In a surprising move that underscores the exceptionally high quality of entries this year, the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California Chapter, is conferring two Journalist of the Year awards: to Paul Rogers for his in-depth, nuanced reporting on the California drought for the San Jose Mercury News, and to the NBC Bay Area Investigative Team, whose discovery and coverage of rampant unsafe food handling by Sysco Corp. led to the company paying one of the largest consumer protection settlements in state history.

An accomplished environmental reporter, Rogers delved into the politics, science and history of California’s drought. His intense dedication enabled him to consistently break stories, and provide readers with a clear understanding of complex topics surrounding the state’s driest year on record.

In addition to writing for the Mercury News and associated publications, Rogers works part time as managing editor for the KQED Science Unit.

Responding to a whistleblower tip, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Team used surveillance cameras to document that drivers for Sysco Corp., the world’s largest food distributor, were transferring seafood, milk and raw meat to unrefrigerated storage sheds where items would sit for hours before being delivered to commercial kitchens. Further investigation determined this was not an isolated incident or just a local practice — it was happening around the country.

The team’s reporting led to a year-long investigation by the California Department of Public Health and a consumer protection lawsuit. As a result, Sysco accepted responsibility for improper food handling, eliminated the use of drop sites, overhauled its food safety training, and paid $19.4 million in fines and restitution.

Martin G. Reynolds of Digital First Media receives the SPJ NorCal Board of Directors’ Distinguished Service to Journalism Award. Reynolds is senior editor for community engagement and training for Bay Area News Group and Digital First Media, western region.

As former editor in chief of the Oakland Tribune, a lead editor of the Chauncey Bailey Project and co-founder of a Bay Area News Group-sponsored citizen journalism program called Oakland Voices, Reynolds has led Bay Area journalism initiatives to help news outlets stay relevant and connected to diverse communities. He has established himself as a leader by forging relationships with philanthropic and academic institutions to support innovative journalism and community engagement projects that bring light to under-reported stories. His work has spread beyond Oakland, as Voices has been replicated in Jackson, Miss., and most recently in Sacramento. Reynolds’ strategies around engagement and pushing news organizations to serve as conveners and facilitators of change have been hailed by his peers. Oakland Voices is now part of a national joint pilot project between ASNE and Journalism That Matters that explores and measures the impact of engagement on diverse communities.

The SPJ NorCal board honors Eric Grunder, recently retired opinion editor from The Record in Stockton, with the Career Achievement award. From cub reporter in Yuba City to opinion editor in Stockton, Grunder spent his career not only holding those at the top accountable, but also empowering those at the bottom, by mentoring countless young interns who flourished as professional journalists. Grunder covered stories that captured the attention of the American public, including the trial of Juan Corona, who killed dozens of Mexican laborers in the Central Valley in the 1960s-70s. Grunder refused to reveal a source in that case and was threatened with contempt of court.

At the Delta Democrat Times in Greenville, Miss., Grunder remained true to his commitment to justice, journalism and democracy, even when working in a hostile environment. In the 1980s, Grunder penned an editorial calling out the Baptist Church for being racist in its ban of African-American members. After that editorial ran, he, his wife and his two young daughters started to receive threatening phone calls.

As news editor at The Record, Grunder coordinated coverage in 1989 of the first mass school shooting at the Cleveland School. This coverage put the paper among the finalists for a Pulitzer for spot news coverage. Grunder’s final professional act at The Record is the most telling. As the newspaper faced financial uncertainty and layoffs, Grunder volunteered to retire early so he could help save jobs. Because of his departure, three more journalists are still employed at The Record.

The Public Service Award goes to Aaron Glantz, Adithya Sambamurthy, Aaron Williams and Agustin Armendariz of the Center for Investigative Reporting for “The VA’s Opiate Overload,” a textbook example of watchdog journalism that led to congressional hearings and lower rates of opiate prescriptions to vulnerable veterans. This story exposed a national problem with an impressive collection of data highlighted by moving stories of individuals affected by VA policies.

The Silver Heart Award goes to Cynthia Hubert of the Sacramento Bee who has covered homelessness in Sacramento for more than a decade. Her deep sourcing from years on the beat allowed her to uncover a national scandal: For five years, the Las Vegas Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital transported more than 1,500 patients to other cities via Greyhound bus, sending at least one person to every state in the continental U.S. About a third of those patients were dispatched throughout California.

Frank Mina of the San Francisco Chronicle receives the Unsung Hero Award for transforming sfchronicle.com from an afterthought to now one of the best subscription-based newspaper websites in the region. Through an engaging layout populated with meaningful stories, the Chronicle’s new website entices readers to spend more time interacting with online content than before. Notably, Mina started pushing the media organization toward a new online direction before executive leadership had committed to changing the company’s strategy.

E.B. Boyd is honored with the board’s John Gothberg/Meritorious Service to SPJ Award. Boyd served on the board of SPJ-NorCal from 2010-2014 and was president from 2012-2014. During that time, she was a tireless advocate for the future of journalism and championed the use of tech tools to help journalists do more impactful reporting. Boyd is an award-winning journalist who has reported domestically and internationally for newspapers, magazines, TV and online outlets, including as a producer for CNN in the Middle East, a contributor to Fast Company and San Francisco magazines, and a staff writer for The Toledo Blade. She is currently at work on a project about the end of the war in Afghanistan.

The 2014 winners will be honored at SPJ NorCal’s 29th annual awards dinner on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014, at the City Club in San Francisco.

For details and to purchase tickets, please see http://bitly.com/EIJ2014AwardsDinner

For questions, call Lila LaHood (415) 846-5346 or Liz Enochs (415) 608-0220.



JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR: Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News — and — The NBC Bay Area Investigative Team

DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO JOURNALISM: Martin G. Reynolds, Digital First Media

CAREER ACHIEVEMENT: Eric Grunder, The Record (retired)

UNSUNG HERO: Frank Mina, San Francisco Chronicle


SILVER HEART: Cynthia Hubert, Sacramento Bee


ARTS & CULTURE (print/text small division): Sam Levin of the East Bay Express for “When Corporations Want Profits, They Don’t Ask for Permission,” a well-sourced report about artists whose work was stolen by foreign and domestic entities and resold without notifying, compensating or crediting the artists.

ARTS & CULTURE (print/text large division): Rachel Swan of SF Weekly for “Lust’s Labors Lost,” which examines the downfall of the Lusty Lady, a worker-owned exotic dance venue.

ARTS & CULTURE (radio/audio): George Lavender, Zoe Sullivan and Gabe Matthews of Making Contact for “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game,” a look at the economic, environmental and social cost of preparing for World Cup 2014 in Brazil.

ARTS & CULTURE (TV/video): Lori Halloran, Lincoln Else, Debra Schaffner and Peter Borg of KQED for “Photographer on a Mission,” a profile of Ed Drew, who creates tintype portraits of his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan that evoke the timelessness of war, and brings his rare photographic skill to an organic garden project that’s empowers at-risk youth.

BEST SCOOP (all media): Kevin Fagan of the San Francisco Chronicle for “Gold Country couple discover $10 million in buried coins,” a fun treasure trove story that went viral.

BREAKING NEWS (print/text): The staff of the Bay Area News Group for their comprehensive, well-designed, data- and graphic-rich coverage of the Asiana Crash at San Francisco International Airport.

BREAKING NEWS (radio/audio): KCBS News Team for “Crash of Asiana Flight 241,” an amazing record of what happened during the Asiana crash with riveting first-hand accounts.

COMMENTARY: John Diaz of the San Francisco Chronicle, for the range and depth of topics he covered in columns that address local, state and societal issues with sophisticated insights and sound reporting.

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (print/text): The Berkeleyside staff for broad and innovative coverage. The site provides residents with news as it is happening, plus comprehensive, timely stories about important issues in the community.

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (radio/audio): Troy Williams, Nigel Poor and Holly Kernan of KALW for “The San Quentin Prison Report,” which highlights the stories of a prison community that outsiders rarely hear, including stories not only told from within the prison, but also produced by inmates.

DATA VISUALIZATION: A collaboration of the Center for Investigative Reporting, the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED on “Subsidized Squalor,” The data visualizations for this project on a decrepit public housing project encourage readers to explore details that would normally get lost in a government report.

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (print/text large division): Liza Gross for “New Hope for Soldiers Disfigured in War” in Discover magazine. Gross’ article, gracefully turned complicated science into something almost obvious, bringing fresh attention to cutting-edge work that has broad societal implications.

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (print/text small division): The staff of the San Francisco Public Press for “Public Schools, Private Money,” a project exploring the gap between schools in well-off versus poorer neighborhoods. This investigation unveils root causes of inequality in funding, and companion stories provide inspirational solutions and evidence of willingness to adopt them.

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (radio/audio): Angela Johnston, Charlotte Silver, Ben Trefny and Melanie Young of KALW for the timely “The New Gold Rush” series, which includes stories on how tourist rentals are affecting San Francisco’s housing market, and how tech companies are changing the Mid-Market district.

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (TV/video): Leon Felipe Gonzalez, Carolina Nuñez and Luis Felipe Godinez of Univision for “Esclavas sin Fronteras,” a story about a young woman from California who became a victim of sex trafficking in Mexico and uncovered a massive human exploitation ring that operated in luxurious strip clubs in Mexico City.

FEATURE STORYTELLING (print/text large division): Stephanie M. Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle for “Outsourcing a Life,” a thoughtful piece that brings to light the ethical implications surrounding the growing, unregulated world of international surrogacy.

FEATURE STORYTELLING (print/text small division): Kathleen Richards of the East Bay Express for “Hunting With a Rat” in which she writes engagingly about her confrontation with guns, bikers and wild boars, exploring the dilemma of a meat eater who abhors killing.

FEATURE STORYTELLING (radio/audio): George Lavender, Andrew Stelzer, Lisa Rudman and Kwan Booth of Making Contact for the “I SPY segment” from “Shh! Life in a State of Surveillance,” which portrays the story of how artist and professor Hasan Elahi began doing “self-surveillance” when he was mistakenly placed on a terror watch list.

FEATURE STORYTELLING (TV/video): Monica Lam, Aarti Shahani, Aaron Drury and Jeremy Raff of KQED for “Finding Hidden Genius,”  which deftly up-ended stereotypes and provided a thoughtful, well-crafted story about young black men as tech revolutionaries.

INVESTIGATIVE (print/text large division): Christina Jewett and Will Evans of the Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with Scott Zamost and Drew Griffin of CNN for “Rehab Racket,” which uncovered widespread fraud among taxpayer-funded substance abuse treatment programs in Southern California, prompting a state audit.

INVESTIGATIVE (print/text small division): Rebecca Bowe and Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez of the San Francisco Bay Guardian for “Friends in the Shadows,” which shows how developers, corporations and city contractors buy influence in City Hall — a fascinating account of relationships between seemingly innocuous organizations and political decision-makers.

INVESTIGATIVE (radio/audio): Allison Budner, Martina Castro, Alyssa Kapnik Samuel, Seth Samuel and Ben Trefny of KALW for “The Race to an Emergency,” a radio documentary that traces the path of a 911 call in Oakland. The story explores the inner workings of this vital public service and poses a bigger question about the emergency response system: Does it serve all residents equally?

INVESTIGATIVE (TV/video): NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit of KNTV NBC Bay Area for “Sysco’s Dirty Secret: Hidden Food Sheds Across U.S. and Canada.” (Described above.)

JOURNALISM INNOVATION: Samantha Grant and Brittney Shepherd of GUSH Productions for “Decisions on Deadline,” an interactive game that puts players in the shoes of a reporter facing deadline-driven decisions and ethical dilemmas. The experience brings to life the questions journalists encounter every day — and forces participants to wrestle with them under the same kind of time pressure.

OUTSTANDING EMERGING JOURNALIST: Joaquin Palomino for outstanding reporting and writing in “Archaeology’s Poisonous Past” in High Country News, and “California’s Thirsty Almonds” and “The Water Tunnel Boondoggle” in the East Bay Express.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (audio slideshow): Dai Sugano of the San Jose Mercury News for “Grading America’s Future Immigrants,” which features well-executed portraits illustrating a complicated concept, and uses audio to clarify and personalize the story.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (photo essay): Nina Berman and Michael Mechanic of Mother Jones for “It Was Kind of Like Slavery.” They used a visual style that set the proper mood for a story about five men returning to the Florida school where they were once students — and where a decades-long history of child abuse and killing is finally coming to light.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (portfolio): LiPo Ching of the San Jose Mercury News for demonstrating a broad range of high-quality photojournalism across general assignments, portraiture and sports.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (single image): John Green of the San Jose Mercury News for a timely image of the Asiana plane crash at San Francisco International Airport.

PUBLIC SERVICE: Aaron Glantz, Adithya Sambamurthy, Aaron Williams and Agustin Armendariz of the Center for Investigative Reporting for “The VA’s Opiate Overload.” (Described above.)

STUDENT SPECIAL PROJECT: Sean Greene of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for “Climate California,” a comprehensive, well-researched, sophisticated package featuring fun and informative animated graphics.

VIDEO JOURNALISM (video journalism essay): Trey Bundy, Daffodil Altan, Anna Vignet and Michael I. Schiller of the Center for Investigative Reporting for “The Box,” a compelling take on an important issue that uses animation to tell the story of a teen who spent time in solitary confinement in New York City’s Rikers Island jail.