The Press Democrat will receive the James Madison Award from the Society of Professional Journalists' Northern California chapter for its coverage of the Sonoma County pension system.

The award was created to honor journalists, public officials and private citizens who have fought for public access to government meetings and records and promoted the public's right to know.

The group also will honor the Associated Press for its yearlong investigation of vote-switching in the state Assembly and the Sacramento Bee, for uncovering $54 million in secret assets in the state parks system.

The Press Democrat was honored for conducting an in-depth data analysis that revealed why pension costs had risen 400 percent in a decade in Sonoma County.

The newspaper sued to get county pension records in 2010, arguing that the California Public Records Act made them disclosable public records. The county appealed, but a court ordered the records to be released publicly.

The award will be presented March 12 at SPJ's annual banquet in San Francisco.