Originally published Sept. 13, 2014
Veteran journalist Donnis Baggett, former publisher and editor of The Eagle, was honored Friday by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas for his work in fighting for open government and the First Amendment.
Baggett, who is executive vice president of the Texas Press Association, leads the group’s governmental affairs program, which focuses on protecting open records, open meetings and public notice at all levels of government.
“When you wrap yourself in the First Amendment for four decades, it’s always front of mind, and it’s easy to assume that it’s front of mind for everybody else, but it isn’t. I’m still surprised that we have to constantly explain how important it is — especially to some of those in the pink building who are too willing to shrug it off in the name of efficiency or privacy or security,” Baggett told foundation members, referring to state legislators.
Texans are fortunate to have Baggett fighting for the public’s right to know what its government is up to, said Paul Watler as he handed over the coveted James Madison Award to Baggett. Watler, a partner at Dallas-based Jackson Walker and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation, introduced Baggett at a luncheon during the group’s one-day annual conference at the Hilton in Austin.
Baggett’s transition to the Texas Press Association from newspapers in 2012 was a natural fit. The Livingston native, who graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University, started in the industry as a reporter, working his way up through the ranks at various newspapers and eventually becoming the state editor at the Dallas Morning News.
After Belo Corp., which owns the Dallas paper, purchased The Eagle in late 1995, Baggett was asked to take over as publisher and editor. He served on various boards during the 15-plus years he was in the community, while also carving out time to lead the Texas Daily Newspaper Association as a board member, then president. He was publisher of the Waco Tribune for two years before taking the job with the state press organization.
In his acceptance speech, Baggett deferred praise to journalists around the state, illustrating his belief through a story about a weekly newspaper owner who also publishes and writes all the news at the Fritch Eagle Press. With the help of the Texas Public Information Act, Tara Huff uncovered wrongdoing in her city and a criminal inquiry is underway, Baggett said.
“The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas has been a powerful voice for the First Amendment and government transparency for decades, and I am humbled to receive this award,” he said after the ceremony. “It’s a privilege to be involved in the battle for our constitutional rights and for open government. It’s a fight we simply must win, or government by the people will no longer exist.”
Diana Fuentes, editor of community publications for the San Antonio Express-News and president of the nonprofit Freedom of Information Foundation, said she’s worked with Baggett for years and admires his drive.
“His commitment to open government is well-known throughout the state,” she said. “Texas is blessed to have someone of his dedication and passion fighting for the people’s right to know.
To see the speech Donnis Baggett gave at the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, go to theeagle.com.