Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame


Openness as a Civic Virtue
Transparency as an Outcome


I’m honored to be inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, though I’m not sure I deserve it.

I certainly don’t deserve this honor alone. Without the civic examples of my father and my brother—whose tireless work on behalf of others is legendary - I could not stand here today.

I have been upheld by the love of my family, the support of special friends, and the dedication of countless employees at the Messenger-Inquirer.


Those who know me see the irony in this honor. Journalism is about public communication. And I have not always been the best communicator. I can’t even get my brain to communicate with my backswing on the golf course.

However, I have thought a great deal about public communication. What I have concluded isn’t complicated.

We can’t have a democracy unless citizens have the information to make sound judgments. When public institutions involve the public in making decisions, democracy flourishes. Everyone wins.


In 1984 the Messenger-Inquirer adopted two core values upon which all our opinions would be based.

The two core values – justice and openness – have also been adopted by the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro, which I chair.


The value of openness—of information—for civil society was noted more than 200 years ago. Thomas Jefferson said:

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

From my perspective, we must do better at recapturing Jefferson’s call for public enlightenment. In this information age, people have access to more information than ever before. We may sometimes feel we will drown in this sea of facts.

But facts alone are not what Jefferson is demanding. He wants education in the civic affairs of government.

We need more information from public institutions, delivered willingly by those who control it before important decisions are made.


The powerful rarely communicate in the Jeffersonian sense. Controlling information is easier for them. As a result, the citizen’s role diminishes. Ultimately, citizens are alienated from the centers of power.

But people do care deeply about their futures; they do care about their communities. They do want to participate in public affairs.

That is why we need to foster openness as a civic virtue.


We used to think of openness as a critical requirement only for government institutions like city hall and the county courthouse.

Today, large corporations share in the obligation to be transparent in their actions.

The collapse of Enron is a chilling testament to the cost of a closed corporation. George Will, the conservative columnist, believes transparency is “crucial to civic health.” As stockholders or as citizens, people must be given “a torrent … of reliable information about the condition and conduct of corporations,” says Will. That information opens up the system, allowing people to participate in critical decisions affecting their economic and political lives.


Openness is a civic virtue we must demand from every powerful institution in our society.

In that spirit, I am announcing today an annual award to an individual or an organization that exemplifies the spirit of openness and transparency in public life.

It will be called the Lawrence Hager, Sr. Sunshine Award in honor of my father, another member of this Hall of Fame. His lifelong commitment to journalism in the public interest continues to inspire me.


I am deeply grateful for this honor. I am even more grateful for the wonderful experiences working with others to strengthen public life in our state and my community.

Thank you.