Fighting the good fight for public information

Columnist of the day David Collins in a still from a 2021 video column advocating for the US Coast Guard Museum to be located next to Fort Trumbull State Park in New London. (Peter Huoppi/Le jour) Buy reprints

The Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information presented The Day columnist David Collins with the Stephen A. Collins Memorial Award for Freedom of Information on Tuesday at its annual luncheon in Hartford.

Our Collins picks up two awards in one month. His first new shiny plaque states that he has been recognized, “For his pursuit of open and accountable government in the highest tradition of a free and vigorous press.”

Collins will receive a second award ― this one from the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government ― at a ceremony in November. He was selected for both awards independently of each other by two groups who share a noble mission.

We totally agree with the CCFOI and CFOG that he stands out as an open disc champion.

back to other Collins for a moment. Stephen A. Collins was editor of the Danbury News-Times and was instrumental in the state’s passage of the Freedom of Information Act of 1975. The body of laws guarantees public access to government records and meetings. FOIA is the holy grail for journalists when it comes to reporting on city and state agencies. The federal government has its own FOIA, enacted in 1967.

David Collins of The Day has often used FOIA to find out when the government is not working properly on We the People’s behalf. His columns on topics such as the State Pier project, the development of the Mystic Oral School and – my personal favorite – coastal access are regularly among the most read stories we publish. And his stories have an impact. At the award presentation on Tuesday, CCFOI Vice President Tom Scheffey said Collins’s chronicles “triggered two FBI investigations and a few ongoing grand jury investigations.”

Scheffey said Collins was one of the top performers in FOI stories over the past two years. When denied public information, journalists file complaints with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission and, if they cannot be resolved, litigate them before a panel of commissioners.

FOI staff are generous in sharing their knowledge of the law and guiding participants through the complaint and hearing processes, but for the lone journalist confronting government officials and their lawyers, it can feel like to a “David versus Goliath” configuration.

Our David is not intimidated.

“He took on battalions of expert lawyers and bravely spread the word – a journalist who fought the good fight,” Scheffey said Tuesday.

You know Collins’ sometimes scathing but always eloquent criticism of government missteps if you read The Day. For more than 35 years he has practiced his calling ― as a journalist, editor and now columnist ― at our mighty little independent news agency in New London. He occasionally writes a kinder, gentler column, and in person he’s genuinely kind, funny, and rarely cantankerous. He is an invaluable member of our staff.

In the newsroom, Collins’ voice carries as he rips information from reluctant sources. We love to hear his phone conversations and are inspired by his passion for exposing corruption and cover-ups.

Collins writes opinion pieces, even though he works in the newsroom, not the editorial department. It’s a distinction we think some readers don’t understand. He can tell readers what he thinks, while journalists must present the news objectively.

Join me in celebrating Collins, whose “good fights” help make our region a better place.

That’s according to editor Karen Florin. Contact her at [email protected] or (860) 701-4217

About John A. Provost

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