SPJ Member of the Month: Kathryn Foxhall

Kathryn Foxhall

Kathryn Foxhall

A longtime battler for government transparency, Kathryn Foxhall, is SPJ’s Member of the Month. Congratulations Kathryn!

Kathryn has covered health in Washington for 40 years, including 14 years (1978-1992) as editor of the American Public Health Association’s newspaper. After years of getting a dynamic education by speaking frankly with sources on Capitol Hill and in federal agencies, she became alarmed when, 20 to 25 years ago, federal workers gradually came under rules prohibiting them from communicating with journalists without the oversight of public relations offices—in reality, censorship coming down from the people in power.

“As SPJ surveys would later show, these restrictions have become entrenched through much of the U.S. culture with government staff, teachers, scientists, police officers and many other employees under coercion either to never speak to the press, or to never speak without notifying the authorities,” she said.

Kathryn approached SPJ about it and the society responded although many in the press just said nothing can be done about it. Among other things, that led to a 2015 letter to President Obama from over 50 journalism and other groups. It then led to a meeting of an SPJ-led delegation at the White House with Obama’s Press Secretary, Josh Earnest.

The fight continues, with a recent SPJ-led letter to the Trump Administration from over 60 groups and a visit to Capitol Hill by Kathryn and SPJ president Lynn Walsh.

“One question I have for journalists is whether this is not corrupting us as much it is the leadership in government and elsewhere. We are watching intense suppression of information, but assuming we are not getting a very skewed picture. But gagged staff and closed doors will sooner or later mean bad situations and people being hurt,” Kathryn said.

SPJ President Lynn Walsh nominated her. Here is what Lynn says:

“Kathryn works tirelessly, contacting lawmakers, journalism advocates and the editorial board members for national news organizations, sharing SPJ’s push for journalists having more access to government employees. Kathryn, with the help of [former SPJ President] Carolyn Carlson, have brought the issue of government public information officers interfering with reporting to the forefront. She has been the driving force behind the momentum of support SPJ has been able to secure about this issue. I am grateful for her passion to push-back against this growing trend that is dangerous for the public and obtaining accurate information from the government.”

Do you know an outstanding SPJ volunteer? Nominate that person for Volunteer of the Month by contacting Susan S. Stevens, Membership Committee member, at susanstevens@aol.com. Please tell us briefly why you are nominating the person and why your nominee is worthy of recognition. Nominations are due the 5th of each month and announced by the 15th.

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