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Originally published Friday, September 16, 2011 at 12:47 PM

Salt Lake Tribune wins Ted Natt award

A Salt Lake Tribune series that exposed a bill quietly introduced by lawmakers in the waning days of the 2011 Utah Legislature that would have dramatically weakened the state's open records law is the winner of this year's Ted Natt First Amendment Award.

The Associated Press

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TACOMA, Wash. —

A Salt Lake Tribune series that exposed a bill quietly introduced by lawmakers in the waning days of the 2011 Utah Legislature that would have dramatically weakened the state's open records law is the winner of this year's Ted Natt First Amendment Award.

The award is named for the former publisher of The Daily News of Longview, who died in a helicopter crash in 1999. It was presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association in Tacoma. Competition was open to newspapers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana that are members of The Associated Press.

The three judges were unanimous in choosing the Tribune, which joined forces with the Utah Press Association and the Utah Media Coalition to oppose the law, which was passed by both the House and the Senate within 72 hours of its introduction. The bill would have made Utah the only state in the country to exempt all public officials' text messages from public access. It also would have allowed government agencies to greatly increase fees charged for accessing records, "putting them beyond reach for some citizens," Tribune Editor Nancy Conway said in submitting the entry.

The newspaper launched an advertising campaign in opposition to the bill, made its coverage and ads available to every newspaper in Utah and ran two front-page editorials denouncing the bill. "The public response came fast and furious against the bill and the process that created it," Conway said. "In the clamor the governor and the legislators bowed to the pressure, called a special session and the bill was recalled."

The judges praised the Tribune for its exhaustive coverage on an important topic and for taking the lead on the recall effort, which Edward Miller described as "a valuable public service with a rare happy ending."

The judges also praised entries by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, for a series of stories and a legal challenge to obtain the employment records of U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, and the Tri-City Herald for its two-part series on those who file public records requests, the challenge to agencies to answer those requests and the costs.

In addition to Miller, a newsroom consultant and writing coach, the judges were Jim Daubel, a former publisher and editor of The News-Messenger of Fremont, Ohio, and Sue Price Johnson, a retired Associated Press bureau chief for the Carolinas.

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