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Paul K. McMasters

Paul K. McMasters retired in 2007 as the Freedom Forum's First Amendment ombudsman.

In a long career in news and First Amendment advocacy, McMasters became one of the nation's leading authorities on First Amendment and freedom-of-information issues. He joined the Freedom Forum in 1992 after 33 years in daily journalism. Beginning in 1995, he served as First Amendment ombudsman, working to educate and inform about First Amendment issues that arise in Congress, the courts, the press and other areas of public life.

As an expert source on all aspects of First Amendment rights and values, in particular free speech, free press, censorship, journalism ethics and access to government information, McMasters was quoted extensively in the press and appeared frequently on NBC's “Today” show, PBS’s “NewsHour,” CNN’s “Larry King Live,” “Crossfire,” “Burden of Proof” and “Talk Back Live,” MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News Channel and Court TV.

He testified before a number of government commissions and congressional committees, including the House Judiciary Committee; the U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information; the Moynihan Commission on government secrecy; and the House Subcommittee on Government Management, Information, and Technology.

Active in a number of press groups, McMasters served as national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation's largest and most broad-based press organization, and as president of the SDX Foundation, the educational arm of SPJ. He was president of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government from 2002 to 2006. He also served four years as the National Freedom of Information Chair for SPJ.

In addition to the boards of the SDX Foundation and VCOG, he served on the Media Institute First Amendment Advisory Council, the John E. Moss Foundation board of directors, the board of editors for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the editorial board of the Newspaper Research Journal and the Freedom of Information committees of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Society of Professional Journalists.

McMasters began his journalism career at the Springfield, Mo., newspapers in 1960, working his way up to editor of the morning paper over the next 19 years. In 1979, he was named managing editor of The Coffeyville (Kan.) Journal. He went to USA TODAY in 1982 as the national daily was starting up and was serving as associate editor of the editorial page there when he moved to the Freedom Forum in 1992 as executive director of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.

Among his many awards: The John Peter and Anna Catherine Zenger First Amendment Award, presented by the University of Arizona for lifetime achievement in First Amendment and freedom-of-information work, and the Wells Key, the Society of Professional Journalists' highest honor. He is a charter member of the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame.

Among McMasters' numerous publications, he wrote a column for the First Amendment Center Online and many articles published in newspapers, magazines, journals and books, including a chapter titled “A First Amendment Perspective on Public Journalism” in Mixed News: The Public/Civic/Communitarian Journalism Debate (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, publisher). His essay, “Free Speech versus Civil Discourse: Where Do We Go From Here?” was selected for inclusion in the college reader, Ten Things Every American Government Student Should Read (Allyn and Bacon).

Charter member of the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame.

  • Paul McMasters' Inside the First Amendment commentaries will remain on the First Amendment Center Online. Browse all Paul K. McMasters commentaries

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