FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ISSUE: James Madison Freedom of Information Award winners fight the power
The relentless reporter is working on the Center for Investigative Reporting's program exposing homeland security spending. It hasn't been easy. Since the federal government began making big grants to local agencies for supposed antiterrorism and civil emergency equipment and programs, following the money has required unusual persistence. Homeland Security officials don't even know where their grants are going, so Schulz has been forced to dig deeper.
"I think this is the biggest open government campaign I'll ever do in my career," he said. "We're juggling dozens of requests, state by state. And it's breathtaking what some people will ignore in their own public records laws."
He's found widespread abuse. "These agencies are getting all this expensive equipment and they don't even maintain it or train their staff how to use it," he said. CIR is not only doing its own stories, it's working with local papers that don't have the resources to do this kind of work. "Lots of great stories in the pipeline," he said before signing off to get back to the battle. "I'm really excited."
On the heels of a now-infamous Supreme Court ruling on so-called First Amendment rights for corporate political speech, SPJ is honoring an individual who has made a career devoted to protecting real, individual free speech rights for almost 20 years. Ann Brick, staff attorney for the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, has litigated in defense of privacy rights, free speech, government accountability, and student rights in cases ranging from book burning to Internet speech to illegal government wiretapping. "I can't tell you how much of an honor it is to have worked with the ACLU," she says, adding, "I can't think of another award I'd rather get than this one — an award from journalists." But the public's gratitude goes to Brick, whose years of service are a shining example of speaking truth to power.
Computer Assisted Reporting
Phillip Reese of The Sacramento Bee is being honored for his unrelenting pursuit of public records and for producing interactive databases. Reese was the architect of the Bee's data center, providing readers readily accessible information about legislative voting records, neighborhood election results, state employee salaries, and other important information. At one point, the city of Sacramento demanded several thousand dollars in exchange for employee salary data. Reese gathered the city's IT workers and a city attorney for a meeting, where he argued that organizing records in an analyzable format would insure the system wasn't being abused, so they chose to provide the records for free. The online databases provide public access to records that are often disorganized and cryptic. "Sometimes these databases go well with a story, and sometimes they can stand on the Internet alone. People can view them in a way that is important to themselves," Reese said.
State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) has been an open government advocate since his days on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and one of his favorite targets is the administration of the University of California. He has fought to protect UC students from administrators who want to curtail their free-speech right and to get documents from university officials.