2011 Open Government Hall of Fame

John R. Finnegan Sr., president of the Minnesota Joint Media Committee and longtime Freedom of Information advocate, will be inducted into the Open Government Hall of Fame at the FOI Summit in Providence, RI.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (April 4, 2011) — The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) have selected John R. Finnegan Sr., former executive editor and assistant publisher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, for their joint Heroes of the 50 States: The State Open Government Hall of Fame award for 2011.

John R. Finnegan Sr.The formal induction ceremony will take place Saturday, May 21, during NFOIC’s  annual FOI Summit, held this year at the Providence Biltmore Hotel in Providence, RI, May 20- 21. Finnegan is past president of the Minnesota Newspaper Association and of the Newspaper Guild of the Twin Cities, and was chairman emeritus of the Minnesota News Council.  He is currently and president of the Minnesota Joint Media Committee.

The Open Government Hall of Fame is a joint venture by SPJ and NFOIC. It was developed by leaders in both organizations as a way to recognize long-term contributions of individuals to open government in their respective states.

Induction into the Open Government Hall of Fame recognizes “long and steady effort to preserve and protect the free flow of information about state and local government that is vital to the public in a democracy.” The intent is to recognize individuals—living or dead—whose lifetime commitment to citizen access, open government and freedom of information has left a significant legacy at the state and local level.

The judges who screened, reviewed and rated the Hall of Fame nominations this year were: Mike Philipps, president & CEO of the Scripps Howard Foundation; David Cuillier, associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalismand  SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chairman; and Kenneth F. Bunting, executive director of NFOIC.

“John R. Finnegan Sr. has been relentless in his pursuit of the principle that information collected and held by our government belongs not to the government, but to us,” Philipps said. “He was fighting for government transparency long before such issues became fashionable.”

“His sustained and lasting contribution to open government sets a standard for us all.”

Finnegan served as vice chairman of the American Society of Newspaper Editors FOI committee, chairman of the FOI committee of the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, and president of the First Amendment Congress. With a colleague, Finnegan drafted the first open meeting law in the State of Minnesota in 1957. He drafted and helped lobby for passage of the state's Data Practices Act in 1974—its first open-records law.

“This guy has worked for decades to foster FOI in Minnesota,” Cuillier added. “Heck, he crafted the state's first open meeting law in 1957, and helped with the public records law. I think this is exactly the kind of person this award should be given to.”

“The Hall of Fame deserves people who spend a lifetime making their communities and states more transparent.”

For his distinguished FOI work, Finnegan has received several awards, including the Associated Press Managing Editors award for Defense of a Free Press in 1980 and the John Peter Zenger First Amendment award in 1986. In 2001, Finnegan was inducted into the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame by the First Amendment Center.  The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) presents an annual leadership award named in his honor.

Bunting said, “Mr. Finnegan’s dedication and commitment to the cause of transparent government has earned the admiration of Minnesotans, and people all over the country. He joins an impressive roster of open government champions in the Open Government Hall of Fame.”

“We are thrilled to recognize him and express our gratitude for his many contributions,”  Bunting added.
“John R. Finnegan is, quite simply, a patriot,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a member of the NFOIC board. “Jack instinctively understood the role that what we now call ‘transparency’ plays in a democracy. For decades, he has mentored young journalists and open government advocates in Minnesota.”

“As a leader,” Dalglish continued, “Jack had remarkable credibility with lawmakers because he was prepared, he was articulate, he was passionate, he was a gentleman and he was right. And you'll never in your life meet a nicer man.”

The State Open Government Hall of Fame is open to anyone who has made a substantial, sustained and lasting contribution to open government or freedom of information within one particular state. Nominees may come from government, the media, the nonprofit sector, the legal profession, or any other area of endeavor that involves citizen access to government records, meetings and procedures.

The most recent inductees include Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York Committee on Open Government, and Mitchell W. Pearlman, executive director of and general counsel for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission.