Announcing FAC’s 2014 Free Speech & Open Government Award Winners

Christina Selder
C.A.R.R. Co-Founder Christina Selder

The First Amendment Coalition is proud to announce the winners of the 2014 FAC Free Speech & Open Government Award.

This year FAC received 30 nominations covering the efforts of journalists, individuals, government officials, educators, attorneys, community groups, non-profit journalism organizations and newspapers.

The two 2014 winners of this year’s awards use different methods to accomplish their goals –one upholding the finest traditions of investigative journalism and the other demonstrating the effectiveness of advocacy using government data and the internet. They are both equally deserving of public honor and emulation for their advancement of government transparency:

Sacramento Bee investigative reporter Charles Piller is honored for his three-year effort to uncover construction flaws and apparent fraud in the $6.5 billion project to replace the eastern span of the earthquake-vulnerable Bay Bridge. To report the story, the Bee said, Piller “obtained more than 600,000 pages of testing files, contracts and financial records, and interviewed hundreds of experts and insiders.” In 2013, despite “groundless attacks by public officials,” the paper said, Piller’s coverage prompted legislation “that added transparency and accountability to all new engineering megaprojects.”

Chris Murphy
C.A.R.R Co-Founder Chris Murphy

Christina Selder and C.M. Murphy, Co-founders of Consumer Advocates for R.C.F.E Reform (C.A.R.R.), are recognized for constructing the first (and only) website devoted to the regulatory history of California assisted living facilities (officially referred to as RCFE, or “residential care facilities for the elderly”). Armed with little more than paper scanning machines and computers, the two co-founders began by assembling a database with 10-year rolling records of complaints and enforcement actions against facilities in San Diego and Imperial counties. Over its five-year history, CARR has added data from Calaveras, Colusa, Inyo, Lassen, Plumas and San Benito counties and aims to cover the entire state in time. CARR’s website, making this information available to the general public, was launched in 2011. In the course of their work, the co-founders have adopted some of the best practices of journalism, building their database by hand when the state Department of Social Services couldn’t muster the technology to make records available electronically, and providing the public with original source documents as well as CARR’s facility-by-facility 10-year summaries.

There were many outstanding nominees–individuals and groups–whose honorable work is deserving of our thanks and recognition for their tireless work to protect the people’s right to know, including the work of attorneys Kelly Aviles and Paul Boylan; educators Marcy Burstiner, Chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Humboldt State University, and Bay Area News Group Investigative Reporter Tom Peele who is also a teacher at University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Sacramento Bee Investigative Reporter Charles Piller
Sacramento Bee Investigative Reporter Charles Piller

Also, student journalists from the Playwickian high school newspaper in Pennsylvania, who resisted heavy-handed administration interference in editorial decisions; San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jaxon Van Derbeken for tireless and powerful coverage of cozy relationships between PG&E and the state PUC, serious problems in the Bay Bridge construction project and missteps in fire response to the crash of an airliner at San Francisco Airport; and reporter Beau Yarbrough of the San Bernardino County Sun and Inland Valley Daily Bulletin for stories of fraud and secrecy at the Rialto Unified School District.

“The First Amendment Coalition Award winners received $1,000 prizes, presented at the 137th Annual Winter Meeting of the California Press Foundation last December in San Francisco.”

For more information please contact
Peter Scheer,
Executive Diretor
First Amendment Coalition
office: 415-460-5060
cell: 415-886-7081