James Madison Award goes to Paul McMasters

Friday, March 16, 2007

WASHINGTON — Paul K. McMasters, a long-time advocate for the First Amendment and freedom of information, today took home an award named for the author of the First Amendment.

The American Library Association’s James Madison Award is an honor granted to those who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know.

The award was presented today to McMasters by ALA President Leslie Burger during the annual National Freedom of Information Day Conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., capping off Sunshine Week.

“Since 1989, when Senator Patrick Leahy received the first James Madison Award, I have watched with pride as the American Library Association has used its immense credibility and prestige to underscore the importance of FOI by recognizing its foremost champions on the national scene,” McMasters said this week on learning of the award. “Never did I think that someday I might join that parade of luminaries. Obviously, I am both stunned and grateful.”

McMasters, who retired on Jan. 31 as First Amendment Center ombudsman, established the FOI Day Conference in 1997 and has organized the annual event, held on the anniversary of Madison’s birth, ever since.

McMasters’ work with FOI began in earnest in 1991 while he was associate editor of the editorial page of USA TODAY. John Seigenthaler, the newspaper’s founding editorial director, asked McMasters to research FOI issues. (Seigenthaler founded the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., in late 1991.)

Seigenthaler recently told Quill Online, the Society of Professional Journalists’ magazine, that McMasters became “one of the three or four people in the country who really understood, and understands, what the issue of freedom of information is all about, why we need a Freedom of Information Act, why open government is important if a democracy is to be viable … . He turned the issue inside out, upside down.”

Seigenthaler later told the First Amendment Center Online: “If James Madison had sired children, the DNA would have tracked directly to Paul McMasters. He is a true heir to the Madison First Amendment legacy and a perfect recipient of this award.”

After a 33-year career in daily journalism, McMasters joined the Freedom Forum in 1992, becoming the First Amendment Center’s first executive director. In 1995, McMasters was named the organization’s First Amendment ombudsman.

McMasters has been a member of many press groups and has served as president of the national Society of Professional Journalists, the SDX Foundation, and most recently the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. He has served as SPJ’s national Freedom of Information chairman and on the American Society of Newspaper Editors FOI committee.

In addition to his many awards, McMasters is a charter member of the National Freedom of Information Hall of Fame.

The ALA’s award was established in 1986 and is awarded annually on March 16.