Kentucky Kernel receives 2020 James Madison Award

Scripps Howard State of the First Amendment Address attendees

Lauren Campbell

The Kentucky Kernel was awarded the 2020 James Madison Award on Nov. 12, an award presented by the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information. The annual award recognizes a Kentuckian who has made an outstanding contribution to the First Amendment.

The award was presented by School of Journalism and Media Director Erika Engstrom at the Scripps Howard State of the First Amendment Address over Zoom. After the Kernel received the award, media law scholar Stephen Bates delivered an address on the importance of the First Amendment. 

Over the past five-years, the Kernel has been in a legal battle against UK over the Commonwealth’s open records law. This case stems from a 2016 dispute over documents the Kernel obtained and published during an investigation of a former professor accused of sexual harassment.  

This past October, the case reached the Kentucky Supreme Court, where the decision is still undecided. 

The Kernel was nominated by Tom Caudill, who stated the Kernel and its staffers to be an example of the First Amendment at work.

“Through six editors and almost 30 stories, the Kernel has not wavered,” said the Kernel’s nomination letter. “The Kentucky Kernel—represented by the students who have worked for it these last five years—is a shining example of First Amendment principles at work.”

Natalie Parks, the Kernel’s current editor-in-chief, accepted the award on behalf of the Kernel. Parks credited the Kernel’s perseverance and dedication in reporting and through its lawsuit to be why the Kernel was awarded. 

“We are receiving this award for our continued perseverance and dedication to our First Amendment rights,” Parks said.

Parks also noted the Kernel’s staff has changed several times throughout this case, each staff continuing to pursue the work of generations before it.

“It’s important to note that as a college paper, we have a high rate of turnover. After all of these years we continue to care, and that is thanks to the efforts of previous Kernel editors in making sure future generations knew what was at stake in this issue,” Parks said.

Parks thanked the selection committee, the faculty and staff of the School of Journalism and Media, along with the Kernel’s advisors, staffers, board of directors, previous editors and legal team in accepting the award.  

For more information regarding the James Madison Award, visit