A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Challenging the government

By Quill

John Troutt Jr. preferred the title editor over any others he could have given himself, and he took seriously his role as an advocate of open government. Troutt, 71, retired as editor (and publisher) of The Jonesboro Sun in September 2000, when the sale of the family-owned 30,000-circulation daily to Paxton Media Group was finalized. “The public’s business should be done in public,” was Troutt’s often-repeated philosophy. As for his title, he had this to say in 1999 about being called editor: “That’s what I do,” he said. “We are in the news business. We put out newspapers. Publishers are bean counters.” Troutt wasn’t sure how many lawsuits he filed, citing merely “more than half a dozen,” but research shows at least a couple of them made it to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Troutt took on the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools in the late 1970s in a landmark Arkansas FOIA suit, challenging a reporter’s exclusion from a meeting between the Jonesboro School Board and members of the association’s state committee. The state committee, following an investigation, met with the school board regarding the possible loss of accreditation of Jonesboro High School. Reporter Mike Overall was excluded from the meeting. The association argued before the state Supreme Court that the Freedom of Information Act did not apply because the association is a private, nonprofit corporation. But the court ruled the FOIA did apply, and said if the General Assembly had intended otherwise, “it could easily have made an exception.” That decision, Troutt said, “was one of the most important ones we got.” The ruling stated in very simple terms that the FOIA applied “as long as they spend public funds.” Troutt also prevailed at the state Supreme Court in a lawsuit the newspaper filed against then-Chief Deputy Sheriff T.R. “Dickie” Howell, who denied a reporter access to jail logs at the juvenile detention center in December 1991. Howell claimed federal law applied because federal money was used to help build the detention facility. In its ruling ordering the release of the jail logs, the state Supreme Court said “a federal law, which does not prohibit disclosure, but only provides for the loss of funds if the information is disclosed, does not supersede the (state) FOIA.” Troutt noted the Arkansas General Assembly provided an FOIA exemption for records of the detention of juveniles “after we won.” Larry Fugate

Managing Editor, The Jonesboro Sun

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