It was standing ovations for two veteran New Mexico reporters honored with lifetime achievement awards at the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government’s 30th-anniversary celebration held in conjunction with the annual William S. Dixon First Amendment Luncheon on Oct. 2, 2019.
Approximately 300 New Mexicans filled the main ballroom at the Marriott Uptown to honor FOG’s newest Lifetime Achievement Award recipients — KRQE TV 13 Reporter Larry Barker and Albuquerque Journal Reporter Mike Gallagher. Others honored with the 2019 Dixon Award included: Citizen: Nancy Henry; Government: Two government officials, State Sen. Daniel Ivey Soto and Keith Manes, the Lea County Clerk; Health: Tom Scharmen a regional epidemiologist for the state Department of Health, and in Media: The Jal Record which fought the City of Jal, which refused to release records in what the Attorney General called a “flagrant violation of the Inspection of Public Records Act.”
Along with the award presentations, University of Arizona Professor David Cuillier shared his Freedom of Information Research. His most recent research found a significant portion of journalists and experts report that getting access to government information has gotten much more difficult in recent years. The research involved hundreds of journalists, lawyers, activists and government officials, as Cuillier tried to identify major issues, as well as solutions.
Cuillier touched on fees and said the top complaints from newsrooms and other freedom of information connected groups and individuals included delays in receiving documents from government agencies, excessive redaction of material from the documents, requests that were ignored, and search and redaction fees and charges.
He offered solutions including: requiring attorney-fee provisions in state laws so attorneys will have incentives to go to bat for small news organizations, more litigation assistance for small organizations, training for custodians and journalists, increased public advocacy and education, better coordination among FOI/journalism groups, and more digital tools that make documents easily accessible and searchable.
Cuillier also offered praise for NMFOG and congratulated the group on reaching the 30-year milestone.