The Lantern received a national award Saturday from the Student Press Law Center in recognition of its work in pursuing public records.
The SPLC’s 2018 Reveille Seven College Press Freedom Award — jointly sponsored with the Associated College Press and Louisiana State’s Manship School of Communication — was awarded to The Lantern for pursuing public records that revealed a controversy involving university football coaching staff, taking Ohio State to court over the redaction of public records and accessing legal fee data through the state after a delay in records from the university, according to the SPLC press release.
“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,” Hadar Harris, SPLC executive director, said in the release. “Not only was important news covered, but the actions taken by the student journalists paved the way for greater transparency, responsiveness and accountability.”
Lantern Editor-in-Chief Kaylee Harter, a fourth-year in journalism and geography, said the recognition is motivating in the pursuit of records.
“It’s a great honor for The Lantern to receive this award,” Harter said in the release. “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.”
Former Lantern Editor-in-Chief Edward Sutelan requested police reports involving Ohio State athletes Sept. 26, 2018, and filed a lawsuit Feb. 27 in the Ohio Court of Claims upon the receipt of improperly redacted university police reports. One of which was later shown to be about former Ohio State football player Brian Snead, received Feb. 4. Although the university provided the unredacted records May 14 and moved to dismiss the case, the court ruled that Ohio State was wrong in its redaction of initial police reports, according to previous Lantern reporting.
Snead did not face criminal charges, but was found to be in violation of the Code of Student Conduct and dismissed from the university Nov. 27.
Sutelan said one of the goals in pursuing the lawsuit was to assist future editors and reporters in their reporting at The Lantern.
“I decided to continue to push forward in it because knowing that Ohio State can’t do this, knowing that they would just continue to redact names and future Lantern editors and reporters would just have to go through the process again,” Sutelan said. “I felt like continuing to push forward in this case would possibly set that precedent through the courts would be able to help out future editors and reporters continue to pursue the truth and continue to push Ohio State and learn about these kinds of instances and be able to report them accurately.”
Nicole Kraft, associate professor of communication, said she helps advise The Lantern when needed, and in terms of pursuing this case, they had reached a point with the university where they “were not getting anywhere” in receiving the records requested.
“The more [Sutelan] and I talked about it, the more I think we both came to the conclusion that this was something that was clearly a violation of open record laws in the state of Ohio,” Kraft said. “And if we were going to take the time, the court’s time, to look at an issue that we felt was kind of recurrent with the university. We thought this would be a good case to do that.”
Kraft also said the leadership of Spencer Hunt, director of student media for The Lantern, helped these stories and the award come to fruition.
In 2018, as reports broke that accused Urban Meyer knew of domestic abuse allegations involving assistant coach Zach Smith, The Lantern requested email messages, texts and phone calls around the incident between Meyer, athletic director Gene Smith and Smith. According to the release, a special investigative committee into Meyer’s knowledge cited The Lantern’s request as evidence.
Meyer retired after the Rose Bowl game Jan. 1, following a three-game suspension.
For a story published in April regarding Ohio State’s spending on outside counsel, The Lantern was delayed records regarding legal fees. Once the reporter for The Lantern obtained these records within the State Controlling Board, Ohio State officials supplied data that showed the university had actually paid less than what the state board had approved.
The Manship School funds the $2,000 award in memory of “The Reveille Seven,” a group of Louisiana State editors who were expelled in 1934 for publishing criticism of Louisiana Gov. Huey Long, according to the release. They were later cleared of wrongdoing.
Kraft, who also nominated The Lantern for the award, said that after years of effort, this was the year The Lantern deserved this award because of the culmination of events.
“I think it’s really important, especially today, when journalism has come under attack from a variety of fronts that often surprise us, that the Ohio State community I hope realizes what an extraordinary resource that has in The Lantern,” Kraft said. “The fact that it has such a dedicated group of journalists and a dedicated group of faculty and staff who are devoted to making sure that The Lantern continue its tradition of excellence is really one of the greatest gifts that we have at Ohio State.”