fundraising for a fledgling independent nonprofit news site, and chasing people who sometimes don’t want to talk to her. There’s a good chance that a lifetime of investigative reporting work by West has not made her the most popular person in the room, but it has resulted in change and many marginalized people receiving fair treatment and favorable outcomes.
Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award
Named after the late author and researcher, the award is given to an individual who has fought for information crucial to the public’s understanding of its community or its government.
SUSAN HAWES engaged in a protracted battle for information about the Cumberland County Jail and its employment practices.
When she learned of a fatal car accident in 2019 involving a county jail employee who fell asleep at the wheel after working two consecutive 16-hour shifts, Hawes began filing Freedom of Access Act requests with the county to obtain overtime records for its corrections officers. Hawes, whose husband also worked at jail, knew first-hand the unreasonable demands placed upon the officers and became determined to hold the commissioners accountable.
Two days after she filed her public records request, the county sheriff claimed the employment records were confidential and refused to release them. Undeterred, Hawes filed a lawsuit and represented herself in a case she would ultimately win. A court found last year that the sheriff unlawfully withheld the overtime records and they were ordered released. The records showed that county officials lied about the overtime being worked by corrections officers. She also learned that two other corrections officers had been involved in car accidents, both having fallen asleep at the wheel after working overtime shifts.
Hawes fought for access to payroll and overtime records of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office — bravely challenging the sheriff himself — and prevailed. In her quest, she won access to information crucial to the public’s understanding of its community and the Cumberland County government.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Leadership Circle donors include the Rhode Island Foundation, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, the Champa Charitable Foundation Fund and Connecticut Public.