About the New England First Amendment Award

This award will recognize a New England newspaper for its exceptional work in upholding the First Amendment and/or educating the public about it.

Entrants will be judged for the quality of reporting, editorials, commentary, and/or legal challenges that illuminate or uphold the First Amendment.

NENPA-member newspapers, regardless of circulation size and frequency of publication, are invited to submit work published during the past year.

For more information please contact Linda Conway at l.conway@nenpa.com.

Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, MA
The Telegram took on a tough battle that diverted a lot of resources, in defense of the public’s right to know about police misconduct. The city of Worcester dug in its heels, accustomed to a state public records scheme that historically rewarded recalcitrance. But the law changed, and attorney fees were now recoverable, and the T&G pioneered in the fight to use that law to wrest open long-secretive police records—and to establish that non-compliance with the public records law now has consequences. The battle required courage, tenacity, and risk, and the T&G has now blazed a path that will benefit the public’s First Amendment right to know what the government is up to (and that will fortify other media outlets and citizens to fight such fights).

Sun Journal, Lewiston, ME – Steven Downs Trial
The Sun-Journal’s relentless, lengthy pursuit of public information and public access to a criminal trial occurring thousands of miles away from its Maine location is awarded this year’s New England First Amendment Award.

The Sun Journal’s reporting on a Fairbanks, Alaska, trial involving a local man charged with murder demonstrated a strong commitment to providing necessary information to its readers on a matter of public interest, persistence in pleading a case for full access to the trial and to crucial information, creating partnerships among news operations to gather and present information about the trial, and a financial commitment well outside normal newsroom operating circumstances.

The entry charts a rigorous, persistent, well-argued case for full remote access to trial proceedings and information about jury selection, while also arguing for and making proper use of– new technological means of reporting on a criminal trial. The effort to improve the nature and quality of remote access to the Alaskan courts likely will linger for many years.

As news organizations nationwide seek to rebuild public trust and confidence in good journalism, there is no better approach to that effort than doing the work well, in a manner that both informs the audience and educates it about the value to them of an independent and free press.

Use of Alaska’s own laws regarding trial coverage and audio-visual courtroom provisions, locating and working with a lawyer in Alaska, crafting direct letters and the filing of motions with the court, and gavel-to-gavel coverage of a trial of great local interest, are hallmarks of journalism that both serves readers and goes beyond daily reporting to include protection of the public’s rights to a fair and open system of justice.

New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News in Manchester, NH

For a series of enlightening news stories, hard-hitting editorials, and for leading the charge against state and local officials each with some misplaced sense of his or her obligation to serve taxpayers.

The submission by the Union Leader showed exceptional work in its reporting on several important statewide stories, including authorities hiding the names and records of “Bad Actors” within police agencies and the legal fight to get records. Staff Writer Mark Heyward, along with Kevin Landrigan, helped lead the charge for a wonderful staff effort.

The articles and editorials played a key role in educating New Hampshire residents about the wasted tax dollars used to hide public records – and presumably the bad conduct by employees working for the public. It remains baffling when state prosecutors and other public officials work to shield them. What is it with the Attorney General?

And the Union Leader also provided a clear look at the future of newspapers with coverage of the Keene State College journalism students that refused to take “no’ for an answer when they asked to see restaurant inspections and police misconduct records.

The Day, New London, CT
Concord Monitor, Concord, NH

The judges commented that the Concord Monitor and The Day of New London share the New England First Amendment Award for their exhaustive and revealing reporting on the failures of school districts to deal with abusive teachers. Without the newspapers’ doggedness and pursuit of the truth that education officials tried to thwart at every turn, bad men could still be hurting school girls. The newspapers’ efforts exposed flawed educational systems where sick actors are protected and innocent students are harmed. In the Concord case, The Monitor’s reporting resulted in significant changes to the way the school district holds faculty accountable. The Day’s coverage has prompted both state and independent investigations and a review and update of the school system’s sexual harassment policies. A truly bravo performance by both newspapers!

Foster’s Daily Democrat, Dover, NH

“Press works for the people, not the county”

The New England First Amendment Award is presented to a New England newspaper that shows leadership on First Amendment issues, either by the exceptional quality of its reporting, editorials, commentary or legal challenges that illuminate or uphold the First Amendment or educate the public about it.

One of the most fundamental principles of journalism is to operate with independence. A newspaper cannot be a watchdog if it is simultaneously working on behalf of the government. The First Amendment, in all its wisdom, protects the press from being forced to collaborate with the very powers it’s obligated to check.

So when a county attorney in New Hampshire attempted to compel a local reporter to release all his notes and materials related to an unpublished jailhouse interview, this fundamental principle of independence suddenly appeared vulnerable.

“The danger in the state compelling the release of this unpublished material is that it has the potential to turn our news reporters into agents of the state, which will badly undermine our credibility with the public and news sources,” explained Howard Altschiller, executive editor at Seacoast Media Group where the reporter Brian Early worked.

Through a series of legal challenges, Seacoast Media Group successfully defended its First Amendment right to withhold Early’s notes. Rather than acquiescing to the county attorney’s demand, the media group dug in and protected its independence — a victory not just for its newsroom, but for the First Amendment.

Seacoast deftly covered the case using additional reporters to maintain objectivity. It used its editorial pages to emphasize the key arguments of its case and to explain to the public the First Amendment interests at stake. While recognition is deserved by any newspaper aggressively defending its constitutional rights, Seacoast Media Group’s work to defend its independence is especially notable and worthy of this year’s First Amendment Award.

Seven Days

Burlington, VT

Advocacy for passage of Vermont media shield law

Sun Journal

Lewiston, ME

Fight to retain access to dismissed court files

The Republican

Springfield, MA

Port in a Storm Series

The Telegraph

Nahua, NH

Sunshine Week/Open Government Project

The MetroWest Daily News

Framingham, MA

Ongoing coverage/investigation of Ashland, Mass. police
by Laura Krantz


Waterbury, CT

“Forcing Transparency in the Torrington Police Department”
by Kevin Litten

Rutland Herald

Rutland, VT

“Police pornography cover-up”
by Brent Curtis