SPJ NorCal Honors 2023 Excellence in Journalism Award Winners


CONTACT: SPJ NorCal President Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez (415) 310-9964 or SPJ NorCal Vice President Ida Mojadad imojadad [at] gmail.com

SAN FRANCISCO — The Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter, selects Nate Gartrell as Journalist of the Year for his work at the Bay Area News Group — Mercury News/East Bay Times, for the upcoming 38th Annual Excellence in Journalism Awards.

In a time of keen public focus on criminal justice, Gartrell stands atop the beat this year. 

Gartrell and other honorees of SPJ NorCal’s 38th Excellence in Journalism Awards will be recognized at the awards dinner on Thursday, Dec. 7, at the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco. The full list of winners is at the end of this news release. 

The board chose Gartrell for its highest award. The depth of his criminal justice reporting – and his 617 bylines in a year – demands the attention of the Bay Area, especially in Antioch. Gartrell has woven together extensive records and key leaks that shined a bright light on Antioch. During this time, the public learned of the revelation of a federal grand jury considering indictments of multiple Antioch Police Department officers for civil rights violations, police dogs severely injuring 13 unarmed people, and eye-opening details of the department’s racist text messages. 

When 14 officers were ultimately charged in the scandal, Gartrell’s editor wrote, “it confirmed just how solid Nate’s reporting had been. The main characters of his earlier reporting and the charges officers were facing were familiar to anyone who had been reading Nate for the past year.”

The SPJ NorCal board honors Bob Butler with the Career Achievement Award in broadcast to recognize his 42 years in journalism and his work in diversity and mentoring the next generation. Butler recently retired from KCBS Radio. While Butler was often out front covering Bay Area stories stretching back to the Loma Prieta earthquake, it is his work behind the scenes that improved journalism, and through education and mobilization bolstered the careers of hundreds of journalists. From leadership positions with the National Association of Black Journalists and SAG-AFTRA, Butler has championed diversity in our industry with dedication. 

The board honors Lydia Chavez of Mission Local with the Career Achievement Award in the print category. Chavez’s bylines span local news, to national, and back to local again. She has ranged from the Albuquerque Tribune, to The New York Times, and then to San Francisco to start Mission Local. She launched the site as a UC Berkeley project in 2008 and shepherded it into independence in 2014. Now Mission Local is onto a new chapter, becoming a 501c3 tax-exempt organization and essential San Francisco news source, cementing Chavez’s legacy in San Francisco journalism.

The board honors Geeta Anand, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and California State Sen. Steve Glazer with the Distinguished Service to Journalism Award. Their efforts to pass legislation secured funding for, and implementation of, the California Local News Fellowships, which resulted in a three-year program that places cohorts of early career journalists for two years in local newsrooms around the state. The inaugural group of 39 journalists reporting from Humboldt to San Diego, was announced this year. At a time of dwindling resources for California newsrooms, when “news deserts” are becoming far too common, Anand and Glazer have laid a foundation for supporting important coverage provided to California communities who need it. 

Samie Hartley of the Napa Valley Register is being honored with the Unsung Hero Award. Her work is as web editor, a title that doesn’t fully encapsulate the many roles she’s taken on as the Register has faced shrinking sections, furloughs, layoffs, and a move from a daily publication to printing three days a week. Through it all, Hartley has navigated that hardship by wearing more hats than thought possible: calendar editor, subscribers’ help desk, backup designer, and copy editor, all the roles that spin the gears of a publication but rarely get recognition.

Han Li of The San Francisco Standard receives this year’s Silver Heart Award for his dedication and passion for in-depth coverage of San Francisco’s Asian communities. A Chinese immigrant who speaks both Cantonese and Mandarin, Li highlights the voices of monolingual populations long ignored by local English-language press. That same access to Chinese communities enables Li to report political scoops far ahead of his peers – even at the biggest publications in the region – and to tell stories about the people in those communities too. 

The John Gothberg Award for Meritorious Service to SPJ NorCal goes to Michael Bott of NBC Bay Area for many years of service to the SPJ NorCal board during which he has served as a liaison to the satellite SPJ chapter at San Quentin State Prison. It’s not easy to wrangle volunteer journalists to teach their craft to inmates consistently. That job got even tougher during the pandemic, when COVID-19 ripped through the San Quentin population, and a return to normalcy has long tested its existence. But even while juggling a demanding investigative journalism job, Bott continues to bring necessary resources to the journalists at San Quentin. 

The 2023 winners will be honored at SPJ NorCal’s 38th Excellence in Journalism Awards Ceremony, to be held on Thursday, Dec. 7, at the Marines’ Memorial Club & Hotel in San Francisco. RSVP and learn more via Eventbrite. Early bird prices end Friday, Nov. 17 at midnight.

2023 Award Winners

Board Awards

  • JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR: Nate Gartrell, the Bay Area News Group — Mercury News/East Bay Times
  • CAREER ACHIEVEMENT — PRINT: Lydia Chavez, Mission Local
  • DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO JOURNALISM: Geeta Anand, dean, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and California State Sen. Steve Glazer
  • UNSUNG HERO: Samie Hartley, Napa Valley Register
  • SILVER HEART: Han Li, The San Francisco Standard

Contest Awards

ARTS & CULTURE (print/online large division): Rae Alexandra of KQED for stories about an art exhibition about Princess Diana, a documentary about Sinead O’Connor, and a tribute to San Francisco photographer Dave Schubert.

ARTS & CULTURE (print/online small division): Claudia Meléndez Salinas of Voices of Monterey Bay for profiles of Luis Valdez, father of Chicano theater,  and actor Pepe Serna, and a feature on the annual Palenke Arts Festival in Seaside. 

ARTS & CULTURE (radio/audio/podcast): Marisol Medina-Cadena, Jen Chien and Amaya Edwards of KQED for “‘You’re On Native Land’: The Cultural District Honoring Urban Native History

BEST SCOOP (all media): Jon Wilner of the Bay Area News Group — Mercury News/East Bay Times for “USC, UCLA leaving for Big Ten delivers blow to Pac-12” and his further analysis.

BREAKING NEWS (print/online): Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman, Annelise Finney, Rachael Vasquez, Katherine Monahan, Lakshmi Sarah, Attila Pelit, Spencer Whitney, and Sara Hossaini of KQED for “Breached Levee Floods Pajaro River Valley, Engulfing Towns as Communities Are Evacuated

BREAKING NEWS (radio/audio/podcast): Guy Marzorati and Natalia Navarro of KQED for reporting on a mass shooting that targeted a farmworker community in Half Moon Bay. 

BREAKING NEWS (TV/video): Lisa Fernandez, Henry Lee, Allie Rasmus of KTVU Fox 2 for coverage of Oakland’s police chief being placed on leave.

COMMENTARY/ANALYSIS (print/online): Otis R. Taylor Jr. and “Above the Noise ” from KQED for “America’s Highway System Is a Monument to Environmental Racism and a History of Inequity

COMMENTARY/ANALYSIS (radio/audio/podcast): Emiliano Mejia, Carlos Escala, Yulieth Aguilar, and Finn McDonald of KQED for “Inside the Lives of Four Bay Area Teens

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (print/online): Christina MacIntosh of Mission Local for reporting on a neglected public housing complex on Potrero Hill, the people who live and died in it, and the private management company that abandoned them.

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (radio/audio/podcast): The “Uncuffed” producers at KALW for  episodes about the COVID-19 pandemic, fatherhood and Norway’s unique prison system.

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM (TV/video): KRON 4’s Stephanie Lin, Michael Ostler, Rudy Garcia, James Fletcher for stories celebrating the Bay Area’s AAPI community and its history.

EDUCATION REPORTING (print/online): Elissa Miolene and Molly Gibbs of Bay Area News Group — Mercury News/East Bay Times for reporting on miscalculations in teachers’ retirement benefits, how artificial intelligence is affecting education and using remote learning to counteract a shortage of math and science educators.

EDUCATION REPORTING (radio/audio/podcast): Daisy Nguyen of KQED for “The True Cost of Child Care,” including episodes on women seeking jobs in the construction industry, better pay for childcare workers, and a local tax that is keeping child care affordable in San Francisco.

EDUCATION REPORTING (TV/video): Jason Marks and Victor Nieto of KCRA for “Mr. Asher’s Life Lessons

ENVIRONMENT REPORTING (print/online): Anne Marshall-Chalmers and Grey Moran of Civil Eats for reporting climate crisis solutions coming from agriculture, including a surge in drought-resistant agave farming, flooding fields after heavy rains for groundwater restoration, and planting hedgerows for carbon sequestration and other environmental benefits. 

ENVIRONMENT REPORTING (radio/audio/podcast): Ezra David Romero of KQED for “Sacrifice Zones: How Bay Area Community Activists Are Preparing For Sea Level Rise

ENVIRONMENT REPORTING (TV/video): Noticias 19 Univision for “Sequia en California

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (print/online large division): Ben Elgin and Sinduja Rangarajan of Bloomberg Green for “What Really Happens When Emissions Vanish

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (print/online small division): Claudia Melendez Salinas and Zaydee Sanchez of Voices of Monterey Bay for “EXPOSED: A series about the effects of pesticides on communities

EXPLANATORY JOURNALISM (radio/audio/podcast): Marta Martinez and Madeleine Bair of El Tímpano for “Undocumented and Unhoused

FEATURES JOURNALISM (print/online large division): Karen Breslau of Bloomberg News for “California Puts a Price on Slavery’s Legacy and Draws a Blueprint for Reparations

FEATURES JOURNALISM (print/online small division): Joy Lanzendorfer of Alta Journal for “Look Out of You’ll Be Poisoned

FEATURES JOURNALISM (radio/audio/podcast): Jessica Kariisa of KQED for “Did Mac Dre Really Go to Prison Because of His Lyrics?

FEATURES JOURNALISM (tv/video): ABC 10 Sacramento’s John Bartell and Tyler Horst for “What I learned riding in a sacred Yurok canoe

HEALTH REPORTING (print/online): California Healthline Staff of KFF Health News for reporting on homelessness, hospice care for children, and California hospitals seeking bailouts even when they don’t need them.

HEALTH REPORTING (radio/audio/podcast): Sylvie Sturm and Liana Wilcox of the San Francisco Public Press for two “Civic” episodes: “Laguna Honda Doctors Warned SF of Looming Crisis” and “Laguna Honda Hospital Has to Self-Destruct to Survive

INTERVIEW (radio/audio/podcast): Salima Hamirani of Making Contact for “The Fight Over the Indian Child Welfare Act Is Not Just a Custody Battle

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (print/online large division): Alejandro Lazo, Jeanne Kuang, Lil Kalish, and Erica Yee of CalMatters for “Unpaid Wages: A Waiting Game” exploring wage theft in California, and how workers win judgments and in some cases still don’t get paid.

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (print/online small division): Geoffrey King and Laurence Du Sault of Open Vallejo for reporting on how senior officials ordered the destruction of Vallejo police shooting evidence and initiated a probe marked by confusion, leading California’s attorney general to call for court oversight of the city’s police department. 

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING (TV/video): Andie Judson and Gonzalo Magaña of ABC10 for “Burning Grizzly Flats

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (print/online large division): Julia Lurie of Mother Jones for “Forever Home

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (print/online small division): Hillary Louise Johnson of Sactown Magazine for “Man. Verses. Nature

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (radio/audio/podcast — series): Judy Silber of KALW for The Spiritual Edge series “A Prayer for Salmon

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (radio/audio/podcast — standalone episode): Tyche Hendricks of KQED for “California Overturned Her Murder Conviction. ICE Still Wants to Deport Her

LONGFORM STORYTELLING (TV/video): Andie Judson, Gonzalo Magaña, Tyler Horst, Sabrina Sanchez of ABC 10 Sacramento for “The Price of Care: Taken By the State

ONGOING COVERAGE (print/online large division): Nate Gartrell of the Bay Area News Group — Mercury News/East Bay Times for exclusive reporting on the Antioch police scandal and multiple revelations.

ONGOING COVERAGE (print/online small division): Madison Alvarado of the San Francisco Public Press for her reporting on San Francisco’s plan to provide reparations to Black residents.

ONGOING COVERAGE (radio/audio/podcast): Jerimiah Oetting, Scott Cohn, Doug McKnight, Jonathan Linden of KAZU Public Radio and The California Newsroom for reporting on a neglected levee flooding a small California farming community and its fallout.

ONGOING COVERAGE (TV/video): KTVU Fox 2’s reporting on sex abuse in Dublin prisons, retaliation for reporting, and lack of justice for survivors by Lisa Fernandez, Michael Kaufman, Cristina Rendon, Tony Hodrick, Cam Cleveland, Simone Aponte. 

OUTSTANDING EMERGING JOURNALIST (all media): Annika Hom of Mission Local for her extensive, on-the-ground reporting of a public housing complex in San Francisco and going above and beyond during breaking news.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (breaking news – individual): Kori Suzuki of KQED for “We’re Survivors

PHOTOJOURNALISM (breaking news — team): Shae Hammond and Ray Chavez of the Bay Area News Group — Mercury News/East Bay Times for their coverage of the devastating floods in Pajaro.

PHOTOJOURNALISM (photo essay — up to 15 images): Zaydee Sanchez of Mother Jones for “Pajaro’s Quest to Rebuild

PHOTOJOURNALISM (photo essay — 6 to 10 images): Kyle Garcia Takata The Daily Californian for “Berkeley’s ‘so-called’ chess club brings community together

PHOTOJOURNALISM (photo essay — 5 images): Ximena Natera of Berkeleyside for “Jazy and Angel

PHOTOJOURNALISM (single image): Camille Cohen of The San Francisco Standard for “Tenderloin Center Clients Warn of Disaster as Controversial Drug Site Heads for Closure

PUBLIC SERVICE (all media): Voices of Monterey Bay for its reporting through “EXPOSED: A series about the effects of pesticides on communities” by Claudia Meléndez Salinas and Zaydee Sanchez.

SCIENCE REPORTING (print/online): Ajay Orona of Alta Journal for “The Grizzly Next Door

SCIENCE REPORTING (radio/audio/podcast): April Dembosky of KQED for “Proven Schizophrenia Treatments Keep People in School, at Work and off the Street

SCIENCE REPORTING (TV/video): The Deep Look team at KQED for its series to provide accessible science education on wildlife and how they survive

STUDENT SPECIAL PROJECT (all media): The “tbh” producers at KALW for episodes on queer identity, inclusivity in health class and how algorithms control the trends we see.

TECHNOLOGY REPORTING (print/online): Bloomberg News staff for reporting on Silicon Valley Bank’s implosion, the tech ccosystem, and the aftermath.