San José Spotlight wins SPJ’s James Madison Freedom of Information Award
San José Spotlight co-founders Josh Barousse and Ramona Giwargis highlight the organization's accomplishments during its one-year anniversary celebration and fundraiser in East San Jose on Jan. 29, 2020.

San José Spotlight has received the Northern California Chapter’s Society of Professional Journalists’ prestigious James Madison Freedom of Information Award for its “regular and inventive use” of public records in covering local government in Santa Clara County.

“This honor is a testament to the great work produced by our talented team of journalists,” said Ramona Giwargis, the organization’s co-founder and editor. “We’re so grateful for the recognition and it reaffirms our commitment to public service journalism that searches for truth, holds power to account and elevates voices of marginalized communities.”

The award, presented on March 16, recognizes Northern California people and individuals who have made significant contributions in advancing freedom of information or expression in the spirit of James Madison, the creative force behind the First Amendment.

Bestowed to those in the Bay Area who have defended public access to government meetings, public records and court proceedings, as well as generally ensuring freedom of expression and information, award recipients include the media, community organizations, journalists, students and citizens.

San José Spotlight reporters regularly use public records to hold government officials accountable and shine a light on dark corners of City Hall. For example, the nonprofit news organization used public records to track city officials who signed non-disclosure agreements with Google, reveal that Mayor Sam Liccardo hired a PR firm with taxpayer money to boost his national profile and uncover how a city commission lacked ethnic and geographic diversity, leading to sweeping reforms.

Most recently, San José Spotlight broke a story about how a South Bay hospital allowed teachers at an affluent school district to skip the line for COVID-19 vaccines by pretending to be health care workers, leading to the hospital CEO’s ouster.

In addition to this recognition, San José Spotlight last year won the national Publisher of the Year award from the Local Independent Online News Publishers, recognizing its nonprofit newsroom among the top news publications in the country. San José Spotlight has also received four California Journalism Awards in an annual competition sponsored by the California News Publishers Association.

The success of the organization, which was launched in Jan. 2019, would not be possible without the generosity of readers like you. Please help us continue this award-winning public service journalism in San Jose by becoming a sustaining member today.

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