SUNY-Brockport editor wins SPJ recognition for weathering intimidation

A New York college editor who kept up his fight for public records from a hostile student government that threatened him with legal action has won a national First Amendment prize recognizing his tenacity.

The Society of Professional Journalists named Bill Matthias the winner of its annual Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award, honoring his work as editor-in-chief of The Stylus at the State University of New York-Brockport.

In a nomination letter to the SPJ, faculty adviser Marsha Ducey described Matthias as “the kind of journalism student that teachers are lucky to get once in a lifetime.”

Matthias endured a nightmare term as editor-in-chief due to a hostile student government association that cut the newspaper’s budget, refused to honor public-records requests, demanded his resignation, and threatened a libel suit over a Feb. 2, 2011, editorial column criticizing the Brockport Student Government treasurer. The SPLC arranged volunteer legal representation for Matthias to respond to the threatened lawsuit — a suit which has yet to materialize.

The award will be presented during the Excellence in Journalism 2011 conference, Sept. 25-27 in New Orleans, that SPJ is co-hosting with the Radio Television Digital News Association.