California Reporting Project Named the Recipient of FAC's Free Speech & Open Government Award

December 2, 2019 – The First Amendment Coalition is pleased to announce the California Reporting Project is the recipient of the 2019 Free Speech & Open Government Award, given in recognition of the project’s groundbreaking statewide campaign to bring to light records of police misconduct. 

The project, an unprecedented collaboration of competing newsrooms, started as a cooperative effort between the Bay Area News Group/Southern California News Group, Capital Public Radio, Investigative Studios (of UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Project), KPCC/LAist, KQED and the Los Angeles Times to submit requests for records under California’s new police transparency law, Senate Bill 1421, and to share results. The initiative quickly grew, and now includes more than 40 newsrooms that have produced more than 125 original stories, detailing police use-of-force and instances of misconduct.

Representatives of the project will be recognized on Thursday at a ceremony at the California Press Foundation’s Annual Winter Meeting in San Francisco. The award comes with a $1,000 prize. 

For the project, journalists submitted hundreds of California Public Records Act requests and have obtained files from approximately 2,000 cases of police misconduct and serious use of force. And the work is ongoing, with the cooperating newsrooms continuing to produce essential accountability journalism. 

“The California Reporting Project represents a truly groundbreaking approach to journalism and transparency in the public interest,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “Unafraid to knock down the walls that traditionally separate competing journalists, this group did an immense public service to California — and to all members of the public, who gained so much from the creative and aggressive approach the Project embodies.” 

Read more about the California Reporting Project and the resulting news coverage
SB 1421, the new police transparency law, faced numerous obstacles. It was the subject of opposition, first in the California Legislature and then in the courts, where police labor unions and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sought to weaken it.*

FAC received numerous nominations this year for work that advanced the public’s right to know about police misconduct records. While the California Reporting Project was the clear choice for FAC’s 2019 award, the Award Committee felt compelled to also recognize several worthy nominees for their steadfast efforts on SB 1421 and related matters.

Specifically, the committee recognizes tireless and creative work of attorney Tenaya Rodewald, special counsel at the Sheppard Mullin law firm. Ms. Rodewald served as lead counsel in statewide litigation to enforce SB 1421. Representing FAC and several media coalitions, Ms. Rodewald was the principal author of many of the key legal arguments that vindicated the public’s right to know.

The committee also recognizes students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, who under the leadership of Bay Area News Group investigative reporter Thomas Peele worked through numerous police misconduct cases as part of the California Reporting Project.

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Finally, the committee recognizes state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who authored the measure that undid decades of secrecy over records related to use-of-force, official dishonesty affecting officers work, and records of sustained findings of certain kinds of sexual misconduct.

*The First Amendment Coalition has been and continues to be involved in the legal fight in support of SB 1421, including by joining California Reporting Project partner KQED in a lawsuit against Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office over its refusal to release SB 1421 records. However, FAC is not a participant in the journalistic accomplishments for which this award is being given.

The First Amendment Coalition is a nonprofit organization based in San Rafael, Calif., that fights for free speech, government transparency and the public’s right to know. Join our fight today and become a member (it’s free).