James Madison Freedom of Information Award Winners - Page 2

SF journalism association honors this year's First Amendment heroes
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This is a private company that's operating as an institution of higher learning," Ovetz told the Guardian. "Its only interest is its bottom line, and its bottom line is profit."

Ovetz complained to the administration about vioutf8g the students' freedom of speech and received his pink slip Dec. 20, 2006. Dean of Academic Affairs Caren Meghreblian told Ovetz the magazine possibly violated copyright law by reproducing corporate logos without permission and had grammatical errors. She also said a story in the magazine called "Homicide," about three white kids playing a video game as black gangsters, might be racist.

After Ovetz and students complained and the media reported the story, the administration allowed students to redistribute the magazines, but it still refuses to give Ovetz his job back. (Chris Albon)

To size up the magazine yourself, visit www.brandedmonkey.com/muteOffLowRes.pdf.

Citizen

RYAN MCKEE

The object of the California Public Records Act is to ensure the people's right to know how their state and local governments are functioning. Newspapers are often the entities that test the limits and loopholes of the law. But in January 2006 an 18-year-old college student, Ryan McKee, undertook an audit of each of the 31 California state agencies that was the first of its kind. McKee tested how these agencies, which he personally visited, responded to simple requests to view and get copies of readily available public documents. The results revealed a disturbing pattern. Several agencies performed miserably, including the Department of Justice, which counsels and represents many other state agencies on the Public Records Act, and all of the agencies violated at least one aspect of the law. Common problems included asking for identification, making illegal charges, and taking longer than allowed to release information. McKee undertook the audit while volunteering for Californians Aware, a nonprofit where his father, Richard McKee, is president. A copy of the audit, including its results and grades, was sent to each agency to help it better understand and adjust to its responsibilities. (Sarah Phelan)

Journalists

MICHELE MARCUCCI AND REBECCA VESELY, ANG NEWSPAPERS

ANG Newspapers regional reporters Rebecca Vesely and Michele Marcucci are being honored for the series "Broken Homes" and their unflinching pursuit of public records that exposed negligent care administered to people with autism and other forms developmental disabilities. The series highlighted problems ranging from a lack of proper supervision to unlicensed officials working at health care facilities. Some of these offenses were then linked to patient deaths.

The award recognizes the daunting and tedious task that befell the journalists: 15 months of scouring thousands of hard-copy papers from dozens of sources that included licensing agencies, multiple law enforcement bureaus, and coroner's offices. The results were entered into a database and cross-checked against other sources of information.

"It's not like we work at the New York Times, where you can lock yourself in a room for a year. This is one-stop shopping here," Marcucci told the Guardian, noting that both reporters continued their daily beats while working on the project. The series was well received and helped prompt state officials to reinstate inspections of licensed facilities that had been eliminated due to budget cuts.