For excellence in pursuing public records that surfaced a controversy involving the university football coaching staff and in another instance taking the university to court for holding back police reports, The Lantern at The Ohio State University is the recipient of the Student Press Law Center’s 2018 Reveille Seven College Press Freedom Award.
“The Lantern is committed to consistent watchdog reporting, which involves poring over public records and picking apart data in service to both the campus and greater Columbus, Ohio communities,” said Hadar Harris, SPLC executive director. “Not only was important news covered, but the actions taken by the student journalists paved the way for greater transparency, responsiveness and accountability.”
In 2018, The Lantern reported that Head Football Coach Urban Meyer failed to address allegations of domestic abuse involving an Assistant Coach Zach Smith. In suspending Meyer for three games for not taking action, a special investigative committee cited The Lantern’s dogged pursuit of public records, including email messages, texts and phone calls, as evidence.
The Lantern‘s efforts to obtain records, especially text messages from Meyer and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith, were prominently mentioned in stories published by The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today, among others.
The Lantern will be recognized during an awards ceremony on Saturday, Nov. 2 at the National College Media Convention in Washington, D.C. which convenes about 1,600 college journalism students and advisers.
“It’s a great honor for The Lantern to receive this award,” said Editor In Chief Kaylee Harter. “Our staff has worked tirelessly to pursue the truth and obtain public records. Our former editor in chief won a public records case against the university acting as his own attorney, proving that with the right motivation, student journalists have the power to hold institutions accountable. Denial and delay of public records can be frustrating, but this award validates our efforts and encourages us to keep pushing forward.”
Meyer, whose accomplishments on the field were widely heralded during his seven-year tenure, retired on his own accord. Citing recurring health challenges, he left after the Rose Bowl game on Jan. 1, 2019.
In another example of using public records to flesh out an important story, The Lantern, intrigued by high-profile Ohio State cases being handled by outside law firms, took a close look at legal fees. After the university put off complying with a records request, The Lantern’s projects editor found the records within the State Controlling Board. Upon being confronted, the university supplied the data, largely in an attempt to show that the university paid less than had been approved by the State Controlling Board.
A third example of pursuit of truth and context was The Lantern filing a complaint in the Ohio Court of Claims over the university’s lack of response to a request for several years of police reports for football players.
“The Ohio State University has been a great supporter of The Lantern and the journalism program. However, Ohio State has not been a willing participant when it comes to honoring and quickly fulfilling records requests.” said Spencer Hunt, Director of Student Media.
The award is jointly sponsored by the Student Press Law Center, the Associated Collegiate Press and Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication.
The Manship School funds the $2,000 prize in memory of a group of courageous LSU editors (“The Reveille Seven”) who were expelled in 1934 for publishing criticism of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long. The young journalists were later cleared of wrongdoing and vindicated.
The Student Press Law Center (splc.org, @splc) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working at the intersection of law, journalism and education to promote, support and champion the rights of student journalists and their advisers at the high school and college levels. The SPLC provides information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them.