Frank Gibson, longtime Tennessee journalist and open records advocate, will be among seven people inducted into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame tomorrow night.
Gibson, while working at The Tennessean in 2003, founded Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and became its first executive director. Gibson was a longtime reporter and political editor for the Nashville newspaper, working there 37 years.
With the encouragement of then-editor John Seigenthaler, Gibson became active in freedom of information activities with the Society of Professional Journalists, serving as the lead person for FOI issues in the state for several years.
In 2003, he worked with others to form Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, modeling it off of a coalition in Virginia that pulled together citizens, citizen groups and the news media to create a nonprofit that would provide continuing education and advocacy about open government.
Since its beginning, TCOG tracked legislation related to public records and open meetings, with Gibson often providing testimony to key legislative committees when a bill affecting public records or meetings was proposed.
Gibson also started the nonprofit organization’s help line, in which he answered questions from journalists and citizens who were having difficulty accessing public records or meetings. He held numerous training sessions across the state.
One of the biggest accomplishments of TCOG under Gibson’s leadership was advocacy that resulted in the first major update to the public records law in 2008. After a statewide audit coordinated by Gibson showed that citizens and journalists were denied access to public records one-third of the time, lawmakers changed the law to require any government entity denying records to cite the specific legal basis for the denial. The law also was changed to require prompt response to public records requests.
At the same time, lawmakers also formed the Office of Open Records Counsel to provide information to citizens and informally mediate when there were disputes. Also formed was the Advisory Committee on Open Government to advise the Open Records Counsel and provide reports and other information to the General Assembly as needed.
Gibson left TCOG to become public policy director for the Tennessee Press Association, but remained active with TCOG. He wrote Keys to Open Government, a guide to Tennessee’s public records and open meetings laws. He retired from TPA last year. He remains active on TCOG’s board of directors as a founding member.
The induction ceremony will take place at 4 p.m. Aug. 7 at Murfreesboro’s Embassy Suites hotel during the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference.