MAPLight.org Receives James Madison Freedom of Information Award from Society of Professional Journalists - NorCal Chapter

March 2, 2009

You're invited!

The awards banquet will be held on March 18, 2009, at the New Delhi Restaurant, 160 Ellis Street in San Francisco, CA. Reserve your ticket now! (See below for more details.)

SOCIETY OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS-NORTHERN CALIFORNIA CHAPTER ANNOUNCES FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AWARD WINNERS

On March 18, the Society of Professional Journalists Northern California chapter will honor champions of the First Amendment at the 24th Annual James Madison Freedom of Information Awards.

Investigative journalist Robert Porterfield, a longtime industry leader in the use of public records in investigative reporting as well as an educator of journalists from around the world about public records access, has been chosen to receive the Norwin S. Yoffie Award for Career Achievement. Reporters Marjie Lundstrom of The Sacramento Bee and Hilary Costa and John Simerman of the Bay Area News Group, who were among the first journalists in California to obtain child welfare records under the new Senate Bill 39, showing how the system failed in their communities, are the winners in the Professional Journalist category. And young journalists at high schools in Redding, Eureka and Belmont, who fought off threats to their publications, have won in the Student category.

Prof. Alan Gibson of California State University, Chico, a scholar regarding the founding of the American republic focusing on James Madison, will be honored with the Educator of the Year Award, named for the late Beverly Kees.

Kathi Austin of San Francisco, an expert on international arms trafficking, peace and security, and human rights, will receive the Activist award.

Other honorees include Bert Robinson of the San Jose Mercury News for his ongoing volunteer efforts for a Sunshine Ordinance in San Jose; Attorney James Ewert of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, who championed the state Sunshine Amendment and, recently, the protection of teachers' rights; Autumn Cruz and Mitchell Brooks of The Sacramento Bee, for the compelling interactive media they created for the child abuse stories; and MAPlight.org, the Berkeley-based non-partisan, non-profit organization devoted to illuminating the connection between money and politics.

The James Madison Freedom of Information Awards is named for the creative force behind the First Amendment and honors local journalists, organizations, public officials and private citizens who have fought for public access to government meetings and records and promoted the public’s right to know. Award winners are selected by the Freedom of Information Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter.

The following is a complete list of award recipients:

NORWIN S. YOFFIE CAREER ACHIEVEMENT AWARD Robert Porterfield, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist with The Associated Press in San Francisco, Newsday, The Boston Globe and Anchorage Daily News, among others, has been an industry leader in the use of public records in investigative reporting for more than 30 years. Porterfield has schooled scores of his colleagues in how to obtain and use public records in their reporting and how to make the records obtained available to the public. As a journalism educator, he has taught at the graduate schools of journalism at Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley. He is a founding director of the World Free Press Institute, a non-profit foundation that conducts journalism training in emerging democracies. In that role and similar ones, he has trained journalists from more than a dozen countries in investigative reporting, including on how to obtain U.S. governmental records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

BEVERLY KEES EDUCATOR AWARD Alan Gibson, Ph.D., professor of political science at California State University, Chico, an author of books about the founding of the American republic, has advanced our understanding about James Madison and he also is involved in free-speech issues on campus. Gibson says Madison argued that a republican form of government could best be achieved in an "extended republic" where many interests would check and balance each other, thus paving the way for the ratification of the Constitution and providing the theoretical justification for large-scale democracies. In 2007, he received a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant to continue his research on the political thought of James Madison and the foundations of American democracy.

PROFESSIONAL JOURNALIST (Two Awards) Marjie Lundstrom, reporter for The Sacramento Bee, wrote a two-part series and, with her husband, reporter Sam Stanton, subsequent stories about Sacramento’s Child Protective Services (CPS), documenting the inadequacies of the agency and prompting a grand jury investigation. Lundstrom fought for court and confidential documents and she was also one the first reporters in California to test Senate Bill 39, which requires child welfare records to be released when a child dies. The reports over the months included not only extensive data and documentation, but also stories about children who had succumbed to abuse or neglect despite CPS's knowledge of threats to their safety.

Hilary Costa and John Simerman, reporters for the Bay Area News Group, wrote a package of stories in connection with the death of a 15-year-old foster child, uncovering a series of failures and violations of state regulations by a San Francisco Human Services Agency social worker and raising questions about agency practices. Costa and Simerman petitioned the court for documents and the reporters were also among the first reporters to test Senate Bill 39. The reporters' efforts, supported by documents, led the agency to acknowledge errors and to order a review of hundreds of cases in which it had used an exemption allowing social workers to visit foster children every six months instead of monthly. The results are pending.

INTERACTIVE MEDIA (formerly Online Reporting) Sacramento Bee photographer Autumn Cruz and graphic journalist Mitchell Brooks were instrumental in the creation of a compelling online interactive courtroom in connection with the Bee's investigation into Sacramento's Child Protective Services. As the "courtroom doors" on the Bee's Web site opened, readers had abundant links to documents, photos, and video and audio statements and interrogations, allowing them to review all aspects of the case and to learn about those involved in it, from the courtroom personnel to the accused.

CITIZEN Besides building a list of stellar accomplishments at the San Jose Mercury News, Bert Robinson, long active with the California First Amendment Coalition as well as with SPJ, is a founding member of San Jose's Sunshine Reform Task Force, where he helped draft the city's proposed Sunshine Ordinance. Particularly, he oversaw the development of recommendations concerning access to law enforcement records, which blended both the requirements for greater access and the need for appropriate protections for law enforcement and privacy. Despite ongoing roadblocks from government officials, he continues his volunteer efforts in the battle for transparency.

LEGAL COUNSEL James Ewert, Legal Counsel and Advocate for the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA), has been the association's point man on numerous bills before the California Legislature. Not least among his accomplishments is his work to get the Sunshine Amendment (Proposition 59) on the statewide ballot in November 2004; that measure won with 83 percent of the vote. Most recently, he helped lead the successful effort for passage of State Senator Leland Yee's measure protecting teachers from retaliation if they defend students' First Amendment rights.

STUDENT JOURNALIST--HIGH SCHOOL (Three Awards) When the principal of Eureka High School in Eureka pulled 400 copies of the school's Redwood Bark newspaper last April due to a student's nude drawing in the paper's art section, calling it "restricted circulation," but the staff saw it as censorship and they argued for their rights. Eventually the principal wrote a letter of apology and the administration paid for the next edition. Editor-in-chief Drew Ross said the publication, now a quarterly called Redwood Bark News Magazine, has the freedom it wants, and operates on a "trust system" with the new principal.

At Shasta High School in Redding in June, the Volcano, in its end-of-year-issue, ran a photo of a student burning an American flag as well as an editorial in its defense. The principal killed the publication, which had already been in jeopardy because of funding cuts. Incoming editor-in-chief Amanda Cope made convincing arguments about the efforts she and her staff had made in advance of the coming school year, and the school district decided to fund the newspaper program. But school administrators are not trying to exercise more control over the paper.

In November, following earlier concerns and then the publication of a racy article, the principal of Carlmont High School in Belmont, abruptly suspended the publication of The Scots Express. Editor-in-chief Alex Zhang disputed school officials' assertion that the shutdown was because of the lack of faculty oversight. The closure prompted the Sequoia Union High School District, which includes Carlmont High, to train top staff on students' First Amendment rights and to update its free-speech policy. The newspaper now has a new adviser and is expected to begin publishing again soon.

ADVOCACY San Francisco-based human rights investigator Kathi Austin has worked for a wide range of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for 18 years to uncover war crimes, illegal arms smuggling and other transnational crimes. She has documented conflicts in Africa, Latin America, Eastern and Central Europe, and South Asia for the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United States government and Amnesty International, among many other organizations. Recently, Austin collaborated with investigative journalists to help build a case against accused arms smuggler Victor Bout, and even helped to expose the U.S. Defense Department's complicity in some deals before the invasion of Iraq. A forthcoming film from Paramount Pictures and companion book will examine Austin's remarkable career.

ELECTRONIC ACCESS MAPlight.org, a Berkeley-based nonprofit organization, has been illuminating the connection between money and politics since 2005, using sophisticated analytical tools that have helped generate hundreds of news stories about potential conflicts of interest in the legislative process nationwide and in the California statehouse. The organization, headed by technology entrepreneur Daniel Newman, specializes in combining data from the voting records of legislators, from supporting or opposing interests for bills, and from campaign contribution data. This work enables MAPLight to show contributions to politicians from vested interests and when they voted for or against bills. In addition to its database work, MAPLight has quickly become a leading advocate for opening up electronic access to voting records of our public officials.

CONTACT: David Greene, Freedom of Information Committee
(510) 208-7744; dgreene [AT] thefirstamendment.org

Event Details: Reserve your ticket now! The banquet honoring the recipients will be held on MARCH 18, 2009, at NEW DELHI RESTAURANT, 160 ELLIS STREET, SAN FRANCISCO.

The restaurant is two blocks from the Powell Street Bart/MUNI station. A no-host reception at 5:30 p.m. will be followed at 6:30 p.m. by the dinner and awards ceremony.

Tickets are $50 for SPJ members and students and $70 for other attendees. Reservation information at www.spjchapters.org/norcal. Tables and hosting opportunities are also available. Contact David Greene at dgreene [AT] thefirstamendment.org for more information.