John Nelson, editor of the Advocate-Messenger in Danville, Ky., last night received the James Madison Award for service to the First Amendment, presented by the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center in School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky. (A-M photo by Clay Jackson)
Nelson, who also oversees editorial operations of other Schurz Communications newspapers in Kentucky, won the award because "He has fought for open government in a number of important ways," former Kentucky Post editor Judith Clabes, the award's first winner, said in presenting it to him. She cited the nomination from Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson, who wrote, “Few people in Kentucky are as adamant about open government. If more had the drive that John Nelson has exhibited during his journalism career, there would be a demand from every corner of the state that all public agencies operate in ‘sunshine’ and make the agency’s business truly the public’s business.”
As KPA president in 2004, Nelson led Kentucky's first statewide public-records audit and was instrumental in creating the KPA Legal Defense Fund and a lawsuit that KPA filed to open juvenile court proceedings. Federal courts rejected the suit's arguments, but the Court of Appeals "interpreted state law in a way it had never before been interpreted, giving judges an opening to allow the press into the courtroom at their own discretion," he said in his acceptance remarks. Nelson has also been president of the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.