SPJ NorCal Honors 2020 Excellence in Journalism Award Winners


CONTACT: Ben Trefny (415) 290-2421 or Lila LaHood (415) 846-5346

SAN FRANCISCO — The Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter, honors Otis R. Taylor Jr. as Journalist of the Year for his work at the San Francisco Chronicle, for the 35th Annual Excellence in Journalism Awards.

The chapter honors Taylor for having the foresight, drive and skills to bring attention to police brutality in Vallejo and elsewhere before the officer-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. His focus on issues of inequity kept a spotlight on racial justice before demonstrations brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the mainstream. Taylor’s connections, fearlessness, perspective and accessibility make his columns a must-read. And his willingness to speak truth to power makes him a model journalist for newsrooms across the country reckoning with legacies of racism and damage done to communities they cover. Taylor has moved from Northern California to Georgia to write for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the West’s loss is the South’s gain. Our chapter is pleased to honor him with the Journalist of the Year award as his legacy in this region.

The SPJ NorCal board honors Portia Li with the Career Achievement Award in the print category. Portia has covered San Francisco’s Chinese community for more than 30 years. When she was laid off from the World Journal in April, she didn’t stop. Instead, she used her savings to launch Wind Newspaper — bilingual, free, online and in print — to keep providing for her community.

Vic Lee receives the Career Achievement Award in the broadcast category. Vic focused on San Francisco cops and courts for much of his 50 year career. Considered one of the best, and nicest, people in the business, Vic broke story after story by using connections carefully cultivated over many years. As his team at ABC7 stated, “for San Francisco public officials, getting interviewed by Vic has been a rite of passage for decades.” He was recognized as a legend long before he retired last year.

The board honors Jon Funabiki with the Distinguished Service to Journalism Award for his dedication to collaboration, diversity, inclusion and equity in the media. Jon reported for 17 years for the San Diego Union-Tribune, founded the Center for Integration & Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University, worked as a program officer at the Ford Foundation for 11 years, and founded and directed Renaissance Journalism before recently retiring from that role.

This year’s Unsung Hero Award goes to the richly deserving Adi Gevins. Widely known as “the fairy godmother of community radio,” Adi is protector of the KPFA archives, which stretch back to the mid-20th Century, and she assists organizations around the country in archiving their own broadcasts. Adi’s East Bay roots run deep — she holds a master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of California at Berkeley.

The team at KBBF receives this year’s Silver Heart Award. Broadcasting from studios in Santa Rosa, its mission is to create a strong multilingual voice that empowers and engages the community to achieve social justice through education, celebration of culture, and local and international news coverage. KBBF played a critical role communicating in indigenous languages to ensure farmworkers could stay safe during wildfires that threatened their lives.

This year’s John Gothberg/Meritorious Service to SPJ NorCal Award goes to Lauren Smiley, Christine Peek, co-chairs of the chapter’s Freedom of Information Committee. Under their leadership, SPJ NorCal’s most active committee has worked hard this year to defend journalists covering protests throughout Northern California and ensure they have the right to access demonstration sites and public records. When Christine and Lauren took over as co-chairs, they helped recruit members for San Francisco’s Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, promoting and ensuring transparency in the city’s public affairs.

El Tecolote receives a special commendation in honor of its 50th anniversary. Juan Gonzales was a student at San Francisco State University when he had the idea to found a Spanish/English bilingual newspaper. The publication has covered critical issues ignored by mainstream media outlets. Its longevity is a testimonial to the important role it plays and information gaps it fills for people throughout the Bay Area. Its recent multimedia expansion reinforces El Tecolote as a vital presence.

The 2020 winners will be honored at SPJ NorCal’s 35th Excellence in Journalism Awards Ceremony, to be held virtually at a date to be determined. Stay tuned!

2020 Award Winners

Board Awards

JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR: Otis R. Taylor Jr., San Francisco Chronicle
CAREER ACHIEVEMENT — PRINT: Portia Li, Wind Newspaper
DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO JOURNALISM: Jon Funabiki, SFSU and Renaissance Journalism

Contest Awards

ARTS & CULTURE (print/online large division): Sarah Hotchkiss of KQED for her Bay Area arts coverage, including stories about the San Francisco Art Institute, public art in Richmond and a review of an SFMOMA exhibit featuring April Dawn Alison.

ARTS & CULTURE (print/online small division): Sarah Han of Berkeleyside for her food reporting in the East Bay, encompassing restaurant reviews as well as social and ethical issues.

ARTS & CULTURE (radio/audio): Lisa Morehouse, James Rowlands, Gabe Grabin and Shereen Adel of KALW for the “New Arrivals” series, featuring books by Bay Area authors, including an in-depth look at “Home Baked,” a memoir about one woman’s subversive response to the AIDS crisis.

ARTS & CULTURE (TV/video): Armando Aparicio, Kelly Whalen, Elie Khadra and Masha Pershay of KQED for a series of videos capturing artists and dancers in the Bay Area and beyond.

BEST SCOOP (all media): Laurel Rosenhall of CalMatters for “Exclusive: California wires mask dealer half a billion dollars, then claws it back.”

BREAKING NEWS (radio/audio): Sarah Mizes-Tan, Scott Rodd, Sammy Caiola, Nicole Nixon, Emily Zentner, Ezra David Romero and Andrew Nixon of CapRadio for their coverage of the George Floyd demonstrations for racial justice in Sacramento.

COMMENTARY/ANALYSIS (print/online): Steve Brooks of the Prison Journalism Project for his commentary on criminal justice in California.

COMMENTARY/ANALYSIS (radio/audio): Jenee Darden, David Boyer, Audrey Dilling and Gabe Grabin of KALW for “Bay View: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression,” in which Jenee Darden shares her mental health journey.

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (print/online): The staff of The Oaklandside for their community coverage, including reporting on Alameda County loosening shelter-in-place restrictions, how community members coped with the pandemic, reflections from longtime Black community organizers on protests against police brutality, student leadership of marches, and an explanation of their community listening process.

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (radio/audio): San Quentin Radio and the Uncuffed team at Solano State Prison with KALW for “Uncuffed,” a show about life in prison, including episodes about creating music to express remorse, rebuilding family relationships, getting through the holidays and facing the coronavirus threat.

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (TV/video): Jenee Darden, Jen Chien and Zoe Mountain of KALW for “Where is East Oakland?

DATA VISUALIZATION (all media): The staff of Bay Area News Group/Mercury News/East Bay Times for “Who Owns Silicon Valley,” “House Poor: How price hikes hurt the most vulnerable,” and for their Coronavirus Tracker for the Bay Area and California.

DESIGN (web/mobile): Bryan Bindloss, Kate Hawkins, Kelly Heigert, Rebecca Kao and Nastia Voynovskaya of KQED for “Our Turbulent Decade.”

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (print/online large division): Kate Cimini, Jackie Botts and Lo Benichou of CalMatters for “Close Quarters: California’s overcrowded homes fuel spread of coronavirus among workers.”

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (print/online small division): Liz Enochs of Shareable for “Cities at turning point: Will upzoning ease housing inequalities or build on zoning’s racist legacy?

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (radio/audio): Lee Romney and Lisa Morehouse of KALW for “California School Districts Lag on Dyslexia, Hurting Low-Income Kids of Color Most.”

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (TV/video): Candice Nguyen, Robert Campos and Jeremy Carroll of NBC Bay Area for “The Plight of the Pangolin,” an investigation into how the endangered animal might have been linked to the spread of COVID-19.

FEATURES JOURNALISM (print/online large division): Becca Andrews of Mother Jones for “When Choice is 221 Miles Away: The Nightmare of Getting an Abortion in the South.”

FEATURES JOURNALISM (print/online small division): Natalie Orenstein of Berkeleyside for “‘Crisis’ or crossroads: What’s in the future for Longfellow Middle School?

FEATURES JOURNALISM (radio/audio): Christopher Egusa and Gabe Grabin of KALW for “Dancing Out Loud: Antoine Hunter Uses Dance To Express The Deaf Experience.”

FEATURES JOURNALISM (TV/video): Monica Lam, Sruti Mamidanna and Dina Maria Munsch of KQED for “Out on the Inside: Transgender Women Share Stories From a California Prison.”

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (print/online large division): Robert Lewis, David DeBolt, Laurence Du Sault and Katey Rusch of Bay Area News Group/Mercury News/East Bay Times and the UC Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program for their contributions to the “California’s Criminal Cops” series, including “This Central Valley police chief forced an officer to remodel his home; now he’s California’s latest criminal cop,” and “Attorney General: California could join 45 other states to strip problem officers of badges.”

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (print/online small division): The staff of Voices of Monterey Bay for “How a criminal organization took control of a nonprofit community group in Salinas.”

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (radio/audio): April Dembosky and Sasha Khokha of KQED for “She Killed Her Children. Can We Forgive Her?” about how laws governing violent behavior resulting from postpartum psychosis are inequitably enforced and need re-examination.

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (TV/video): The staff of NBC Bay Area for “Thousands of Foreign Students May Have Overstayed Visas Through Employment at Possible Shell Companies.”

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (print/online large division): Lauren Smiley for “A Brutal Murder, a Wearable Witness, and an Unlikely Suspect” for Wired.

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (print/online small division): Emilie Raguso of Berkeleyside for “He was punched in the face at Santa Rita Jail. He died 10 days later. His family wants answers.”

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (radio/audio): Ericka Cruz Guevarra and “The Bay” staff of KQED for their three-part series on policing in Vallejo, including “The Life and Death of Willie McCoy,” “Police Narrative of Her Brother’s Shooting” and “How Did Things Get So Bad Between Vallejo and Its Police?

ONGOING COVERAGE (print/online large division): Josh Eidelson of Bloomberg News for uncovering accusations of widespread harassment by the leader of the American Federation of Government Employees, the nation’s largest federal employee union.

ONGOING COVERAGE (print/online small division): Brian Howey of the San Francisco Public Press for his reporting on and critique of San Francisco’s systems supporting the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.

ONGOING COVERAGE (radio/audio): Lucy Kang and Salima Hamirani of “Making Contact” for “On the Brink: Homelessness Before and During COVID-19.”

ONGOING COVERAGE (TV/video): Lisa Fernandez of KTVU Channel 2 for reporting on the story of Christian Madrigal, a young man who hung himself after being chained to a cell door, following the story from from the death of a young man to the firing of the officer responsible.

OUTSTANDING EMERGING JOURNALIST (all media): Julian Mark of Mission Local for “Anatomy of a police shooting: The chaotic last moments of Jesus Delgado Duarte,” “Homeless poet and bird lover John ‘Swan’ Ratliff is back on the street — and suffering,” and “Love in the time of COVID-19: ‘Not having sex is definitely frustrating.’”

PHOTOJOURNALISM (breaking news – individual): Dai Sugano of Bay Area News Group/Mercury News/East Bay Times for a photo (image No. 16 of 57 in the photo gallery) of a protester taking a knee in front of San Jose Police officers during a protest in San Jose in response to the killing of George Floyd.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (breaking news — team): Dai Sugano, Randy Vazquez and Nhat V. Meyer of Bay Area News Group/Mercury News/East Bay Times for their coverage of San Jose protesters clashing with police in demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (photo essay): The staff of Bay Area News Group/Mercury News/East Bay Times for “Empty streets, solitary lives,” which captures a broad view of life during the first 30 days of stay-at-home orders across the Bay Area.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (portfolio): Dai Sugano of Bay Area News Group/Mercury News/East Bay Times for his photos on a broad range of timely topics.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (single image): Randy Vazquez of Bay Area News Group/Mercury News/East Bay Times for a photo of Claudia Meza, holding her granddaughter, in a hospital bed at her home in San Jose after spending weeks in a hospital on a ventilator fighting the coronavirus.

PODCAST JOURNALISM: The “Truth Be Told” team at KQED for their podcast about featuring Black and Indigenous people and other people of color looking to each other for insight and analysis on a variety of topics, including therapy, body image, healing from trauma and the new civil rights movement.

PUBLIC SERVICE (all media): KQED, the Los Angeles Times, Bay Area News Group, Southern California News Group, KPCC, Capital Public Radio, UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program and all 40 members of the California Reporting Project for “Unsealed: California’s Secret Police Misconduct and Use-of-Force Files.”

SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH REPORTING (print/online): Rob Waters for reporting on how public health systems address systemic health problems, including a program to help people leaving prison connect with health care clinics, and a community mental health system in Trieste, Italy, that has inspired a similar effort in Los Angeles, all for Health Affairs; peer support services for Kaiser Health News; and community health workers supporting low-income African American and Latino communities for the California Health Care Foundation blog.

SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH REPORTING (radio/audio): Marissa Ortega-Welch of KALW for her reporting about predatory gulls eating other birds, using controlled fire to manage wildfires in the Eastern Sierras, backpacking in the age of smartphones, the history of Oakland’s Lake Merritt as the nation’s first wildlife refuge and camping safely during the pandemic.

SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH REPORTING (TV/video): The team producing KQED’s “Deep Look” series, including segments that zero in on kidnapper ants, fungus that turns flies into zombies, webspinners, the birth of a tsetse fly and California floater mussels hitching rides on fish gills or fins.

SPORTS REPORTING: Ben Trefny, Jenee Darden and Bo Walsh of KALW for “Bounce: The Warriors Last Season In Oakland,” a podcast series examining the impact of the Golden State Warriors move from Oakland to a new facility in San Francisco not just for basketball fans but for the community.

STUDENT SPECIAL PROJECT (all media): Kimberly Piñon, Adriana Marquez, Alyssa Piñon Villanueva and Claudia Meléndez Salinas for “Monterey County Young Voices Project: The Pandemic,” a special package produced for Voices of Monterey Bay about how their lives, and the lives of those in their community, were affected during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

TECHNOLOGY REPORTING (print/online): Megan Hernbroth of Business Insider for her reporting about the unraveling of Zume Pizza, a well-funded, Silicon Valley startup that promised to revolutionize the food industry with pizza-baking robots — and fizzled after a string of missteps.

TECHNOLOGY REPORTING (radio/audio): Salima Hamirani of “Making Contact” for “Bad Math: the Risks of Artificial Intelligence.”

VIDEO JOURNALISM (feature): Randy Vazquez of Bay Area News Group/Mercury News/East Bay Times for “Coronavirus: After weeks on a ventilator, San Jose mother comes home to the most unbearable news.”

VIDEO JOURNALISM (portfolio): Jane Bahk of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley for her “Science of Happiness” video series, on topics such as self-compassion, savoring a walk, gratitude and values.