Journalism professor recognized for services to the First Amendment



By Joshua Qualls

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Associate journalism professor Al Cross will receive the James Madison Award for Service to the First Amendment at the 10th annual First Amendment Celebration in William T. Young Library’s Alumni Auditorium 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

According to Mike Farrell, director of the First Amendment Center and an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Telecommunications, the Madison Award is presented to people who devote their lives to uphold, protect and defend the liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Farrell said Cross was nominated for the award because of his advocacy for open records and open meetings in his 26-year career as a reporter for the Courier-Journal, as well as his role as a professor and as the director of UK’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

“(Cross) has taught students and challenged the city of Midway on open records,” Farrell said. “(He is) someone who has worked hard to further the cause of government transparency.”

Cross said he began an annual report for the Society of Professional Journalists on open records, open meetings and open courts while he was working for the Courier-Journal in 1982.

The Kentucky Press Association began publishing the reports and eventually adopted changes based on them in 1992 “after seeing that there were so many … violations, grey areas and gaps in the laws,” according to Cross.

Cross later became chairman of the organization’s “Project Watchdog,” a project designed to educate people about how democracy works, and served a year as president of the SPJ following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“I’ve always been protective of (the First Amendment),” Cross said. “My relationship with the First Amendment goes back more than 40 years.”

In 2010, Cross had one of his students write out an open records request during a Midway city council meeting and hand it to the mayor. According to Cross, the mayor denied it on the spot — with help from the Kentucky Press Association, Cross took it to Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, and he ruled that a city’s proposed budget becomes a public record when the mayor gives it to the council.

“If (students) see the open meetings or open records laws violated then they should question that,” Cross said. “If they believe a violation has occurred, they should take it to the attorney general and get a ruling.”

In 2011, the SPJ awarded Cross the Wells Memorial Key, the SPJ’s highest honor, for his service to the organization. Cross was also part of the group at the Courier-Journal who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for their coverage of a drunk driver’s collision with a school bus in Carroll County, Ky., that resulted in 27 deaths.

“I’ll take (the Madison Award) on the basis of longevity if nothing else,” said Cross, who quoted actor John Goodman by saying, “You hang around this business long enough, they start handing you stuff.”

Cross said the First Amendment guarantees every American the “right to commit journalism,” and while the Internet and social media allows anyone to be a publisher, those who commit journalism have a responsibility to be fair, truthful and accurate to their audience.

Jon Fleischaker, an attorney who Farrell said has been one of the most important media lawyers in the state of Kentucky for the past 40 years, will deliver the keynote address at the First Amendment Celebration.

“For decades, (Fleischaker) has been the leading First Amendment attorney in this state,” Cross said. “I’m just proud to be on the same program with him.”

The First Amendment Center will also announce the winners of its Constitution Day essay contest at the event. According to Farrell, there were 21 submissions.