Renee Dudley Wins Pulliam First Amendment Award

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By: E&P Staff

Renee Dudley, a reporter for The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C., has won the 2010 Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award, presented by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, the educational branch of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Recognizing a person or organization that has fought to preserve one or more of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, the award and accompanying $10,000 prize are given in memory of Eugene S. Pulliam, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News from 1975 until his death in 1999 and a staunch supporter of First Amendment rights.

Dudley will be honored Oct. 5 at the SPJ Convention – National Journalism Conference in Las Vegas.

While reporting for The Island Packet, Hilton Head Island, S.C., in 2009, Dudley discovered a state law that restricted the press’ right to obtain raw data involving the publicly funded Beaufort County EMS system. She had begun reporting on the system in 2008, when the community started questioning paramedics’ treatment of head trauma patients.

Violating county EMS protocol that required such patients be transported to a suitably equipped hospital in nearby Savannah, Ga., paramedics routinely took them to the smaller Hilton Head Hospital. Dudley’s reports sought to evaluate whether the EMS system was stretched so thin that it compromised patient care.

Last summer, her request for ambulance response-time data was denied by county officials, who cited a 2004 state law prohibiting public access to all EMS records. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office affirmed the denial, which was followed by similar denials affecting other publications soon after.

Dudley contacted the veteran state senator who sponsored the original bill. Unaware of the law’s underlying provisions blocking First Amendment rights, he promised to sponsor a bill to repeal the law.

Her further reporting that showed South Carolina to be the only state among eight in the Southeast with such a law prompted more support for repeal, despite resistance among some county and EMS officials.

Exactly three months ago, the state legislature passed a bill that immediately opened most EMS records.

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