The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and the State Bar teamed up to present the 2009 Texas Gavel Awards to nine Texas journalists on Friday during the FOIFT John Henry Faulk awards luncheon in Austin. The journalists were awarded for their efforts in helping to further the public’s understanding of the legal system.

In addition, FOIFT honored Texas Sen. Rodney Ellis (D – Houston) and Texas Rep. Todd Hunter (R – Corpus Christi) for their work in getting a journalist shield law — the Free Flow of Information Act — passed in the last legislative session. Hunter and Ellis, shown with attorney and FOIFT member Paul Watler, were presented the James Madison Award, the FOIFT’s highest award.

FOIFT and SBOT presented 2009 Texas Gavel Awards to the following journalists:

• Chris Vogel, Houston Press, "Crime Doesn’t Pay (Back)"

• Dawn Tongish and Barry Blonstein, KDAF-TV Dallas, "DNA, Set Me Free"

• Brian New (third from left), Michael Humphries, and Larry Burns, KENS-TV San Antonio, "Stranded at the Pump"

• Elliott Blackburn (second from left), Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, "Hope Deferred," and 

• Steve McGonigle and Jennifer Emily, The Dallas Morning News, "Mistaken Identities."

Ellis, the luncheon’s keynote speaker, praised the media for acting as a government watchdog. The Texas senator talked about the importance of newspapers, especially in these tough economic times ("I get them on Kindle, but I like to have something in my hands too.") and encouraged veteran journalists to mentor aspiring reporters.