Information is power. But too often, those with political power guard public documents and information from the journalists, activists, lawyers, and others who seek it on the people's behalf. So every year, we at the Guardian honor those who fight for a freer and more open society by highlighting the annual winners of the James Madison Freedom of Information Awards, which are given by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
This year's winners are:
Beverly Kees Educator Award
Rachele Kanigel, an associate professor of journalism and advisor to Golden Gate Xpress publications at San Francisco State University, has been highly involved in student press rights work on a national level. She wrote The Student Newspaper Survival Guide (Blackwell Publishing, 2006), a book designed to empower budding campus reporters. A champion of the free speech rights of her students, Kanigel has gone to bat on several occasions on behalf of student journalists whose work was challenged by interests that didn't believe students should be afforded the same protections as professional reporters. Kanigel sees part of her job as educating the world about the importance of student journalists and standing up for their rights. "A lot of people won't talk to student journalists, but they're doing some really important work," she said. "A lot of what we have to do is to assure the student journalists and tell the world outside that these are journalists." The educator award is named in honor of Beverly Kees, who was the SPJ NorCal chapter president at the time of her death in 2004.
Norwin S. Yoffie Career Achievement Award
Mary Fricker is the kind of investigative reporter many of us would like to be.
She started out in the 1980s investigating complaints of irregularities at her local savings and loan when she was reporting for the old Russian River News community paper. Her dogged research and hard-hitting stories produced the first major investigation into the toxic problems of financial deregulation in S&Ls. Her work won numerous awards, including the Gerald Loeb Award given out by UCLA and the prestigious George Polk Award, and ultimately led to the book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loan. The book won Best Book of the Year award from the Investigative Reporters and Editors association.
Fricker did business reporting and major investigative work for 20 years with the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. She retired and joined the Chauncey Bailey Project as a volunteer investigative reporter, researcher, Web site maestro, and general good spirit. Her work included several key investigations that determined that the Oakland Police Department was virtually alone in not taping interviews with suspects in investigations. Her stories changed that practice. She is a most worthy recipient of the Norwin S.<0x2009>Yoffie award, which honors the memory of the former publisher of the Marin Independent Journal, a founder of the SPJ/FOI committee, and a splendid warrior in the cause of Freedom of Information.
G.W. Schulz was busy when we got him on the phone. "I'm sending out about eight or nine new freedom of information requests a day," he said. "I fired off a few to the governor of Texas this morning."