CapRadio Wins Prestigious James Madison Freedom of Information Award
CapRadio’s Scott Rodd won the award for his yearlong reporting effort that revealed how the U.S. Forest Service is failing to protect Californians from severe wildfires
Sacramento, CA - February 8, 2023: The Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter announced that Capital Public Radio (CapRadio) and The California Newsroom are the recipients of a James Madison Freedom of Information Award. The awards recognize significant contributions that advance access to information about issues of public concern.
CapRadio’s Scott Rodd won the award for his yearlong investigative reporting project called BURNED, which revealed how the U.S. Forest Service failed to protect the residents of Grizzly Flats from a devastating wildfire scenario that they predicted 20 years earlier.
In the early 2000s, the Forest Service held a town meeting and showed fire modeling that warned of a high-risk situation that would later come to fruition during the Caldor Fire. The agency took years to develop a large forest management project — the Trestle Project — around Grizzly Flats to protect the town.
However, Rodd’s investigation found that due to a web of regulatory delays, poor planning and resource shortages, the agency finished only 14% of the Trestle Project before the 2021 Caldor Fire ignited — despite its target completion date of 2020. The Caldor Fire destroyed more than 400 homes in Grizzly Flats — most of the town — after burning across Forest Service land.
Rodd and his colleagues at CapRadio and The California Newsroom constructed this story by conducting extensive interviews and combing through troves of documents and datasets that were obtained from nearly two dozen Freedom of Information Act requests. These requests forced the agency to release critical documents related to the Trestle Project, including the “Fire and Fuels Analysis.” The report demonstrated how the Trestle Project could have substantially protected Grizzly Flats from high intensity wildfire — if only the agency completed the work.
Rodd’s investigation prompted a bipartisan group of U.S. Congress members — including Senators Alex Padilla and Diane Feinstein — to call for answers from the Forest Service.
“We are grateful for this recognition of Scott’s important reporting,” said Nick Miller, managing editor of news and information at CapRadio. “While working on this investigative project, the journalists at CapRadio and The California Newsroom fought endlessly for access to public information, records and documents. It’s an honor to see their determination validated with this award.”
Reporters Emily Zentner (CapRadio), George LeVines (The California Newsroom) and Caleigh Wells (KCRW) contributed to this investigative reporting project.
Read or listen to the full investigation. View the press release from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California Chapter.
CapRadio serves California’s Capital Region, Central Valley and Sierra Nevada as the public-supported alternative to for-profit media. As the NPR Member station based in Sacramento, CapRadio connects with communities through seven broadcast stations, live streaming, podcasts, digital communities, live experiences and more. Known for its award-winning newsroom, CapRadio is recognized as a leader in community-engaged journalism and state government reporting, and CapRadio Music is the exclusive broadcast source of classical and jazz in the region. With more than 500,000 weekly listeners on-air and online, CapRadio provides a trusted and indispensable source of information, music and events.