The Columns

Journalism Professor Toni Locy Receives Press Freedom Award

— by on July 18th, 2008

Toni Locy, a veteran of 25 years covering the American justice system at all levels, has been recognized by the National Press Club with its John Aubuchon Freedom of the Press Award.

She received the award at a Press Club dinner and awards ceremony July 14.

“Reporters, editors and publishers must be ready to fight for a principle that is at the heart of the newsgathering process, and that is the use and protection of confidential sources,” Locy told an audience of more than 100 journalists in her acceptance speech. “In post-9/11 America, where secrecy is an epidemic, this principle is more important than ever.”

Locy joined the faculty of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications July 1 as its first Donald W. Reynolds Professor of Legal Reporting.

She was recognized by the Press Club after defying a federal district judge’s order to reveal the names of confidential sources when she was covering the Justice Department for USA Today in 2001 and 2002.

Unidentified sources told several reporters, including Locy, that former Army scientist Steven Hatfill was a possible suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people. In 2002 then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called Hatfill a “person of interest” in the investigation.

Hatfill sued, with his lawyers contending that his reputation had been damaged. On March 7, in response to a motion by Hatfill’s lawyers, Federal District Judge Reggie B. Walton ordered Locy to reveal her sources or pay up to $5,000 a day in fines from her own pocket. Four days later a higher court granted a stay while Locy appeals the ruling.

Hatfill’s lawyers have since settled out of court with the Justice Department, but the contempt citation has not been rescinded. Locy is still waiting for the appeals court to rule.

“Confidential sources are not traitors — as the proponents of more government secrecy want Americans to believe,” Locy said in her acceptance speech. “In my experience, most confidential sources provide reporters with information out of a sense of duty, and, yes, even patriotism, because they care about the quality of our government.”

At Washington and Lee Locy will teach courses in reporting on the civil and criminal justice systems. Some of those courses will be offered in collaboration with the university’s School of Law and its legal clinics.

In addition to her five years at USA Today, Locy has covered the Supreme Court and legal affairs for the Associated Press, federal courts for The Washington Post, criminal justice for The Philadelphia Daily News and federal courts for The Pittsburgh Press. She has also worked for The Boston Globe and U.S. News & World Report. She has a master’s degree in the studies of law from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

The Aubuchon Award is named in memory of former National Press Club President John Aubuchon. It recognizes members of the media who have, through the publishing or broadcasting of news, promoted or helped protect the freedom of the press.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Headquartered in Las Vegas, Nev., it is one of the largest private foundations in the United States.