PHOENIX – The Valley of the Sun chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has presented one of its most prestigious honors, the First Amendment Award, to Goldwater Institute Investigative Reporter Mark Flatten.
Mr. Flatten received the award Saturday for his 2009 special investigation, “High Fliers: How Political Insiders Gained an Edge in Sky Harbor Concessions.” The report documented how a federal program intended to recruit minority business concession owners to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has been used to enrich a handful of people with strong political connections.
This is the first known time that Valley of the Sun SPJ has offered the First Amendment Award to a journalist whose work was undertaken on behalf of a non-traditional media outlet.
“I am grateful to SPJ for recognizing that good journalism is not only found in newspapers, television and radio, but also in organizations such as the Goldwater Institute, where we take seriously the responsibility of being an aggressive watchdog on government,” Mr. Flatten said. “Part of the Institute’s mission is to hold public officials accountable for how they wield power and spend taxpayers’ money. To me, that’s not only the most important part of what a journalist does, but also the most fun.”
The First Amendment Award honors outstanding journalism that relies on public records laws to gather information and to tell a compelling story. To complete the investigation for “High Fliers,” Mr. Flatten had to depend almost exclusively on government emails, contracts and other documents collected through public records requests after a directive from the Phoenix City Manager’s Office forbid any city or airport employee from speaking to him about the issue.
"Mark Flatten’s knowledge of Arizona’s public records law is extensive, and he has a proven history of using those records to expose government fraud and abuse," said Darcy Olsen, president and CEO of the Goldwater Institute. "His reporting illustrates the critical importance of government transparency so voters can scrutinize the actions of public agencies and elected officials. We are proud to have Mark leading our investigative journalism effort."
Mark Flatten joined the Goldwater Institute in June 2009 to continue his 29-year career as a journalist and as one of Arizona’s most honored investigative reporters. SPJ has previously called attention to Mr. Flatten’s work with a national Sigma Delta Chi award.
The Valley of the Sun SPJ chapter also gave a First Amendment Award to Dennis Wagner, a reporter with The Arizona Republic.
The Goldwater Institute is an independent government watchdog supported by people who are committed to expanding free enterprise and liberty.