First Amendment Coalition is proud to announce the recipients of the organization’s 2016 Free Speech & Open Government Award. Out of more than two dozen nominees, two contestants will be honored, one representing a mainstream news organization, and the other representing small-scale community journalism. What they share is their diligence in pursuit of access to public records in order to report stories that advance government transparency and “the people’s right to know.”
The winners are journalists Thomas Peele and Caroline Titus. The following is from the award citations for each:
THOMAS PEELE is an investigative reporter, teacher and open government advocate who filed hundreds of public records requests this year to build a database of the 944 weapons lost by or stolen from California police officers in the last six years. With characteristic persistence, Peele, who writes for the Bay Area News Group, had to overcome frequent official resistance to disclosure. The story is emblematic of Peele’s investigative work over his 16 years in California journalism. A self-styled hell-raiser, he estimates he has filed about 10,000 state public records requests and 500 FOIA requests. His commitment doesn’t stop there. Among other things, Peele perpetuates the spirit and skill of enterprise reporting by teaching public records and access to students at the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
CAROLINE TITUS is the editor and publisher of the tiny Ferndale Enterprise in Humboldt County. This one-woman newsroom has carried on an 18-month battle with the Humboldt County Fair Association over disclosure of financial records. Even before the records dispute, her husband, Stuart Titus, the association’s general manager, faced mounting pressure from the Fair Board to suppress the Enterprise’s coverage–a demand he refused, costing him his job in 2012. The result: the couple filed a successful First Amendment and wrongful termination suit; and the newspaper won access to the records, only to have the Fair Association restrict access again. Now they’re back in court, fighting on for access. And the Enterprise continues its reporting on the monthly Humboldt County Fair Association board meetings.
The 2016 recipients of the Free Speech & Open Government Award competition were honored Thursday, December 1 at the California Press Foundation’s 139th Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Each received a check from FAC for $1000 and a plaque.