SPJ NorCal Honors 2021 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 Alexandria Bordas as Journalist of the Year for her work at the San Francisco Chronicle, for the 36th Annual Excellence in Journalism Awards.

Bordas is being honored for her dogged and relentless pursuit of truth and justice by telling the stories of numerous women who say they were sexually assaulted by the then-mayor of Windsor, a small town in the heart of Wine Country. Bordas connected with the women, who trusted her to expose the abuse of power and injustice. She pitched the story to the San Francisco Chronicle, where she now works as an investigative reporter, and where her continued reporting on this issue led to the resignation of the mayor and an ongoing criminal investigation.

Bordas’s work serves as a reminder of journalists’ responsibility to shed light on wrongdoing and hold power to account.

The SPJ NorCal board honors William Gee Wong with the Career Achievement Award in the print category. Wong began his 40-plus-year career at the San Francisco Chronicle, then moved to the Wall Street Journal and finally the Oakland Tribune. Born and raised in Oakland Chinatown, Wong became one of the few Asian Americans on any newspaper masthead when he was made assistant managing editor of the Tribune. Ultimately, he found his metier as a columnist at the Tribune and commentator with outlets as disparate as AsianWeek and “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.” The Asian American Journalists Association came about, in part, because its co-founder had been inspired by Wong’s short-lived attempt to unite journalists via a group he started in the 1970s, Asians in Mass Media. He is author of “Yellow Journalist: Dispatches From Asian America, Images of America: Oakland Chinatown and Images of America: Angel Island.”

The board honors Wayne Freedman with the Career Achievement Award in broadcast for his four decades of award-winning reporting in Northern California. Freedman became a fixture of the Bay Area airwaves during his 30-year career at ABC-7 News in San Francisco, where he was known for his masterful writing and his own brand of visual storytelling. His unique approach has been honored with more than 50 Emmy Awards. Freedman also authored the book “It Takes More Than Good Looks to Succeed at Television News Reporting” and has taught journalism seminars across the country. Freedman retired in 2021 but remains active with the National Academy of Television Arts and Science.

The board honors Cristina Azocar and Lourdes Cárdenas with the Distinguished Service to Journalism Award. The pair created a Bilingual Spanish Journalism degree at San Francisco State University — the first public university in the country to offer such a credential — that will equip coming generations of journalists to better cover Spanish-speaking communities. Azocar, a professor in the university’s journalism department, researches race and journalism and served as president of the Native American Journalists Association. Cárdenas is an assistant professor in the journalism department and has worked as a journalist in U.S. and Mexican media for more than 25 years.

NBC Bay Area News Operations Manager Kenneth Lopes is being honored with the Unsung Hero Award for his crucial behind-the-scenes work keeping reporters safe and on the air during the pandemic. Lopes overcame the station’s work-from-home logistical challenges, equipping reporters and anchors so they could report from in-home news studios. Lopes also helped protect his colleagues, sourcing PPE for field crews and in-house staff, and taking measures to address the recent wave of armed robberies targeting broadcast and photojournalists.

The Silver Heart is awarded to Paula Lehman-Ewing for her extraordinary dedication to amplifying the unheard voices of formerly and currently incarcerated people. She was given the task of revitalizing a defunct publication that now supports the voices and includes the leadership of formerly incarcerated people in the movement to restore the human and civil rights of people impacted by the prison-industrial complex. The All Of Us Or None newspaper is now sent into every prison in California and more than 160 prison yards all over the country.

The John Gothberg Award for Meritorious Service to SPJ NorCal goes to Rahsaan Thomas for his work leading the San Quentin SPJ Satellite Chapter during the pandemic, working to keep information and news coming out of the prison while it was locked down and being ravaged by the virus. Thomas also continued his own journalism from the inside as a writer, host of the Ear Hustle podcast, and documentary filmmaker. His infectious personality and passion also help draw men newly arriving at San Quentin into journalism. Even as the pandemic rages, the San Quentin media center still buzzes with creative energy, thanks, in large part, to Thomas and his colleagues.

The 2021 winners will be honored at SPJ NorCal’s 36th Excellence in Journalism Awards Ceremony, to be held virtually on Thursday, Feb. 17. RSVP here.

2021 Award Winners

Board Awards

  • JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR: Alexandria Bordas, San Francisco Chronicle
  • DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO JOURNALISM: Cristina Azocar and Lourdes Cárdenas, San Francisco State University
  • UNSUNG HERO: Kenneth Lopes, NBC Bay Area
  • SILVER HEART: Paula Lehman-Ewing, All of Us or None Newspaper
  • JOHN GOTHBERG/MERITORIOUS SERVICE TO SPJ NORCAL: Rahsaan Thomas, Ear Hustle and San Quentin SPJ Satellite Chapter

Contest Awards

ARTS & CULTURE (print/online large division): Abrar Al-Heeti of CNET for stories about revisiting an old television series with current relevance, as well as exploring how Muslims are portrayed in the media and the plight of actors with disabilities.

ARTS & CULTURE (print/online small division): Joe Dworetzky of Bay City News for “Sins Invalid to stream performance about climate change and its impact on the disabled community

ARTS & CULTURE (radio/audio): Jenee Darden of KALW for episodes of “Sights and Sounds” about a best-selling trans author who grew up in Oakland, another local author who is the producer of a live-action Marvel show, and students connecting to history through the hit musical “Hamilton.”

ARTS & CULTURE (TV/video): Armando Aparicio, Chinwe Oniah, Spencer Wilkinson, Charlotte Buchen Khadra, Eric Arnold, Elie Khadra, Kelly Whalen and Masha Pershay of KQED for three episodes of “If Cities Could Dance” representing Oakland, Fremont and Los Angeles.

BEST SCOOP (all media): Laurel Rosenhall of CalMatters for “California NAACP president aids corporate prop campaigns — collects $1.2 million and counting.”

BREAKING NEWS (print/online): The staff of the Mercury News for reporting on a mass shooting in which nine people were killed at a San Jose VTA rail yard.

COMMENTARY/ANALYSIS (print/online): John Jones III of The Oaklandside for “Why is gun violence spiking? An East Oakland native digs into his past and the city’s history to explain

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (print/online): The staff at Open Vallejo for a broad range of community reporting on issues such as police action related to fatal shootings, including the killing of Sean Monterrosa, as well as an elected official accused of domestic violence and real estate development on Mare Island.

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (radio/audio): Pendarvis Harshaw, Marisol Medina-Cadena, Jessica Placzek and Asal Ehsanipour of KQED for episodes of “Rightnowish in East Oakland” about community members fighting sex trafficking, promoting social justice and community safety, and working to end mass incarceration.

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (TV/video): Candice Nguyen, Michael Bott and Mark Villarreal of NBC Bay Area for “#MeTooLGHS: Investigating Teen Sex Assault Accusations by Los Gatos Students.”

DATA VISUALIZATION (all media): Paiching Wei and Harriet Blair Rowan of the Mercury News for a COVID-19 tracker as well as data visualization for projects on big spenders backing California ballot measures and how the Bay Area’s COVID response failed Latinos.

DESIGN (print design): Giorgia Virgili and Summer Moore Batte of STANFORD Magazine for “The Foreseeable Future.”

DESIGN (web/mobile): Doug Ng of The Oaklandside and Berkeleyside for “Scarred but resilient: Telegraph Avenue emerges from the pandemic.”

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (print/online large division): Leonardo Castañeda, Fiona Kelliher and David Debolt of the Mercury News for “How the Bay Area’s COVID Response Failed Latinos.”

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (print/online small division): Lois Henry, Yaffa Frederick, Ryan Christopher Jones and Jillian Dudziak of SJV Water in collaboration with Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism for “The Central California Town That Keeps Sinking.”

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (radio/audio): Andrew Stelzer, Sarah Shourd, Lisa Morehouse and Gabe Grabin of KALW for “Criminalizing Mental Illness” Part I and Part II.

FEATURES JOURNALISM (print/online large division): The staff of CalMatters for “A Year of Loss: Reflections on the Pandemic in California.”

FEATURES JOURNALISM (print/online small division): Eric Simons of Bay Nature for “Land Back.”

FEATURES JOURNALISM (radio/audio): Christine Nguyen, Victoria Mauleon, Brendan Willard and Sasha Khokha of KQED for “‘I’m So Tired of Being Scared’: Two Asian American Women Explain Why They Bought a Gun This Year.”

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (print/online large division): Lily Jamali of KQED for “Survivors Stuck in Limbo as PG&E Fire Victim Trust Pays Out $50 Million in Fees.”

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (print/online small division): Darwin BondGraham, Sarah Belle Lin and Jonah Owen Lamb of The Oaklandside for “Did OPD violate its own policies against protesters? We investigated.”

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (radio/audio): Molly Peterson, Lisa Pickoff-White, April Dembosky and Danielle Venton of KQED for “Older and Overlooked,” an investigation into how wildfires endanger older Californians in particular ways — and more so during a pandemic.

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (TV/video): Michael Bott, Candice Nguyen and Mark Villarreal of NBC Bay Area for an investigation into the COVID-19 outbreak at San Quentin.

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (print/online large division): Gregory Barber of WIRED for “The Lithium Mine Versus the Wildflower.”

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (print/online small division): Leilani Marie Labong of Sactown Magazine for “Nut Tree Forever.”

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (radio/audio): Sasha Khokha (Reporter), Victoria Mauleon, Amanda Font, Brendan Willard and Rob Speight of KQED for “‘A Butterfly With My Wings Cut Off’: A Transgender Asylum Seeker’s Quest to Come to CA.”

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (TV/video): Michael Bott, Sean Myers, Evita Isleta and Michael Horn of NBC Bay Area for “The Moms of Magnolia Street,” episodes 1, 2, 3 and 4.

ONGOING COVERAGE (print/online large division): Scott Rodd of Capital Public Radio for investigating and following how the state of California forged pandemic-related contracts — some influenced by lobbying — to provide health care, unemployment benefits processing and personal protective equipment.

ONGOING COVERAGE (print/online small division): Peter Byrne of the North Bay Bohemian and Pacific Sun for Point Reyes National Seashore coverage, including debates on the continuation of dairy and cattle ranching, bacteria contamination at beaches, recognition of Coast Miwok history in the area and treatment of tule elk on federal parklands.

ONGOING COVERAGE (radio/audio): Holly J. McDede, Sona Avakian, Chris Egusa and Alice Woelfle of KALW for “The Progressive Prosecutor” a series looking at San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s first year in office.

ONGOING COVERAGE (TV/video): Michael Bott, Candice Nguyen and Carlos Villareal of NBC Bay Area for covering ongoing failures and scandal inside Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose.

OUTSTANDING EMERGING JOURNALIST (all media): Supriya Yelimeli of Berkeleyside for reporting on Berkeley’s racist zoning history, the death of a homeless veteran of the U.S. Navy who had hoped to become a music producer, and how the school district handled reopening schools during the pandemic.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (breaking news – individual): Karl Mondon of the Mercury News for his compelling photos of local and national stories.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (breaking news — team): The Mercury News staff for their coverage of the Glass Fire in Napa and Sonoma counties, local reaction to the 2020 presidential election and a mass shooting at a Valley Transportation Authority light rail yard in San Jose.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (photo essay — more than 15 images): Yesica Prado of the San Francisco Public Press in collaboration with CatchLight for documenting the lives of Bay Area residents living in vehicles in “Driving Home: Surviving the Housing Crisis.”

PHOTOJOURNALISM (photo essay — 6 to 14 images): The Mercury News staff photographers for offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse of their experience documenting the devastating August Complex wildfires of 2020.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (photo essay — 5 images): Ray Chavez, Karl Mondon, Dai Sugano and Randy Vazquez of the Mercury News for images of the Bay Area celebrating reopening after more than a year of shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (portfolio): Dai Sugano of the Mercury News for a portfolio of images covering a wide range of subjects.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (single image): Nhat Meyer of the Mercury News for his photo of COVID-19 patient Juan Flores speaking to his son Israel on an iPad in the intensive care unit at Regional Medical Center in San Jose on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020.

PODCAST JOURNALISM: Sukey Lewis, Sandhya Dirks and Alex Emslie for “On Our Watch,” investigating how the police accountability system operates, who it serves and who it protects.

PUBLIC SERVICE (all media): Julia Prodis Sulek and Elliott Almond of the Mercury News for revealing a sports trainer’s abuse of athletes at San Jose State University and how university leaders enabled it.

SCIENCE REPORTING (print/online): John Markoff of Alta Journal for “The Butterfly Effect.”

ENVIRONMENT REPORTING (print/online): Paul Koberstein and Jessica Applegate of Earth Island Journal for “Carbon Conundrum.”

HEALTH REPORTING (print/online): Monica Vaughan of The Fresno Bee for a series of stories about contaminated drinking water in majority Latino communities.

SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH REPORTING (radio/audio): Danielle Venton, Kevin Stark, Ezra David Romero and Laura Klivans of KQED for KQED’s projects that examined solutions to two of the region’s biggest climate threats: sea level rise and wildfire.

SCIENCE, ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH REPORTING (TV/video): The Deep Look team at KQED for their ongoing video series, including episodes on beach hoppers, aphids, flies, starfish and cape sundews.

SPORTS REPORTING (print/online — small): Kaiyo Funaki of The Guardsman for “Undefeated in Record, Champions at Heart.”

STUDENT SPECIAL PROJECT (all media): Chosang Tenzin, Hannah Ni, Zara Ahmed and Masiyah Edwards of KALW for “tbh,” a show by, for and about teenagers, for episodes on criminalizing student behavior, in-school segregation, and sexual assault and relationships.

TECHNOLOGY REPORTING (print/online): Jack Morse of Mashable for “Privacy Please,” a series exploring the ways privacy is violated in the modern world and what can be done about it.

VIDEO JOURNALISM (portfolio): Jennifer Molina of EdSource for her coverage of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Updated Feb. 3, 2022, to correct order of work history for Career Achievement in print and to add names to additional team awards.  Updated Jan. 28, 2022, to add names to the team receiving the Arts & Culture (TV/video) award and to clarify the Journalist of the Year description.)