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Baltimore Sun and Montgomery County Sentinel win James S. Keat Freedom of Information Award 2017

This year, there are two James S. Keat Awards:  One to the Baltimore Sun for its body of work reporting with public records; and one to the Montgomery County Sentinel for its in-depth work with a single focus.  Four very strong nominations were received for this award.

The award is named for Jim Keat, a retired editor and foreign correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, who was a long-time advocate for public information access. Keat was inducted into the MDDC Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2013 and is a former recipient of MDDC’s Distinguished Service Award.

The nominees were judged by a distinguished panel:  Chris Eddings, retired publisher of The Daily Record and former Public Information Act Compliance Board member, Carol Melamed, retired Washington Post attorney for government affairs, Frank Quine, retired assistant dean of the University of Maryland Phillip Merrill College of Journalism, and Miranda Spivak, Eugene S. Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism, DePauw University and independent journalist for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The judges said they were impressed by the Sun’s reach and “impact over such a broad base.” The newsroom has shown a “huge commitment” to investigative journalism even when “it is not always easy to do.”  In its letter accompanying its submission, Publisher and executive editor Trif Alatzas writes, “In 2017, The Sun kept its longstanding commitment to mining public records to illuminate the inner workings of local, state and federal agencies, police and schools, and to hold leaders to account. That commitment includes “Sun Investigates,” published each Sunday, which includes two to three stories based on information obtained through records requests.”  Further, the work was innovative, drawing on partnerships with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and others to mine and develop data sources used in its reporting. 

The judges were especially “blown away” by the Montgomery Sentinel’s “massive effort by a small staff” to highlight the ongoing problems faced by Metro.  This effort is reflected in executive editor Brian Karem’s letter to the judges.  He notes “Our small staff of people (anywhere from six to eight) worked around the clock for the better part of a year, and intensely during a six-month stretch in order to produce a five-part investigative series. But our efforts also led to increased scrutiny, dozens of stories outside of the main series and a full-throttle effort to get to know the problems of Metro that drive our coverage today.”

The Baltimore Sun won the award in 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2012 and joins previous award winners The Daily Times (2013), the Carroll County Times (2011), the Maryland Independent (2010), the Frederick News-Post (2008, 2009), and others.

Honorable Mentions

Baltimore Business Journal

Nominated for their role in analyzing and bringing to light Amazon’s secret development deals and history of tax incentives used to propel the company’s growth.  The judges noted that “not enough news organizations are doing a deep dive into this issue.”  They also felt that “going after Amazon before the location piece was gutsy.” The BBJ’s story, buttressed by national reporting by sister business journals, was “able to reveal a highly secretive deal between a private developer, City Hall, state officials and Amazon to acquire, build and open a 1‐million square foot distribution center on Broening Highway in Southeast Baltimore. Perks totaled $40 million for that facility, and the city later helped to underwrite a shuttle bus to ferry employees to the site from east and west Baltimore communities.”

The Daily Record

Nominated for Jason Whong and Bryan Sears’ efforts to bring more transparency to Annapolis by presenting financial disclosure forms online and the use of smartphones to videotape Senate proceedings.  The judges thought it “shocking” that Maryland did not provide these disclosures online.  Legislators thought so as well, changing the law to require publication by database later in 2018.  Sears made substantial change to the process of recording Senate floor proceedings through his tenacity and grit.

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