SPJ NorCal Honors 2018 James Madison Freedom of Information Award Winners

Northern California Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information Committee to host 33rd Annual awards dinner on March 27, 2018 at Delancey Street in San Francisco

For immediate release:

Contact: SPJ NorCal FOI Committee at spjnorcalfoi@gmail.com


SAN FRANCISCO — The James Madison Freedom of Information Awards recognize Northern California organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions to advancing freedom of information and/or expression in the spirit of James Madison, the creative force behind the First Amendment. SPJ NorCal presents the awards near Madison’s birthday, March 16, and National Freedom of Information Week, which is March 11-18 this year.

New America Media executive director Sandy Close wins the Norwin S. Yoffie Award for Career Achievement. Close served as the executive director of New America Media since 1974 until its closure in November 2017. Close was also dedicated to amplifying the voices of young writers in YO! Youth Outlook and The Beat Within. Close’s award is named in memory of Norwin Yoffie, the former editor of the San Rafael Independent Journal, a co-founder of SPJ NorCal’s Freedom of Information Committee, and a staunch advocate for transparency. Close will be honored along with other winners of the chapter’s James Madison Freedom of Information Awards on Tuesday, March 27, 2018.

Tickets for the dinner are $55 for SPJ members, $75 for non-members, $50 for students and can be purchased via eventbrite. Table and bar sponsorships are available. The evening will feature silent auctions for wine and books as well as raffles. The Delancey Street Town Hall is located at 600 The Embarcadero in San Francisco. The festivities will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a no-host bar. Contact the Freedom of Information Committee for more information: spjnorcalfoic@gmail.com.

In addition to Close, this year’s honorees are:

The East Bay Times and NBC News Bay Area will receive awards in the News Organization category. The East Bay Times is honored for its relentless efforts to obtain police body camera videos, inspection data, and other public records in the wake of the deadly Ghost Ship fire. The paper’s reporting won a Pulitzer Prize and exposed deep public safety failures in Oakland. NBC News Bay Area investigated thousands of owner move-in evictions in San Francisco and found that hundreds of residents had been wrongfully evicted, prompting a crackdown on evictions and the passage of new legislation to protect tenants.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund wins an award in the Non-Profit category. The Animal Legal Defense Fund successfully challenged two components of Idaho’s ag-gag law in federal court, with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals finding that the law—which included a ban on recording inside factory farms—was “targeted at speech and investigative journalists” contrary to the First Amendment.

Lisa Pickoff-White of KQED and Jennifer Wadsworth of San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper will receive Journalist Awards. Pickoff-White’s public records requests and data journalism fueled KQED’s coverage of increased Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detentions under the Trump administration, struggling desegregation efforts in San Francisco schools, and the North Bay fires. Wadsworth exposed abuse of public funding by the Milpitas city manager to fund his personal lawsuit against the mayor.

Susan Fowler and Dr. Joel Moskowitz win Citizen Awards. Fowler was an early voice in what became the #MeToo movement, blowing the whistle on workplace sexual harassment at Uber and giving voice to women in the tech industry and beyond it. Moskowitz, the director of the Center for Family and Community Health at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, successfully sued the state under the California Public Records Act, securing the release of a report on cell phone radiation commissioned by California’s Department of Public Health.

Joanne Hoeper and Yesenia Guitron win awards in the Whistleblower category. Hoeper, the former chief trial attorney for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, began investigating sewer repair claims in San Francisco in 2011. She documented fraudulent practices, inflated payments, and lax monitoring within her own office, and lost her job when her investigation led to members of City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s inner circle. A jury awarded her $2 million (later raised to $2.6 million) in damages in her whistleblower lawsuit.

Guitron is one of the first whistleblowers to call attention to the Wells Fargo sham account scandal. When Guitron began working as a bank teller at Wells Fargo in 2008, she noticed that bank employees were pressured to open unauthorized accounts. She reported this misconduct to human resources and to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf, but her warnings were ignored and she was fired in 2010. Since Wells Fargo’s misconduct was revealed in 2013, Guitron has finally been credited for giving early warnings about it. She has testified in Congress and in a criminal case against Wells Fargo.

Marcy Burstiner will receive the Beverly Kees Educator Award. Burstiner teaches investigative reporting at Humboldt State University, guiding her students to harness the power of the California Public Records Act. The most recent class project led by Burstiner detailed why so many homeless HSU students are forced to live out of cars or crash on friend’s couches and received national recognition. She is the author of Investigative Reporting: From Premise to Publication.

Gabriel Sandoval will receive the Student Award. Using public records, Sandoval revealed that CSU, Chico’s former vice president for business and finance, Lori Hoffman, was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the university after she had already stopped working for the school.

Ben Friedland, the creator of BartCrimes.com, wins an Electronic Access award. When BART cut off access to its daily crime report last year, Friedland built his own website to publish daily logs of crimes committed on BART property. His work increased transparency for the public.

James McManis and Karl Olson win awards in the Legal Counsel category. McManis and Olson successfully argued before the California Supreme Court to establish that records related to public business that are prepared, owned, used, or retained by public officials on their personal electronic accounts and devices are “public records” subject to the California Public Records Act.


Please visit spjnorcal.org for information about past award winners. For additional information about the awards, winners, or awards dinner, please email the SPJ NorCal FOI Committee at spjnorcalfoi@gmail.com.