The Northern California Chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists honored U.S. Right to Know today with the James Madison Freedom of Information Awards in the nonprofit organization category. Congratulations to all the James Madison FOI award winners!
The awards recognize the “people and organizations of Northern California who have made significant contributions to advancing freedom of information and expression in the spirit of James Madison, the creative force behind the First Amendment.” The awards are presented each year on Madison’s birthday, March 16, Freedom of Information Day, during National Sunshine Week.
SPJ notes that U.S. Right to Know “filed public records requests with universities and government agencies to shed light on the influence of chemical company Monsanto in the regulatory and policy process around the country’s food system,” and that we “unearthed documents showing that Monsanto employees recruited public university professors to write policy briefs about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to support the company’s public relations goals.”
Monsanto, concerned that our FOIA requests would uncover its influence in academic circles, “created a public relations campaign to discredit U.S. Right to Know,” the SPJ wrote. But we “exposed those efforts, too.”
You can read more here about Monsanto’s campaign against USRTK for exposing its public relations work with academics.
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Dedicated to Tim Crews
This year’s James Madison FOI awards, the 36th annual from the Northern Chapter of the SPJ, are dedicated to Tim Crews, “the legendary editor and self-proclaimed ‘cranky country publisher’ of the Sacramento Valley Mirror,” SPJ said.
“Sporting his trademark suspenders and vigorous white beard, Crews constantly fired off public records requests to dig into the government of Willows, a town of 6,000 in the Central Valley. Crews’ mantra for the paper: ‘If we don’t report it, who will?’”
Crews was jailed for five days in 2000 for refusing to divulge anonymous sources, and he successfully overcame a shield law violation when the district attorney unlawfully subpoenaed his notes. He won a First Amendment victory in 2013, when the state Court of Appeal found he didn’t need to pay the legal fees of the school board he had sued for withholding records.
As Crews told the Poynter Institute, “If someone is messing with you, you have to fight back. It’s just the American way.” Crews died last November at age 77.