Our Freedom of Information Issue salutes the winners of the 2011 James Madison Awards
When the Legislature passed the Public Records Act, it exempted itself. So the four reporters pressed public officials over the secret records and their tendency to hold closed meetings. Lin and Williams attempted to gain entry to a private lunch called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for all 120 lawmakers to discuss solutions for the state's profound challenges. The fallout of the refusal led to the governor's pledge to keep future meetings open. Other stories by Young highlighted the murky compliance with public records requests. Thompson probed the excessive use of public funds by lawmakers on themselves.
Sacramento bureau editor Tom Verdin told us: "The credit goes to the reporters. I am fortunate to have a really strong and dedicated crew." (Asaf Shalev)
Beverly Kees Educator Award
It's not an easy job to train the next generation of journalists. Media professionals have seen the number of available jobs slashed in the last decade, along with salary levels. School newspapers have been shuttered by budget cuts and censored by overreaching administrators.
But a few notable educators have persevered, infusing thousands of young people with the desire to keep the populace informed. Steve O'Donoghue has devoted his life to that task, teaching for 33 years in Oakland, mostly at Fremont High School, where he founded the Media Academy and was the advisor to the student yearbook, newspaper, and magazine programs, as well as teaching media courses.
"I had seen scholastic journalism programs shrink in the schools and traditional organizations that had supported advisers and students shrivel up," O'Donoghue told the Columbia Scholastic Press Association in 2008, when he received an award for his lifetime of work.
He added: "The world of scholastic journalism that had embraced me when I was a new teacher, assigned to a subject I had no training or preparation in, was gone. At the same time, I knew there was a greater awareness of the struggles of journalism in the schools on the part of the profession, and more resources to train and assist advisers than ever before."
After retiring from classroom teaching in 2004, O'Donoghue worked at the Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University, his alma mater. He also served on the Journalism Education Association's board in Northern California for many years and helped create JEA's national curriculum for mentoring journalism students. (Steven T. Jones)
HOWARD MINTZ AND JULIA PRODIS
San Jose Mercury News legal affairs reporter Howard Mintz and crime reporter Julia Prodis won this award for their use of blogs and Twitter in court — an area where public access has been reduced thanks to the Supreme Court's decision to limit cameras in courthouse hallways and inside courtrooms.
"There's an advantage when there are no cameras — there's that much more craving for information," Prodis said, noting that Mintz kick-started the Mercury News' new media effort when he launched a blog in 2010 providing daily coverage of the federal challenge to the controversial Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.
"Howard's blog got us started, and mine took us to a more sensational level," Prodis said. At one point, Prodis wrote 70 blog posts in one day after she got permission from a judge to cover a love-triangle/murder-for hire case that lasted two months and eventually found Los Gatos businessman Paul Garcia, gunman Lucio Estrada, and Miguel Chaidez guilty of murdering restaurateur Mark Achilli.