A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Never waver in access fight

By Quill

Linda Lightfoot is a journalist’s journalist. And her activities, which began even before her 1991 appointment as executive editor of The (Baton Rouge) Advocate – from a 1980s 50-state survey on press access to university presidential searches to her current leadership role in Louisiana’s nascent Coalition for Open Government – make her well deserving of the title FOI hero. One recent battle involved obtaining access to Louisiana State University’s documents related to the hiring of a new athletic director. The Advocate sued, and the university eventually settled, having no choice but to comply with the state Supreme Court’s decision in an earlier Advocate case over the hiring of a new airport director. The court had held that applications for public employment are public records. Another recent battlefield developed during the months-long racketeering and fraud trials of four-time former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards and current Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown. The trials were access nightmares: anonymous jurors, gag orders, sealed records. Lightfoot’s lawyers were always among those first on the scene and those who stuck out the appeals. At one point, when the judge in the second trial ordered reporters out of the courthouse for voir dire, only Lightfoot sent a lawyer flying in to file access motions. Currently, Lightfoot has agreed to head up the Louisiana Coalition for Open Government. With an initial grant from Knight-Ridder administered by the National FOI Coalition, a group of two dozen leaders of citizen and press organizations met on Flag Day and began the plans for such services as a citizen’s hotline with lawyer referrals for those denied access. The group also planned an education program on state public access laws in cooperation with the office of the state attorney general. Lightfoot, who has six children with husband Ben, is active in various press organizations, has served as nominating juror for the Pulitzers, and last year was inducted into both the Ole Miss and LSU Manship School of Mass Communication’s Halls of Fame. A true FOI Hero, Lightfoot sums up her philosophy on public access: “The right of access to public documents, meetings and judicial proceedings is crucial not only to the news media, but to everyone who wants to monitor and improve … government. Concerned citizens care about their right of access. The media should never waiver in the fight to protect that right.” S.L. Alexander

SPJ Louisiana Sunshine Chair