IowaWatch honored an outstanding journalist and long-time advocate for newspapers during its seventh annual banquet Thursday night, Sept. 26, at the Des Moines Marriot Downtown.

Carol Hunter was given the Stephen Berry Free Press Champion Award for a working journalist, journalism group or journalism educator in Iowa. Margaret Johnson was given the Randy Brubaker Free Press Champion Award for an Iowan who has done significant open records work over several years in a role other than journalism.

Hunter has been at the Des Moines Register for nearly 15 years, serving as political editor, news director and now as the executive editor of the state’s largest newspaper. Her nomination noted her commitment and leadership to Freedom of Information requests amid challenging economic times have led to stories over Medicaid mismanagement to campaign finance coverage and more.

Johnson is the executive director of the Iowa Public Information Board, an independent agency governed by a nine-member board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa Senate. Johnson served as deputy director under the board’s first director, as interim director and then as executive director in July 2017. “A lawyer who came to her profession by way of journalism, Margaret has worked hard to ensure transparency in government,” said her nomination.

Mark Witherspoon, the editorial adviser of the Iowa State Daily, was given a special Stephen Berry Award for his work in journalism education since 1999 at Iowa State. He has served as the chairperson for the IowaWatch award committee for the past six years.

The Iowa Freedom of Information Council also presented at the banquet several annual Harrison “Skip” Weber Friend of the First Amendment Awards at the banquet. Recipients include: long-time Telegraph Herald editor Brian Cooper, Maquoketa Sentinel-Press editor/publisher Trevis Mayfield and Gina Colbert, a resident of Columbus, Ga., who has become an advocate for public accountability following the shooting death of her daughter in 2015 by a Burlington police officer

The banquet’s guest speaker was Jenna Johnson, a national political correspondent for the Washington Post.

The Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan, investigative news service that does investigative and community affairs journalism in collaboration with other media and trains college student journalists to do this kind of reporting at a high level. The center was incorporated as a non-profit in February 2010.

Washington Post political reporter Jenna Johnson, speaking at the 2019 Celebrating a Free Press and Open Govermoment banquet on Sept. 26, 2019. Credit: Lyle Muller/IowaWatch

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