Quick Links

Menu

FAC Free Speech & Open Government Award Winners

Journalists Thomas Peele & Caroline Titus named 2016 FAC Award Winners

2016 FAC Award WinnersFirst 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:

Investigative Reporter Thomas PeeleTHOMAS 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, Ferndale Enterprise
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.

FAC Free Speech & Open Government Award winners honored at Cal Press Foundation 138th Annual Dinner Banquet

FAC's FOI AwardThe 2015 recipients of the Free Speech & Open Government Award competition were honored Thursday, December 3 at the California Press Foundation’s 138th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

The two winners of this year’s awards used different methods to accomplish their goals ­­one upholding the finest traditions of community journalism and the other demonstrating the effectiveness of citizen activism in holding officials accountable.

They are both equally deserving of public honor and emulation for their advancement of government transparency:

 

The Monterey County Weekly's CEO Bradley Zeve, FAC Executive Director Peter Scheer, Staff Writer Mary Rubin, Editor Mary Duan, Publisher Erik Cushman and Attorney Roger Myers, Bryan Cave, LLP, who represented the MCWeekly in unsealing Diocese records.

The Monterey County Weekly’s CEO Bradley Zeve, FAC Executive Director Peter Scheer, Staff Writer Mary Rubin, Editor Mary Duan, Publisher Erik Cushman and Attorney Roger Myers, Bryan Cave, LLP, who represented the MCWeekly in unsealing Diocese records.

Monterey County Weekly is recognized for its years-­long effort, led by Editor Mary Duan and Staff Writer Sara Rubin, to unearth public records, conduct interviews and produce an ambitious series outlining the story behind the story of a sexual abuse case involving Father Edward Fitz­Henry and the Monterey Diocese.

The paper reviewed nearly 1,350 pages of documents, conducted numerous sensitive interviews, while attorney Roger Myers of the San Francisco law firm Bryan Cave, waged a successful legal battle on behalf of the Monterey County Weekly to unseal records. The revelations from the unsealed court documents and in-depth reporting by Duan and Rubin resulted in an unusually transparent dissection of the case, describing not only the details but exploring the human aspects of the subjects.

Citizen activist Bill Branch with Peter Scheer

Citizen activist Bill Branch with Peter Scheer

● Honoree Bill Branch became a citizen activist in 2011 when the local fire chief ran a successful campaign for the Loomis, CA town council. Branch believed this double duty presented a conflict of interest, and he, along with two other concerned citizens, Marilyn Jasper and Janet Thew, began to attend public meetings and request contracts and other public documents.

Despite tremendous resistance from local officials, Branch’s efforts revealed that Fire Chief David Wheeler was collecting a $137,000­/year CalPERS pension from the Alameda Fire Department at the same time he was working as a CalPERS ­covered part­time fire chief in Loomis. Branch, Jasper and Thew kept up the pressure with CalPERS and the fire board, and finally saw results for their persistence in October when an administrative judge declared that Wheeler and the fire district had conducted a “five ­year scheme” to circumvent California pension law and ordered that he repay about $460,000 to CalPERS. The district likewise was told to repay its share of the benefits. Later in the month the full CalPERS board upheld the decision without hearings.

There were many outstanding nominees ­­individuals and groups­­ deserving of our thanks and recognition for their tireless work to protect the people’s right to know, including the work of Jessica Pishko, a San Francisco ­based writer who produced a powerful story of prison guard abuses at High Desert State Prison for Rolling Stone Magazine; Thadeus Greenson, editor of the North Coast Journal in Humboldt County, for his single ­handed and sophisticated pursuit of police dashboard camera videos; an extraordinary series of stories by Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald on corruption and abuse in Florida Prisons; the Center for Public Integrity’s vast body of work on behalf of open government and unearthing public documents; and the Cal State, Fullerton, Daily Titan for standing up to official hostility from the school’s administration.

Each of the First Amendment Coalition awards will be accompanied by a $1,000 prize.

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

Christina Selder

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

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.

+ 2016

Journalists Thomas Peele & Caroline Titus named 2016 FAC Award Winners

2016 FAC Award WinnersFirst 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:

Investigative Reporter Thomas PeeleTHOMAS 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, Ferndale Enterprise
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.

+ 2015

FAC Free Speech & Open Government Award winners honored at Cal Press Foundation 138th Annual Dinner Banquet

FAC's FOI AwardThe 2015 recipients of the Free Speech & Open Government Award competition were honored Thursday, December 3 at the California Press Foundation’s 138th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

The two winners of this year’s awards used different methods to accomplish their goals ­­one upholding the finest traditions of community journalism and the other demonstrating the effectiveness of citizen activism in holding officials accountable.

They are both equally deserving of public honor and emulation for their advancement of government transparency:

 

The Monterey County Weekly's CEO Bradley Zeve, FAC Executive Director Peter Scheer, Staff Writer Mary Rubin, Editor Mary Duan, Publisher Erik Cushman and Attorney Roger Myers, Bryan Cave, LLP, who represented the MCWeekly in unsealing Diocese records.

The Monterey County Weekly’s CEO Bradley Zeve, FAC Executive Director Peter Scheer, Staff Writer Mary Rubin, Editor Mary Duan, Publisher Erik Cushman and Attorney Roger Myers, Bryan Cave, LLP, who represented the MCWeekly in unsealing Diocese records.

Monterey County Weekly is recognized for its years-­long effort, led by Editor Mary Duan and Staff Writer Sara Rubin, to unearth public records, conduct interviews and produce an ambitious series outlining the story behind the story of a sexual abuse case involving Father Edward Fitz­Henry and the Monterey Diocese.

The paper reviewed nearly 1,350 pages of documents, conducted numerous sensitive interviews, while attorney Roger Myers of the San Francisco law firm Bryan Cave, waged a successful legal battle on behalf of the Monterey County Weekly to unseal records. The revelations from the unsealed court documents and in-depth reporting by Duan and Rubin resulted in an unusually transparent dissection of the case, describing not only the details but exploring the human aspects of the subjects.

Citizen activist Bill Branch with Peter Scheer

Citizen activist Bill Branch with Peter Scheer

● Honoree Bill Branch became a citizen activist in 2011 when the local fire chief ran a successful campaign for the Loomis, CA town council. Branch believed this double duty presented a conflict of interest, and he, along with two other concerned citizens, Marilyn Jasper and Janet Thew, began to attend public meetings and request contracts and other public documents.

Despite tremendous resistance from local officials, Branch’s efforts revealed that Fire Chief David Wheeler was collecting a $137,000­/year CalPERS pension from the Alameda Fire Department at the same time he was working as a CalPERS ­covered part­time fire chief in Loomis. Branch, Jasper and Thew kept up the pressure with CalPERS and the fire board, and finally saw results for their persistence in October when an administrative judge declared that Wheeler and the fire district had conducted a “five ­year scheme” to circumvent California pension law and ordered that he repay about $460,000 to CalPERS. The district likewise was told to repay its share of the benefits. Later in the month the full CalPERS board upheld the decision without hearings.

There were many outstanding nominees ­­individuals and groups­­ deserving of our thanks and recognition for their tireless work to protect the people’s right to know, including the work of Jessica Pishko, a San Francisco ­based writer who produced a powerful story of prison guard abuses at High Desert State Prison for Rolling Stone Magazine; Thadeus Greenson, editor of the North Coast Journal in Humboldt County, for his single ­handed and sophisticated pursuit of police dashboard camera videos; an extraordinary series of stories by Julie K. Brown of the Miami Herald on corruption and abuse in Florida Prisons; the Center for Public Integrity’s vast body of work on behalf of open government and unearthing public documents; and the Cal State, Fullerton, Daily Titan for standing up to official hostility from the school’s administration.

Each of the First Amendment Coalition awards will be accompanied by a $1,000 prize.

+ 2014

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

Christina Selder

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

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.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes