Nancy West, the founder and Executive Editor of InDepthNH.org, will be the recipient of the Michael Donoghue Freedom of Information Award given by the New England First Amendment Coalition (NEFAC) on June 1 in Boston.
The award is given each year to a journalist or team of journalists for a body of work that protects or advances the public’s right to know. The FOI Award is named for Michael Donoghue, who worked for more than 40 years at the Burlington Free Press and previously served on NEFAC’s board of directors. He has been an adjunct professor of journalism and mass communications at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., since 1985.
Previous year’s recipients of the award include the Worcester Telegram & Gazette last year for its efforts that involved a multi-year legal battle against the Worcester Police Department for access to internal affairs reports; the Bangor Daily News in 2021 for its investigation into the misconduct of police and corrections officers in Maine that led to at least three legislative proposals to institute more oversight over law enforcement in the state; and in 2020, Hearst Connecticut Media Group, which spent six months digging through 1,600 pages of public documents and filing more than 100 public record requests to investigate abuse allegations connected to the Boys & Girls Clubs.
West’s award is for continuing to persevere in journalism at a time when financial insecurity is threatening local newsrooms across the country. She is simultaneously serving as an investigative reporter and lead fundraiser for InDepthNH.org, which has grown to more than 2 million pageviews a year. West’s reporting last year included stories on the death of a mentally-ill inmate and the need for transparency within his prison, the lack of response by public officials to two tragedies involving homeless women, and this year to the secrecy surrounding a car crash involving a Portsmouth Police Department employee.
The founder of the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, the nonprofit corporation that operates InDepthNH.org, West spent 30 years as a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader, eschewed retirement and began the nonprofit online news organization eight years ago. The center’s mission is to help keep those in power accountable and to give voice to marginalized communities.
As Bob Charest, chairman of the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism board of directors, explains: “West’s supposed retirement consists of juggling many important stories at a time, fundraising for a fledgling independent nonprofit news site, and chasing people who sometimes don’t want to talk to her. There’s a good chance that a lifetime of investigative reporting work by West has not made her the most popular person in the room, but it has resulted in change and many marginalized people receiving fair treatment and favorable outcomes.”
The New England First Amendment Coalition will present the award during the 13th annual New England First Amendment Awards ceremony on June 1. The invitation-only event will be held at Tuscan Kitchen Seaport in Boston.
Also being honored will be former Boston Globe Editor Brian McGrory, current chair of the Boston University journalism department, who will receive the 2023 Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award.
Portland, Maine, resident Susan Hawes will receive the Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award for her successful public records battle against Cumberland County in Maine.The award is given to an individual who has fought for information crucial to the public’s understanding of its community or its government.
Hawes engaged in a protracted battle for information about the Cumberland County Jail and its employment practices. When she learned of a car accident in 2019 involving a county jail employee who fell asleep at the wheel after working two consecutive 16-hour shifts, Hawes began filing Freedom of Access Act requests with the county to obtain overtime records for its corrections officers. Hawes, whose husband also worked at jail, knew first-hand the unreasonable demands placed upon the officers and became determined to hold the commissioners accountable.