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Archive for the ‘George Mason Award’ Category

Virginia Pro Chapter hosted our annual George Mason Award Ceremony and Celebration with a crowd of about 50  at the 2300 Club in Richmond Wednesday, June 22.

The George Mason Award



Craig T. Merritt, 2011 recipient of the George Mason Award, accepted the award from President Nicole McMullin and incoming President Paul Fletcher, after an introduction by his nominator, Virginia Press Association Executive Director Ginger Stanley. Joking on an e-mail blast describing him as “a Freedom of Information warrior,” he said it is vitally important to know when to fight. Merritt spoke about the legacy of George Mason, a founding father strongly linked to freedom of the press.

A partner at the law firm of Christian & Barton in Richmond, he has represented the interests of news outlets and journalists many times. Merritt has selflessly assisted, defended and educated the news media of Virginia. He helped journalists in their pursuit of the freedom of information, and he has assisted in the fight against unwarranted intrusion into newsrooms by law enforcement.

SPJ, SDX Educational Foundation Scholarships



Also during the ceremony, SPJ honored two up-and-coming student journalists with the Virginia SPJ, SDX Educational Foundation Scholarships. Arielle Retting of Fairfax, a Journalism/Political Science major at Radford, and Katherine “Katie” Mawyer of Sandston, a Communications, Professional Writing and Popular Culture major at Virginia Tech, were selected from a dozen applicants from schools across Virginia.

 Both were on-hand to accept the award from Clissa England and Wilford Kale.

Distinguished Service Award renamed

President Nicole McMullin had the pleasure to announce an honor to two outstanding chapter members. The George and Francine Crutchfield Distinguished Service Award honors George, who passed away this spring, and Francine, who shared many memories with the crowd. Fittingly, the Crutchfields were the most recent recipient of the award, in 2010.

2011-2012 Board of Directors

As Virginia Pro SPJ’s main annual meeting, during the evening our officers and members of the Board of Directors were sworn in. These folks will guide our chapter as we build on a successful series of programs, including hosting the Region 2 Spring Conference.
Serving as president will be Paul Fletcher; vice president, Danny Finnegan; continuing as secretary, Pat Kane; and joining the board as treasurer, Brian Eckert. Nicole McMullin is immediate past president.
Filling uncompleted board terms expiring in 2012 are Caroline Cardwell and A.J. Lagoe; for a term expiring in 2012 is Nicole Livas; for terms expiring in 2013 are Elizabeth Farina, Guy Lucas and Cara Ellen Modisett; for terms expiring in 2014 are Bonnie Newman Davis, Wayne Farrar and Joan Tupponce.

Program sponsors

SPJ Virginia Pro Chapter wishes to thank several members who assisted as program patrons.

Dorothy Abernathy
Brian Eckert
Kathleen Eckert
Daniel Finnegan
Paul Fletcher
Jane Fletcher
Wilford Kale
Nicole McMullin
Steve Richardson Jr.

See photos online at: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.10150305044400865

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Richmond attorney Craig T. Merritt will be the recipient of the 2011 George Mason Award.

The George Mason Award, established in 1964, is given annually by the Society of Professional Journalists, Virginia Pro chapter, to an individual for outstanding contributions to Virginia journalism.

A partner with the Richmond law firm of Christian & Barton, Merritt has selflessly assisted, defended and educated the news media of Virginia. He helped journalists in their pursuit of the freedom of information, and he has assisted in the fight against unwarranted intrusion into newsrooms by law enforcement. He has taught working journalists, as well as visitors from other countries, about the history and status of a free press in the United States and Virginia.

Through the Virginia Press Association, Merritt has given highly informative and useful workshops on freedom of information law in Virginia, not only teaching how FOIA works in the commonwealth, but also reviewing legislative action that has helped or hindered journalists’ ability to review information that the public has a right to access.

He has willingly served a host of news organizations, from large metropolitan dailies to individual student weeklies, advising them how to press forward the public’s right to know, deal with attempts to squelch their newsgathering work, and defend themselves against spurious and, sometimes illegal, actions by government, corporate and individual attacks.

Merritt’s clients have been victorious in a number of significant newspaper lawsuits, seeking to hold governmental bodies accountable and observant of access laws.

His work has often been pro bono for news organizations without the resources and knowledge to respond to authority. For example, when the administration of James Madison University charged two of its own students — the editor and assistant editor of the student newspaper, The Breeze— with trespassing for attempting to interview fellow students in their dormitory rooms about a sex offense committed in the dorm, the SPJ Virginia Pro chapter and Region 2 office sought Merritt’s advice on response.

Similarly, when a Rockingham County prosecutor and a group of police barged into the newsroom of The Breeze, waving a search warrant and threatening to confiscate photo files and computers, Merritt advised SPJ about its initial steps to protest the seizure publicly and challenge it legally.

In addition to his work for Christian & Barton’s media clients, Merritt has a busy commercial litigation practice. He is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Merritt is one of many lawyers at the firm who have served the news media for many years, and he has noted in particular the lasting influence of the late Alexander “Sandy” Wellford, the First Amendment expert who received the George Mason Award in 2002.

Merritt will receive the award at the chapter’s annual George Mason celebration ceremony, to be held June 22 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at The 2300 Club in Richmond.

Ticket information will be available shortly.

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The Society of Professional Journalists, Virginia Pro Chapter, seeks nominations for its 48th George Mason Award, to be presented in June 2011.

The annual award recognizes a person in Virginia has done something extraordinary for journalism and the public: reporting and writing that has righted a wrong, caused a sea change in attitudes, changed a law, started a watchdog group that exposed violation of the public trust, defended a reporter or news organization from unjust persecution, forced a reluctant government to make the people’s business public, mentored young reporters who went on to outstanding careers, or some other specific, noteworthy accomplishment.

Past winners have included reporters, columnists, editorial writers, publishers, broadcast station owners, attorneys, directors of public interest organizations and professional development associations, among others. They have worked for organizations large and small.

SPJ Virginia Pro named the award for Mason, Virginia’s “forgotten founding father,” because he risked lifelong friendships and personal fortune by insisting that the fledgling United States protect freedom of the press and the other civil liberties by enacting a Bill of Rights. He was born in Fairfax County in 1725, helped frame the Virginia Constitution and in 1776 wrote its Declaration of Rights, the first authoritative formulation of the doctrine of inalienable rights. Mason’s work influenced Thomas Jefferson in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

The chapter has presented the George Mason Award annually since 1964 to journalists and others who have supported freedom of the press and made significant contributions to Virginia journalism. It expresses the esteem of SPJ members, who are committed to ethics, freedom of information, education and legal defense of reporters in the practice of journalism. The award plaque carries Mason’s conviction regarding the role of the press: “Freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of Liberty and can never be restrained but by despotick governments.”

Nominations should be made in letter form, complete with reference to supporting information, to the chapter’s George Mason Committee chair, Brian Eckert, Director of Media and Public Relations, University of Richmond, 28 Westhampton Way, Richmond, VA 23173; beckert@richmond.edu; fax 804-287-6491.

Deadline for nominations is May 1, 2011.

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