Montgomery County native Ginny Monk was recognized this week by the Arkansas Press Association for her work on a project for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Monk has been named the winner of this year’s APA Freedom of Information Award and will be presented with her award July 22 at the APA Annual Convention.
As a projects reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Monk obtained public records for one of the publication’s biggest projects, “Children in Peril.” Her “Children’s in Peril” series required her to gather information from across the state using the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Monk stated in an article printed in the APA weekly newsletter, Arkansas Publisher Weekly, that it took her three years to gather public records from county coroners, law enforcement officers and prosecuting attorneys’ offices.
She pointed out that much of the time was spent dealing with county coroners. She shared that many of them didn’t seem familiar with FOIA. Many of the county coroners were reluctant to release information pertaining to children due to privacy concerns. Monkhad to obtain a court order against one county coroner to obtain the requested information.
While many of the county officials were protective of the requested information, all of the material was obtainable through FOIA.
As part of the “Children in Peril” project, Monk created a database with details of about 1,500 deaths of children in Arkansas between 2012 and 2017. The project was a result of Monk’s participation in a data fellowship from the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.
She was also part of a team of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporters who worked on a series of articles remembering Arkansans who died due to COVID-19.
“These two projects would not have been possible without FOIA.” Monk stated.
The two series spurred potential legislation in the state government that would have limited information available through FOIA from coroners’ offices. The bill was opposed by the APA, the Arkansas Freedom of information Act Taskforce, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and other transparency advocates. The bill died in committee.
Monk grew up near Mount Ida and attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. She worked as an intern at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on their projects team. She went to work for the newspaper’s style section before returning to the projects department as a full member.
Information for this article first appeared in the Arkansas Publisher Weekly.