Longtime journalist and educator Mike Donoghue of South Burlington has been selected to receive the Matthew Lyon Award for his lifetime commitment to the First Amendment and the public’s right to know the truth in Vermont.
The Vermont Press Association, which represents the interests of 11 daily and about four dozen non-daily newspapers circulating in Vermont, will honor Donoghue at its annual meeting and awards banquet at noon Thursday, July 16, 2015 at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier.
Donoghue, an award-winning veteran news and sports writer for the Burlington Free Press, is being recognized for efforts in his spare time working as an adjunct professor of journalism at St. Michael’s College, as a longtime officer with the Vermont Press Association and his volunteer efforts with various groups including New England First Amendment Coalition (NEFAC), New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA) and the Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ).
VPA President John Flowers said Donoghue has been on the front lines in seeking greater public accountability through a range of efforts, including that government officials and courts ensure records are easily available to the public and that government meetings and court hearings are open to the public.
“Mike’s efforts in accountability journalism at the Burlington Free Press are well documented over several decades. But the Lyon award is focusing on his efforts in educating students, the public, government officials, and journalists — both for print and electronic media outlets. Mike is called upon frequently to speak in classrooms, in the community and at professional conferences from Vermont to Ireland.”
His work has helped improve both the open meeting law and public records law in Vermont, Flowers said. He noted it was while serving as VPA President in the mid-1980s that Donoghue helped lead the media efforts in successfully obtaining approval for cameras in Vermont courts.
St. Michael’s College recruited Donoghue in 1985 to teach as an adjunct professor in the journalism department, where he stills helps. He also served as an officer for the Vermont Press Association for 35 years until he resigned as its executive director earlier this year. Donoghue was instrumental in getting the VPA headquarters anchored at SMC.
Donoghue serves on the executive board of NEFAC, a six-state effort promoting the First Amendment. He was on the New England Press Association Board of Directors and various committees 1995-2001. The Society of Professional Journalists appointed Donoghue in 1990 to serve as the Vermont chair for Project Sunshine, a nationwide First Amendment effort – a volunteer hat he still wears.
The VPA solicits nominations from Vermonters each year for the Lyon award, which honors people who have an unwavering devotion to the five freedoms within the First Amendment and to the principle that the public’s right to know the truth is essential in a self-governed democracy, Flowers said.
Donoghue has been named to five halls of fame. They include induction as one of 35 charter members selected by the New England Press Association for its Community Journalism Hall of Fame in 2000. Three years later he was named one of 3 charter members selected nationwide by the Society of Professional Journalists and The National Freedom of Information Coalition for their National Hall of Fame for Local Heroes.
Other honors include the Yankee Quill Award in 2007 for a lifetime commitment to outstanding journalism in New England and beyond; selected the New England Journalist of the Year for print or electronic media in 2013; and voted by Gannett employees nationwide to receive “Greater Good Award” from the company in 2013.
The Lyon Award is named for a former Vermont congressman who was jailed in 1798 under the Alien and Sedition Act for sending a letter to the editor, criticizing President John Adams. While Lyon was serving his federal sentence in a Vergennes jail, Vermonters re-elected him to the U.S. House of Representatives. Lyon is credited with ousting Adams when he cast the deciding vote in favor of Thomas Jefferson when the 1800 presidential race went to Congress for a final determination.
Previous Matthew Lyon winners include Patrick J. Leahy for his work as a state prosecutor and U.S. senator; Edward J. Cashman for his efforts as Chittenden Superior Court clerk, a state prosecutor and state judge; Robert Hemley, for his many successful fights as a lawyer to keep courtrooms open and court files available to the public; Gregory Sanford, state archivist, for his work in maintaining, restoring and saving government records for public access; H. Allen Gilbert, executive director of ACLU in Vermont for fighting for greater public access to government records and for public disclosure about police misconduct; and Ken Squier and WDEV-radio for efforts to inform Vermonters about state and local issues.