James Madison Freedom of Information Award Winners - Page 8

SF journalism association honors this year's First Amendment heroes

But Olson understood that testifying against a source would turn her into an investigative tool of the federal government and chill dissent nationwide. "When the government uses a journalist as its eyes and ears, no one is going to talk to that journalist anymore," Olson told the Guardian.

She also objected to journalists being asked to participate in the prosecution of free speech. "The problem I have with verifying the accuracy of my reporting is that in this case the Army has made speech a crime," Olson said. Watada, whom Olson interviewed, has been charged with missing a troop movement and conduct unbecoming an officer, because he publicly criticized President George W. Bush and his illegal Iraq War.

In the end, Army prosecutors dropped the subpoena once Watada agreed to stipulate that Olson's reporting was accurate. Olson, for her part, attributes the dropping of the subpoena to the support she received from media groups, including the Society for Professional Journalists. (Phelan)

Student journalist


The 2006 school year got off to a rough start for Lowell High School, one of the top-ranked public high schools in the country and certainly San Francisco's finest. The school's award-winning student newspaper the Lowell was covering it all.

After the October issue went to press, the school's two journalism classes, which are solely responsible for writing and editing content for the monthly paper, received a visit from the school's interim principal, Amy Hansen. Though Hansen says there was no attempt to censor the paper and the classes agree that no prior review was requested when it appeared that the students would be covering some controversial stories, the principal questioned their motivations as journalists and asked them to consider a number of complicated scenarios designed to make them second-guess their roles as reporters. The principal told the student journalists they had a moral responsibility, not to turn out the news, but to turn in their sources and information.

In separate meetings with each journalism class, Hansen questioned them about when it was appropriate to lay aside the pen and paper in the name of the law. The students maintained that as journalists they are in the position to report what happens and not pass moral judgment. Additionally, their privileged position as information gatherers would be compromised if they revealed their sources.

The lectures from Hansen did not deter the journalism classes from their basic mission to cover school news as objectively and thoroughly as possible. Even when police were called in to question Megan Dickey, who was withholding the name of a source she'd used in a story about a tire slashing, she still refused to say what she knew. (Witherell)



Mark Klein knew there was something fishy going on when his boss at AT&T told him that a representative of the National Security Agency would be coming by to talk to one of the senior technicians. Klein was a union communications tech, one of the people who keep the phone company's vast network going every day. The NSA visitor stopped by, and before long Klein learned that AT&T's building on Folsom Street would have a private room that none of the union techs would be allowed to enter.

Klein kept his eyes open and learned enough from company memos to conclude that the government was using AT&T's equipment to monitor the private communications of unsuspecting and mostly undeserving citizens.