PROGRAMS

2021 CFOG Essay Contest News Release

East Lyme, West Haven and Greenwich win top prizes;
honorable mentions also to Hall, St. Joseph and Ridgefield

Nicole Burgon, a senior at East Lyme High School, has won the first prize of $1,000 in the 2021 Connecticut Foundation for Open Government’s Forrest Palmer High School Essay Contest.

She addressed whether the owners of social media platforms should be legally responsible for libelous postings by users. Under present law, only the user is legally responsible for a libelous post.

“We are now faced with redefining what the press is — have social media platforms become the press? To me,” she wrote, “the answer is clear: Yes. With many Americans relying on social media for the latest updates, and with politicians reaching their constituents through posts, social media is no longer just a place to post pictures from vacations. Social media is part of the new press.”

The contest is named in honor of the late Forrest Palmer, who began the contest in 2000 when he was president of CFOG’s board of directors. CFOG is a nonprofit educational organization founded on the principle that open, transparent government is in the public interest. CFOG sponsors the essay contest to encourage thought and debate among students on public and freedom of information issues.

A second prize of $500 was won by Nabiha Khan, a junior at West Haven High School. She also wrote about the responsibilities of the owners of social media platforms.

“In conclusion,” she wrote, “free speech proves vital for a healthy democracy; however, speech that may cause more harm than good damages democracy by posing a threat to people’s lives. Given the Capitol insurrection and the violence against Asian Americans, Congress should strengthen libel laws against social media platforms in order to prevent such violence. Social media owners make tremendous profits and, therefore, must take more responsibility in preventing libelous online speech.”

A third prize of $300 was won by Caroline Yu, a junior at Greenwich High School. She wrote about the right of Americans to secretly record police officers discharging their official duties in public places.

“In this digital world, footage ricocheting over the national grid is invaluable in policy change,” she wrote. “Since it cannot falsify, it is the most compelling evidence within justice systems infamous for the influence of power and prestige prevailing over the truth. Ultimately, secret recordings are constitutionally legitimate agents of communication.”

Honorable mention awards of $50 went to James Davis of Hall High School in West Hartford, Mallory Doyle of St. Joseph High in Trumbull, Aditi Gupta of Ridgefield High, and Graham Miller, Alexa Nakanishi and Rohan Subramaniam of Greenwich High.

Students were asked to write essays on one of three topics:

  1. A Pennsylvania high school cheerleader was angry when she failed to make the varsity squad and posted a profane message about school on Snapchat while off campus. Administrators suspended her from cheerleading for a year. A lawsuit she filed is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Does the First Amendment protect public school students for speech outside school grounds?
  1. Should the owners of social media platforms be legally responsible for libelous postings by users? Under present law, only the user is legally responsible for a libelous post.
  1. Do Americans have the right to secretly record police officers discharging their official duties in public places?

Judges for the contest were Janet Manko, Martin Margulies, Eileen FitzGerald, Lyn Hottes and Mary Connolly.

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“The Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of 2020”

If you were unable to attend, you can view the event here:

For the fifth year, the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government convened a panel of top Connecticut journalists discussing how they landed the major news stories of 2020.

The event, “The Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of 2020,” was held on Webex on Thursday, Feb. 11 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

“It’s always fascinating to hear how skilled reporters and editors overcome the normal challenges they face in getting us the news – difficulties ranging from bad weather to deadlines to angry folks who don’t want to talk to them to documents they must go to court to access,’’ William S. Fish, Jr., president of CFOG, said. “But this year, the pandemic has added a barrier that has put their health at risk and made every assignment logistically more difficult.”

It was moderated by Leslie Mayes, a reporter for NBC Connecticut and host of “Connecticut In Color,’’ a program that engages Connecticut residents in conversations about race, ethnicity and gender.

The panel featured Capitol Bureau Chief Mark Pazniokas and Education and Housing Reporter Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, both of the Connecticut Mirror; Editor-in-Chief Christine Stuart from CTNewsJunkie.com; Reporter Brian Didlake II of Fox61 News; Hartford Courant Director of Content Rick Green and Political Reporter Daniela Altimari; Keila Torres Ocasio, the investigations editor for Hearst Connecticut Media, and Staff Photographer Sarah Gordon from The Day.

Mayes and the panelists discussed major stories from Connecticut including: COVID-19’s impact on schools, high school sports, the economy, unemployment, businesses and higher education as well as the lives lost to the coronavirus. Also how the panelists reported, photographed, and wrote about ten years of gun deaths in Connecticut; Black Lives Matter and racial and social justice; housing, poverty and exclusionary zoning; the 2020 election; state politics and Gov. Ned Lamont.

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Video Flashback:  

The Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of 2018

The Stories behind the Best Stories of 2017

The Stories Behind the Biggest Stories of 2016 

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First Amendment Project

Educators looking for imaginative approaches to enhance their mandated civics requirements might consider a program launched last year by the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (CFOG).

Under the free CFOG First Amendment Project, teams of lawyers and journalists visit participating high school classes to discuss the history and practical applications of First Amendment, Freedom of Information and Open Government policies.

These lively, knowledgeable and interactive sessions drew very positive results and CFOG plans to expand the program to even more high schools during the current academic year. Among the high schools participating in the inaugural year of the program were East Lyme High School and Lyman Hall in Wallingford. To increase awareness of the long-hallowed rights, presenters will not only examine the history of Free Speech in America but examine ways that citizens – including students – can utilize laws and regulations to protect their speech and get access to information being closely held by the government.

Since participation will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, contact Mitchell Pearlman at CFOG.

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The First Amendment Works for You

Unlike any other revolutionaries in history, America’s Founding Fathers didn’t keep the power to themselves; they enshrined our Liberties in the Bill of Rights. On Tuesday, January 23, 2018 veteran journalist Denis Horgan and lawyer Dan Klau from the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government conducted a discussion about how the First Amendment protects we the people from losing the right to speak out, to have a voice, and to know what the government is doing.

This liberty is always under attack at so many levels, possibly never more so than today.  Where did this precious right come from? How can you make it work? How can you defend it? The program’s two speakers are stalwart defenders of the First Amendment and led a wide-ranging and helpful discussion of the core values that distinguishes this nation from all others.

The free program at Connecticut’s Old State House was part of the “Conversations at Connecticut’s Old State House” series.