Panel Discussion: Careers in Science Writing (Virtual)

When: Tuesday, January 25th, from 12pm – 1pm PST
Where: Zoom Register HERE

Thinking about a career in science writing? Hear from professionals in journalism and communications about various career paths during a virtual panel. The event, hosted by San Diego State University, San Diego Science Writers Association and San Diego Society of Professional Journalists, will include four panelists:

·         Heather Buschman (director of scientific communications and media relations at the Salk Institute)

·         Katy Stegall (SDSU student, inaugural Bradley J. Fikes Scholarship recipient and investigative assistant at KPBS)

·         Jared Whitlock (freelance journalist, MIT Knight Science Journalism fellow)

·         Jonathan Wosen (biotech reporter at the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Moderated by Temple Northup, director and professor at school of journalism and media studies at San Diego State University.

Watch the video from our recent reporting on health care panel

Thanks to everyone who attended our Dec. 7 panel, “Reporting on Health Care During Covid-19 and Beyond,” and to our smart, insightful panelists, Paul Sisson, Lauren Mapp and Jill Castellano, who shared their experiences covering everything from nursing home neglect to end-of-life care to preventable deaths. We recorded the Zoom session so those who couldn’t attend could learn some tips from our panelists.

Panel Discussion: Reporting on Healthcare During Covid-19 and Beyond

Even during normal times, the healthcare beat is one of journalism’s most challenging assignments. There’s medical lingo to learn, strict privacy laws to contend with and the high-stakes task of separating truth from misinformation. Join SPJ San Diego for a panel discussion that will delve into current challenges faced by reporters covering healthcare and offer tips for navigating those challenges.

When: Tuesday, Dec. 7 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Who: Union-Tribune healthcare reporter (and our Journalist of the Year) Paul Sisson;

Jill Castellano from inewsource, whose series on COVID-19 deaths won SPJ’s 2021 Distinguished Coverage award; and Lauren Mapp, who’s been doing innovative work on the Union-Tribune’s new caregiver beat. Moderated by freelancer and SPJ San Diego president, Kelly Davis.

WhereZoom! (While we’re looking forward to in-person events in 2022, for now we’re erring on the side of safety and accessibility.)  

SD-SPJ urges autopsy report transparency 

Under California public records laws, an autopsy report is often the only document available to journalists that could shed light on the circumstances surrounding a person’s death. Over the last few years, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department has made it a practice to ask the county medical examiner to seal autopsy reports of people who have died in county jails. 

Last month, the Citizen’s Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB), which investigates deaths in county law enforcement custody, asked the sheriff’s department to stop requesting that autopsy reports be sealed unless it’s absolutely necessary to protect the integrity of an investigation. As CLERB Executive Officer Paul Parker wrote in his policy recommendation, “The ‘sealing’ of a case results in the Medical Examiner’s Office not providing information to the next-of-kin and simply referring them to the [San Diego Sheriff’s Department], which limits the information it provides due to its on-going investigation. These unfortunate circumstances result in next-of-kin receiving no answers for several months, at minimum, and sometimes for a year or longer. In addition, information pertaining to in-custody deaths provided to the public is limited when a case is ‘sealed.’” 

On Oct. 29, the SD-SPJ board sent a letter to Sheriff Bill Gore to express our support for CLERB’s policy recommendation and urge him to adopt it for all the reasons mentioned above. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Lt. Amber Baggs responded that in April 2021, Undersheriff Kelly Martinez verbally directed the department’s homicide unit to stop requesting that autopsy reports for in-custody deaths be sealed reports.

Baggs said the policy was in the process being finalized, and did not apply to deaths prior to Martinez’s order. The SD-SPJ board urges the sheriff’s department to make Martinez’s direction official policy as soon as possible and also ensure that autopsy reports for deaths that occurred prior to April 2021 have been unsealed. We also urge the department to be as transparent as possible when it comes to deaths that involve law enforcement personnel and seal reports only when absolutely necessary.

San Diego SPJ Releases Newsroom Diversity Survey Results

How diverse are San Diego newsrooms?

We finally have an answer to that.

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is proud to share the results of our first-ever newsroom diversity survey.

See the results HERE.

Earlier this year – between February and May – we sent surveys to all local newsrooms in San Diego County seeking the breakdown of their newsroom staff members.

Eleven out of the 20 newsrooms responded. The results represent 288 journalists working throughout San Diego County’s media landscape. While all newsrooms were invited to participate, only one television station responded to the survey.

What did the survey show?

San Diego newsrooms are mostly white and male.

There is a large disparity between the number of Latino or Hispanic journalists employed by San Diego newsrooms — 21.9% — compared to 2019 Census estimates showing Latinos and Hispanics represent just over 34% of San Diego’s population.

Less than half of newsroom respondents employ Black journalists and only two San Diego newsrooms employ Native American journalists. Only one newsroom employs a Pacific Islander staff member.

There is much work to be done to ensure San Diego’s newsrooms reflect the diversity of the community.

Many of the newsroom respondents agreed — and shared ways they are actively working to improve the diversity of their companies.

Some have since hired additional staff who reflect their efforts to diversify their newsrooms – we encourage news organizations to share their ongoing diversity and equity efforts with us and participate in future surveys conducted by SD-SPJ.

We hope this survey is a baseline from which leaders in San Diego’s journalism community can work to improve the diversity of their newsrooms to ensure fair and accurate reporting of the communities we cover.

We appreciate the responses we received and hope we are able to get more participation in the future.

Full List of 2021 San Diego SPJ Award Winners

Last night, it was fantastic to celebrate local journalists in person! At our awards reception, held as a casual mixer at Stone Brewing – Liberty Station, attendees had plenty of time to catch up.

If you didn’t make it, here is the final list of who won what. And click here to learn more about Paul Sisson, our 2021 journalist of the year. 

If you were not able to attend and would like to grab your 1st place plaque or 2nd or 3rd place certificates, please email us at Congratulations to all the winners!

Announcing This Year’s SD-SPJ Award Winners!

Maybe we’re biased, but San Diego has some of the best journalists in the country and we love nothing more than to honor them for their hard work. Click here to view a list of the talented winners of our annual journalism awards — but you’ll have to wait until our awards reception on Sept. 23 to find out who won what!

Please join us at Stone Brewing in Liberty Station for a fun, relaxed gathering. We’ve rented one of Stone’s large outdoor event spaces (Building 12). Tickets are $15 for SPJ members and $20 for nonmembers and include a tasty food spread and dessert. Drink tokens, available on our ticket website, are $5 for craft sodas and $10 for a beer, wine or hard seltzer. 

The evening includes a short program when we’ll announce the winners of our special awards and our Journalist of the Year, Union-Tribune health care reporter Paul Sisson, will give a speech. We’re also putting together a pretty cool silent auction — stay tuned for details.

Congratulations to all our winners! It’s been a difficult year and you deserve to celebrate! 

As in past years, first-place winners will receive a plaque and second and third place winners will receive a certificate. You can pick up your awards at the event.  

When: Thursday, Sept. 23, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Where: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens @ Liberty Station, 2816 Historic Decatur Road, Unit 116, Building 12

Cost: Presale tickets are $15 per person for SPJ members (join or renew your membership), $20 per person for nonmembers. You can also purchase tickets at the event — $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers. Drink tokens ($5 or $10) are available on the ticket website and at the event. 

IMPORTANT: While this event is outdoors, we ask that anyone who’s been exposed to COVID-19 or thinks they may have been exposed to stay home. This is for the safety of our guests and Stone’s staff. Regarding masks and proof of vaccination, we will follow the county guidelines in place on the day of the event. We certainly encourage anyone who feels more comfortable wearing a mask to do so.

Email us with any questions and we look forward to seeing you!

Paul Sisson, SPJ San Diego’s 2021 Journalist of the Year

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is proud to announce our 2021 Journalist of the Year, San Diego Union-Tribune health care reporter Paul Sisson. 

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Paul has distinguished himself as the region’s leading COVID-19 reporter, keeping San Diegans informed during an unprecedented, ever-evolving crisis.

Since Jan. 28, when he wrote his first story on the virus, Paul has produced more than 300 articles, from profiles of frontline health care workers to daily case-count and policy updates, sometimes risking his own health to make sure readers had accurate information. He told stories from emergency rooms and ambulances, culled through staggering amounts of data and pressed public officials for critical information.

Paul was often out in front — by months — on many important stories

“He was the first reporter given an intimate look inside a COVID ward,” says his editor, Tarcy Connors, “doing so at great risk to himself, as little was known about the virus in the early months.”

In addition to his own reporting, Paul found time to mentor and assist colleagues. He also continued to cover important stories on his beat, like the Scripps Health data breach.

Our chapter gives this award not for one particular story, but for a body of work that made a difference over the past year. Paul’s reporting on the virus, treatment and vaccines kept San Diegans safe and informed and likely saved lives.

We invite you to celebrate Paul and our other award winners at Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens in Liberty Station on Thursday, Sept. 23, from 6:30 to 9:30. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets. (And stay tuned for a full list of winners!)

SD-SPJ congratulates our scholarship winners

Each year, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists awards up to five scholarships to local college students and recent graduates in the categories of print, photo and multimedia journalism. We also give out a scholarship to honor the memory of North County Times award-winning journalist Agnes Diggs and, this year, introduced the Bradley J. Fikes Scholarship to memorialize San Diego Union-Tribune science journalist Brad Fikes, who died in December 2019. All recipients receive $1,000 to cover the cost of their studies.

Congratulations to this year’s winners! They turned in some impressive work that underscored, once again, the breadth of talent among San Diego’s young journalists.

Print Journalism Scholarships

Jack Trent Dorfman, UC San Diego (check out Jack’s work)

Kaitlin Clapinski, San Diego Mesa College (check out Kaitlin’s work)

Julia Woock, Southwestern College (check out Julia’s work)

Andrew Ha, UC San Diego (check out Andrew’s work)

Multimedia Journalism Scholarship

Amber Salas, San Diego State University (check out Amber’s work)

Agnes Diggs Scholarship

Elaine Alfaro, Point Loma Nazarene University (check out Elaine’s work)

Bradley J. Fikes Scholarship

Katy Stegall, San Diego State University (check out Katy’s work)

We’ll be honoring our scholarship recipients and other special awards winners on Thursday, Sept. 23, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Stone Brewing in Liberty Station. Stay tuned for more details.

Welcome to our new board members!

Recently, SPJ San Diego had to say goodbye to two longtime board members, Tom Jones and Andrew Kleske. But we’re fortunate to have two talented journalists filling their seats. Please join us in welcoming Lynn Walsh and Kristy Totten to the board. You can read a bit more about them below.

Also, please SAVE THE DATE for our 2021 awards event. This year, we’re opting for something casual and outdoors, with lots of space to say hello to friends and colleagues you’ve missed over the last year and a half. The event will be held at Stone Brewing in Liberty Station the evening of Sept. 23. Mark your calendar and stay tuned for more information.

Lynn Walsh

Lynn Walsh is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who has worked in investigative, data and TV journalism for more than 10 years. Currently, she is a freelance journalist and the assistant director for the Trusting News project, where she works to help rebuild trust between journalists and the public by working with newsrooms to be more transparent about how they do their jobs. 

Lynn is also an adjunct professor at Point Loma Nazarene University where she teaches journalism and communication classes. She is a past national president and former ethics chair for the Society of Professional Journalists. Previously, Lynn led the NBC7 Investigates and NBC7 Responds teams in San Diego. Prior to working in California, she was a data producer and investigative reporter for the E.W. Scripps National Desk and worked as the investigative producer at WPTV NewsChannel 5 in West Palm Beach, FL. 

Lynn has won state and local awards as well as multiple Emmys for her stories. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Lynn is a proud Bobcat alumna having graduated from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Kristy Totten

Kristy Totten is a member of The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board and hosts two U-T podcasts, the San Diego News Fix and Name Drop San Diego

Before moving to San Diego in 2019, Kristy covered technology, education, government and the arts for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada Public Radio and Las Vegas Weekly. As a freelancer, she has written about food and culture for NPR, Rolling Stone, Artsy, Thrillist and Vice. 

Kristy is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia. She has a regional Emmy for documentary writing at VegasPBS and shares an AP Radio award for coverage of the Route 91 shooting in Las Vegas. 

As a board member, Kristy looks forward to building community with San Diego journalists, improving representation in local news coverage and encouraging young journalists to get more involved in SPJ and the local journalism community. 

It’s San Diego SPJ Election Time

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is kicking off its annual board election.

Incumbent board members Bianca Bruno, Matthew Halgren, Lisa Halverstadt, Elizabeth Marie Himchak, Lauren J. Mapp and Arthur Santana are up for re-election this year. You can read about the candidates here.

SPJ members will receive a link to vote via email and should vote by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, June 25. Members may only vote once.

Election results will be announced by early July. If you think you did not receive a ballot and are a current San Diego pro chapter member, please email the board at spjsandiego (at)

Join the San Diego SPJ Board!

We’re currently seeking candidates interested in running for a seat on our chapter’s board. Board members are involved in planning and executing events, putting on our annual awards banquet, crafting and releasing statements and generally advocating for journalists everywhere. We meet on the first Tuesday of every month in the evening. If you’re an SPJ member, you’re eligible to run.

If you’d like to run for the board, please submit your candidacy statement, including any biographical information you would like to share (200-word limit) by 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 3 to

Election results will be announced by early July. Need to renew your membership? Click here.

Announcing our 2021 Window, Wall and Sunshine Awards

Every year, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists honors public officials, individuals and agencies who did the best (and the worst) job of ensuring that government is accessible and transparent. 

The Window Award goes to the person or public agency that prioritized transparency and made information accessible. Our Wall Award goes to the person or public agency that made it difficult for journalists to do their jobs by ignoring information requests or otherwise compromising the public’s right to know. And our Sunshine Award goes to a journalist or community member who went above and beyond to make the government more transparent and hold elected officials accountable.

Since we had to cancel last year’s event because of COVID-19, we’ll be honoring both the 2020 and 2021 awardees in a video you can watch here.

Window Award: Dave Rolland, City of San Diego

We’re pleased to give our 2021 Window Award to Dave Rolland, senior communications adviser to San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. Rolland had a long career as a journalist before transitioning to government communications roles, first in the state Legislature, then the city of San Diego. While serving as the council communications director for City Council President Georgette Gómez, Rolland started The People’s Business, a blog explaining in plain language items of public interest on the council’s meeting agendas. These agendas can be complicated for the average person to understand, but Rolland made them accessible and provided important context for key issues.

Journalists also find Rolland easy to reach and quick to respond, even when he’s not the right person to answer our questions. His initiative is a great example of a public servant going the extra mile to show a true commitment to open government.

Wall Award: San Diego County

We recognize it’s been a difficult year for the county as it grappled with an unprecedented health crisis, and we commend county staff and elected officials for holding frequent press conferences to update the public on the pandemic. But certain actions have shown that the county still has work to do when it comes to transparency. County officials stopped responding to public records requests, telling journalists that things were “on hold” due to the public health emergency. Yet other counties and government agencies that faced similar challenges amid the pandemic still managed to honor the California Public Records Act.

Equally troubling were efforts by county officials to kill a KPBS story examining leaked data — data that the county had refused to turn over — on COVID-19 outbreak locations. County officials called the story “not responsible journalism.” As you’ll see below, we disagree.

Three years ago, San Diego County received our Wall Award for its lack of transparency surrounding the Hepatitis A crisis. Recently the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to establish a new transparency advisory committee. This is encouraging, and we hope it leads to real change. While we wait, we hope this year’s Wall Award will push the county in the right direction.

Sunshine Award: Claire Trageser, Katy Stegall, Amita Sharma and David Washburn of KPBS

Last December KPBS published a three-part series examining previously undisclosed data on COVID-19 outbreak locations. Claire Trageser was the project’s lead reporter with additional reporting by Katy Stegall and Amita Sharma. David Washburn was the series editor.

Multiple media organizations sued the county to try to get this data. The county argued that making the information public would hamper contact tracing efforts and discourage businesses from reporting COVID-19 outbreaks. The media organizations argued — and SD-SPJ agrees — that the public interest outweighs those concerns.

The KPBS reporting team showed courage in standing up to the county’s efforts to withhold this information from the public, and we are pleased to present them with this year’s Sunshine Award.

SD-SPJ Accepting 2021 Contest Entries



The 2021 SPJ San Diego Area Journalism Competition will recognize outstanding work by San Diego-area student and professional journalists published or broadcast during the calendar year 2020. Contest entries will be accepted Thursday April 1 through Monday, May 3. Those submitted by 9 p.m. PST on Monday, April 26, 2021, will get $5 off their entry fees in every category but our top and special awards. Student rates do not change.

This year’s Distinguished Coverage Award will honor stories about the COVID-19 pandemic or calls for racial equality in 2020 (participants must choose one topic or the other, not both.) Did your outlet cover it best? Each outlet should submit its best story, series, or show, along with a 500-word essay on why the coverage merits recognition. This award is open to all outlets and the fee to enter is $50.

We are also accepting applications for five $1,000 San Diego SPJ scholarships and one $1,000 Agnes Diggs scholarship from the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation. We look forward to handing these scholarships out to eligible local journalism students.

This year, San Diego SPJ is proud to announce a new $1,000 scholarship award. 

The Bradley J. Fikes Scholarship honors the late reporter’s exemplary career, who wrote for the Daily Transcript, North County Times, and San Diego Union-Tribune. In recognition of Bradley’s contributions to science and technology journalism, preference will be given to applicants interested in these areas of reporting and can explain so on their application.

Winners of the awards and scholarships will be announced this summer during either a virtual or in-person event, depending on the pandemic restrictions.

Submit your entries using the BetterBNC Media Awards Platform. To register or enter the contest online now, open a new browser window or tab to Keep this window open to refer to as you submit your awards.

If you have entered other contests on this platform before, either for last year’s SD-SPJ competition or for the SD Press Club awards, you are already in the system, and you just have to ask to enter the 2021 SPJ awards contest.

Below are directions for preparing and submitting entries. If you have questions, please contact Terry Williams at 619-743-3669 or

All contest entries must be submitted online (except for entries in the College Media Best Newspaper category, which must be mailed and postmarked by the contest deadline to SPJ to P.O. Box 880482, San Diego, CA 92168-0482). All entries must be entered by or on behalf of the individuals who produced the work and must identify those individuals.

Best of luck to all of our applicants!

How to Enter

Contest Guidelines and Categories 2021

Scholarship Details

FAQs 2021

ICYMI: Watch Our First Media Literacy Event

On March 15, the San Diego Library held the first in a series of four panel discussions focused on media literacy. The event was organized by the SPJ San Diego, the San Diego Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists San Diego-Tijuana Chapter and the Online News Association San Diego Chapter. The panel featured Chris Megerian (Los Angeles Times), Kate Morrissey (San Diego Union-Tribune), Jean Guerrero (author of Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda), Ishmael Estrada (NBC7 San Diego) and Alex Presha (ABC News) who joined moderator Matt Hall (San Diego Union-Tribune) to discuss: “Where Do We Go from Here? Life After the Trump White House.”

Topics ranged from vetting sources to the importance of newsroom diversity to how journalists can earn and maintain public trust. It was an impressive kick-off for a fascinating series of discussions. The next panel, “How Watchdog Journalism Shapes Your Life,” is scheduled for May 20, so mark your calendars.

You can watch our first media literacy panel of the year here.

SD-SPJ Surveying Diversity in San Diego Newsrooms

Newsroom staffing diversity plays a significant role in ensuring that a newsroom’s coverage reflects the communities it serves.

That’s why the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SD-SPJ) is beginning an important project: surveying local newsrooms about staff demographics. 

With the support of other local journalism organizations, such as the San Diego Association of Black Journalists and the San Diego chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, SD-SPJ seeks to compile demographic data from local newsrooms, as well as information on what newsrooms are doing to increase diversity. SD-SPJ has sent requests to all San Diego print, digital, radio and television newsrooms for this information.

We’re conducting this survey to get a snapshot of San Diego’s newsroom demographics, which we hope will provide a benchmark for further research. While nationwide surveys have found that newsrooms are more diverse than in the past, there’s still work to do. For example, a 2019 survey by the Radio Television Digital News Association found that “the percentage of women and people of color in TV newsrooms reached record highs,” but a 2018 Pew Research Center study found that newsroom employees are “less diverse” than U.S. workers overall. 

We understand this is a difficult time for many journalism organizations. Still, we feel this survey is timely and can be a valuable resource for newsrooms as the economy improves and hiring returns to normal. 

Our plan is to publicly release the data, including a list of all participating newsrooms and a list of all newsrooms we’ve contacted. We will, ideally, hold a virtual event to discuss the findings. 

We’ve also asked newsrooms that are unwilling or unable to complete our survey to please let us know why.

You can see the questions we have asked newsrooms to answer by clicking here.

San Diego SPJ Announces 2020 Award Winners

Coronavirus kept us from holding an annual celebration of local journalism this year so we had to get creative.

We celebrated our major 2020 award winners and scholarship recipients in this video.

You can check out a full list of those winners – including scholarship recipients – here and learn more about 2020 Journalist of the Year Claire Trageser here.

And click here to check out a listing of all of our other deserving award winners.

Watch San Diego SPJ’s Video Celebration of Local Journalism

The coronavirus pandemic unfortunately kept San Diego SPJ from hosting our annual celebration of local journalism so we put together this video to celebrate our deserving recipients of special and top awards and scholarships, and 2020 Journalist of the Year Claire Trageser of KPBS. 

To see more winners of this year’s awards, click here. To see comments from the judges, click here.

If you received a first place award or one of our top honors, stay tuned for more details. We will soon share instructions about how you can receive your award.

Claire Trageser, SPJ San Diego 2020 Journalist of the Year

Credit: Janet Bark Photography

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to announce our 2020 Journalist of the Year: KPBS investigative reporter Claire Trageser.

Claire was doing the hard work of reporting on police misconduct and racial disparities in criminal justice long before the current wave of interest in the topic. And she always approaches her stories with tact and humility.

In February 2019, she unveiled a six-part series called DR J’S: How A Gang Shooting Changed Southeast San Diego. This was a deep dive into a seminal moment for San Diego’s Black community: a horrific crime that led to a major increase in police presence, which many in the neighborhood felt created whole new problems that are still evident today.

Throughout 2019, Claire also reported on police records newly made public thanks to SB 1421. She broke the story of former San Diego police Officer Donald Moncrief, who was accused of sexual assault, resigned before receiving any discipline and was never charged with a crime. Her reporting led to a lawsuit that forced the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to turn over five years of records on complaints against deputies.

Claire’s reporting on criminal justice has featured deeply personal stories. In August 2019, she released a two-part feature on the controversial “felony murder rule,” which allows a defendant to be charged with murder even if they didn’t kill anyone. Claire told the story of Shawn Khalifa, who is incarcerated after a conviction under the rule for a robbery he took part in when he was 15. And she has done stories on celebrations and victories, too, like Southeast San Diego reclaiming the intersection of Euclid and Imperial Avenues as the “4 Corners of Life” instead of the “4 Corners of Death.”

To top things off, Claire often finds interesting and newsworthy stories where no one else is looking, like the large number of broken trash bins in San Diego or the Humane Society’s controversial practice of releasing feral cats back onto the streets. In addition to her excellent reporting, Claire has also been a leader in the local journalism community, previously serving as SD-SPJ president and organizing the SPJ Regional Conference in San Diego in 2017. 

Claire earned this award with her dedication to seeking out and telling impactful stories that truly matter. Unfortunately, we cannot celebrate Claire’s work in person this year. But we hope you will join us for a virtual ceremony the evening of Aug. 24. More details will follow!

Announcing This Year’s SD-SPJ Award Winners

We’re excited to announce the winners of this year’s annual journalism contest. We’ve appreciated your patience as we considered how to best celebrate this year’s winners during a pandemic that has brought new challenges and tough decisions for all of us. 

Click here to view a list of award winners—except for our special awards and scholarships, which will be announced Monday, Aug. 24, via video. The video will also feature a short speech by our Journalist of the Year, who we’ll be announcing Aug. 20 — stay tuned! First-place winners can also check out comments on those awards here.

Congratulations to all our winners! Your hard work and dedication to your craft consistently impress us!

Special note about receiving your awards: As in past years, first place winners will receive a plaque. First place winners will be notified when plaques arrive, and will be sent pick-up instructions. Second and third place winners will receive a certificate. We’ll announce dates and locations for picking up your awards later this month. If you received a second or third place award, and DO NOT want a certificate, please email by Wednesday, Aug. 26, to let us know.

Annual Bench-Bar Event: Meeting This Moment

UPDATE: This event has been rescheduled to September 15.

The year 2020 first brought stay-at-home orders and unprecedented closures of the court system due to the COVID-19 pandemic, then sustained protests over police treatment of African-Americans. During this extraordinary year, the Bench has grappled with how to maintain access to the courts. The Bar has confronted COVID-related challenges to the practice of law and its role in ensuring equal access to justice. Finally, media outlets have worked overtime to cover it all while managing unusual new obstacles to newsgathering. Panelists will discuss local efforts to confront these issues from their respective roles as legal community activists, journalists and law enforcement officials.

When: 5:30 – 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 15

Who: Hon. Dwayne Moring, Moderator, San Diego Superior Court, South County Supervising Judge

Hon. Lorna Alksne, Presiding Judge, San Diego Superior Court

Dana Littlefield, Public Safety Editor, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Adam Racusin, Investigative Reporter, 10News

Summer Stephan, San Diego County District Attorney

Andrea St. Julian, President, Earl B. Gilliam Bar Association; Co-Chair, San Diegans for Justice

Where: Zoom link provided with registration

Register here.

San Diego SPJ Unveils Journalist Relief Fund

Journalists have kept the world informed during the Covid-19 pandemic but have also suffered economic and job losses. San Diego is no exception, with layoffs and furloughs at print, radio, television, and digital news organizations across the county. 

We want to help.

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is creating a Journalist Relief Fund. We’ve allocated $1,500 for $250 grants to media colleagues who’ve lost work. We know it’s not going to cover rent, but we hope the grants will provide some relief. 

Those wishing to apply for a grant don’t need to be members of SD-SPJ, but they must work (or have worked) in San Diego County. The application deadline is midnight Sunday, Aug. 2. You can check out the application here.

We are also accepting donations from those wishing to contribute to the SD-SPJ Journalist Relief Fund via our PayPal account. Please note: Donations are not tax-exempt, but they will go a long way. To donate, click here.

For questions related to the Journalism Relief Fund, email

Election Results Are In

San Diego SPJ’s annual election results are in. Congratulations to new board members Jill Castellano of inewsource, Kendra Sitton of San Diego Community Newspaper Group and freelance journalist Jared Whitlock. They join returning re-elected board members Andrew Bowen, Kelly Davis, Andrew Kleske and Tom Jones.

Thanks to outgoing board members Brooke Binkowski, Elliot Spagat and Megan Wood for their service on behalf of San Diego’s journalism community.

You can learn more about the San Diego SPJ board here.

Join the San Diego SPJ Board

We’re currently seeking candidates interested in running for a seat on our chapter’s board. Board members are involved in planning and executing events, putting on our annual awards banquet, crafting and releasing statements and generally advocating for journalists everywhere. We meet on the first Tuesday of every month in the evening. If you’re an SPJ member, you’re eligible to run.

If you’d like to run for the board, please submit your candidacy statement, including any biographical information you would like to share (200-word limit) by Wednesday, June 17 to

Election results will be announced in early July. Need to renew your membership? Click here.

Who Should Be SPJ San Diego’s Journalist of the Year?

Every year, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists honors a local journalist whose work had a major impact in our San Diego community. We’re now accepting nominations for the 2019 journalist of the year until July 6. We ask that the nomination focuses on a journalist’s coverage of a particular story or topic in 2019.

To nominate someone, click here. The winner will be announced along with our other awards this fall. More details on the ceremony to come!

Update on the Status of County PRAs

Update on the status of county PRAs: On May 14, we called on San Diego County to end its policy of not fulfilling certain requests for public records during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the outbreak should not be an excuse to sacrifice transparency on matters of vital public interest. The policy remains in effect, though the county informs us that its 60-day limit on retaining emails has been suspended during this time. We asked each supervisor to state their positions, and here’s what they told us.

Greg Cox: “From the very beginning of this crisis, the County has been very responsive to the media. We have held daily media briefings and our communications staff has continued to respond to questions before and after those briefings. I, along with my fellow Supervisors, have fulfilled numerous media requests and I can tell you my office has even contacted media outlets to reschedule interviews when we initially couldn’t do them. I understand the media has a job to do. But so does the County. And right now, our priority is to manage the health and economic impacts of this pandemic. We have responded to most of the public records requests, but we have said that there are some requests that may not be initially fulfilled. That doesn’t mean they won’t ever be fulfilled. It just means that right now we are in the middle of this crisis and we have to prioritize our response. Throughout this crisis we have asked for the patience and understanding of all residents with a situation we have not experienced in our lifetimes. I don’t think the media should be exempted from that request and we ask for your patience and understanding too as we try to deal with your requests.”

Dianne Jacob: “I’ve always believed that transparency is a core part of good governance, and I’m aware that county staff have been able to fulfill over 500 public records requests in recent weeks. About 35 to 40 requests have been delayed because they are COVID related. Despite the health crisis being the top priority, even some of those are being fulfilled if county staff has the information available. It is my expectation that county staff will continue to do all it can to fulfill the outstanding requests when the current crisis allows.”

Kristin Gaspar: “I’ve always believed that transparency is a core part of good governance, and I’m aware that county staff have been able to fulfill over 500 public records requests in recent weeks. About 35 to 40 requests have been delayed because they are COVID related. Despite the health crisis being the top priority, even some of those are being fulfilled if county staff has the information available. It is my expectation that county staff will continue to do all it can to fulfill the outstanding requests when the current crisis allows.”

Note: Jacob and Gaspar shared the same statement.

Nathan Fletcher (whose staff referred us to his comments to KPBS): “I think we’re many months into this now and so I would be supportive of a change in posture in ensuring that we’re fully compliant with the records requests.”

Jim Desmond: “I am supportive of transparency, especially being an elected official. We’ve been told that County staff has fulfilled over 500 PRA requests since March 1. I trust County staff will continue to fulfill them when the crisis subsides.”

San Diego County Should Resume Processing CPRA Requests During COVID-19

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is deeply disappointed with San Diego County’s decision to not respond to some public records requests during the coronavirus pandemic, as outlined in a formal letter being sent to requestors by County Chief Counsel Thomas Montgomery. Several San Diego news outlets have reported on the policy.

We understand public health is a top priority and that responding to records requests might take longer during the pandemic. But government transparency is crucial during crises such as this one, and a public health emergency shouldn’t be a reason to ignore records requests indefinitely. Other local governments, including the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Oceanside, Escondido, Carlsbad and El Cajon, as well as other California counties, are facing similar challenges but are still complying with the California Public Records Act.

The SD-SPJ Board calls on the County of San Diego to immediately resume processing all valid records requests — and it should suspend its 60-day email retention policy to ensure important records are not deleted.

A county spokesman said each member of the Board of Supervisors was informed of the change, though the board did not approve it. We hope each supervisor will clarify their position on this decision and agree that the pandemic is no reason to sacrifice transparency.

SD-SPJ Extending Annual Contest Deadline

The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented demands on our community in order to mitigate the impacts of the respiratory disease and flatten the curve. It’s also created incredible demands on San Diego journalists working around-the-clock to deliver critical information to residents. The pandemic demands some flexibility during this year’s San Diego Society of Professional Journalists contest, which is why we are extending the deadline by two weeks for journalists to submit their best work from last year.

Our early-bird deadline has now been extended to 9 p.m. on Monday, April 20. Early-bird entries will get $5 off their entry fees in every category but our top and special awards.

The final deadline to submit entries is 9 p.m. on Monday, April 27.

We are also accepting applications for six $1,000 scholarships through Monday, April 27. One of those scholarships — the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation’s Agnes Diggs Road to College Scholarship — is open to San Diego County or Riverside County students from underserved communities. The others are open to all San Diego County students.

For more contest information, visit our contest page.

Watch out for the announcement of our winners in mid-to-late-May or early June.

UPDATE: SD-SPJ Postponing March 18 Sunshine Week Event

Dear SPJ Members and Local Journalists,

Out of an abundance of caution, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has decided to cancel our Sunshine Awards ceremony March 18 due to coronavirus concerns. Our goal is to reschedule the event as soon as it’s safe to do so.

We appreciate your support and wish you all the best of luck in your work in the coming months. Now is a time when the public relies on its journalists for the best, up to date information, and San Diegans are fortunate to have a strong, dependable group of local journalists covering the issues that matter most.

You have our support.

SD-SPJ Board

SD-SPJ Announces This Year’s Wall, Window, Sunshine and Skylight Award Winners

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Every year, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists honors the public officials and agencies who did the most (and the least) to usher in transparency in the past year.  Read on to learn more about this year’s honorees, including our first-ever Skylight Award winner. We’ll celebrate Sunshine Week, government transparency and this year’s honorees at our annual celebration at Starlite. 

When: Wednesday, March 18, at 6:30 p.m. Program starts at 7 p.m.

Where: Starlite (back patio), 3175 India St. in Mission Hills

RSVP here.

Window Award: Michael Vu, San Diego County Registrar of Voters 

We’re proud to present our 2020 Window Award to San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu. Vu is a shining example of a public official who goes above and beyond to make sure people understand how their government works. Journalists appreciate that he makes time — often after-hours — to talk on the phone or give an interview, even as the business of running county elections becomes more complex and demanding. At a time when election integrity is under increasing scrutiny, Vu has shown a commitment to transparency that every public official — elected or appointed — should aspire to.

Sunshine Award: Hon. Dana M. Sabraw, U.S. District Judge of the Southern District of California

The Hon. Dana M. Sabraw wins our 2020 Sunshine Award for facilitating media coverage of a landmark case he oversees concerning the separation of families at the U.S. border with Mexico. Judge Sabraw created a toll-free phone line so journalists could listen in to live hearings. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this case for U.S. policy and the thousands of affected families. In July 2018, Judge Sabraw held several hearings a week and, to this day, regularly holds hearings that are full of significant disclosures and testimony from government officials. Very few, if any, news organizations or journalists could afford to attend every key hearing in person. Judge Sabraw posted dial-in information for media in the public docket entirely on his own initiative, with no obligation to do so. As a result, this case has received the extensive coverage it so clearly demands.     

Skylight Award: Karen Dalton, San Diego County Superior Court Public Affairs Officer 

For years, it was difficult to get basic information on happenings at the San Diego County Superior Court and court officials were rarely prepared for major news events that drew large groups of reporters. That reality changed with Karen Dalton. San Diego SPJ is creating a new lifetime award this year to honor the former KNSD broadcast reporter who, since taking on the role of media liaison, has quickly responded to reporters’ questions and gone out of her way to explain complex court procedures. Dalton has also worked with many reporters to track down data and information they might otherwise have struggled to access. She’s been an advocate for the news media before judges and has helped reporters do a better job covering the court, which helps the public better understand the justice system. We’re proud to give Dalton our first-ever Skylight Award for her career championing the public’s right to know. 

Wall Award: San Diego County Sheriff’s Department

This year’s Wall Award goes to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, largely for how it’s responded to public scrutiny of deaths in its jails. Our members also say it’s often difficult to get basic information from the media division on arrests and investigations in a timely fashion. In recent months, the department has refused to provide basic information after someone dies in custody, not just to the press but also to some inmates’ families. Instead, the department waits until the medical examiner determines a cause of death — a process that can take months — and then issues a press release while the autopsy report is still sealed, depriving journalists and the public of important information. The department insists it provides inmates with the highest level of care, but over the last six years, the county has paid nearly $8 million to settle lawsuits stemming from jail deaths and is currently facing at least a dozen lawsuits over inmate deaths and serious injuries. These numbers are troubling and underscore the need for greater transparency.  



Potential Changes Coming to State Law Impacting Freelance Journalists

For the last several months, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SD-SPJ) has been in touch with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez about AB 5, a law that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, that sought to address worker classification. Unfortunately, the new law has led to some freelance journalists losing work, largely due to uncertainty over the law’s language.

On Thursday, in a series of tweets, Gonzalez said she’s working on bill language (AB 1850) that will lift the cap of 35 submissions per hiring entity that AB 5 placed on freelance journalists, and clear up confusion over the law’s business-to-business exemption.

We plan to continue a productive dialogue with Gonzalez and her staff as AB 1850 moves through the legislative process. We look forward to seeing the new bill language — which Gonzalez said should be available in the next week — and we appreciate her willingness to listen to, and engage with, people affected by AB 5.

Who Pushed (or Blocked) Transparency in 2019?

It’s that time again. The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is preparing to continue our annual spring tradition of recognizing the most helpful — and least helpful — public agencies and officials and we’re seeking nominations.

We’ll celebrate our honorees at our annual Sunshine Week celebration at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18 at Starlite, 3175 India Street in Mission Hills.

Our Wall Award will go to the person or public agency that made it hardest for journalists to do their jobs in 2019, ignoring requests or otherwise compromising the public’s right to know.

The Window Award will go to the person or public agency that most prioritized transparency and the public’s right to know in 2019.

And our Sunshine Award will go to a journalist or community member who worked the hardest to make government more transparent and hold elected officials accountable.

Submit nominations here by Feb. 28, 2020. You can read up on last year’s winners (and losers) here.

The Latest on AB 5

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wants to make sure our members are aware of information available about AB 5, the law authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that potentially impacts media outlets that work with freelance journalists. It took effect Jan. 1.

The state’s Labor & Workforce Development Agency has created a web portal that includes FAQs on AB 5, as well as information for both employers and workers. And the Employment Development Department is holding a series of “employment status” seminars to address questions about worker classification under AB 5. The seminars are geared toward employers, but freelancers are welcome to attend. Also, Gonzalez’s office has put together a fact sheet for freelancers and employers.

Finally, Gonzalez announced recently that she plans to introduce a bill in the coming weeks that will clarify AB 5’s business-to-business exemption and address concerns from independent contractors working in the fields of music and photography. We hope the bill will also raise the 35-submission cap for freelance journalists, and we will continue to work with Gonzalez’s office to ensure freelancers’ interests are represented in that amendment process.

Jan. 6 Event: What’s going on with newsroom unionization?

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There’s a notable trend going on in the news industry right now: Journalists at newspapers, radio stations, magazines and online news outlets are increasingly voting to join unions. NBC Digital, Hearst Magazines, The Arizona Republic, WHYY and the Miami Herald are just a handful of recent examples.
What are the driving forces behind this trend, and what have the outcomes been like for those newsrooms that have decided to unionize? And where does this trend leave freelancers?
Join SPJ San Diego on Monday, Jan. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at Whistle Stop Bar for a panel discussion on newsroom unions moderated by Courthouse News reporter Bianca Bruno. Our panelists will be:

Celebrate the Holidays with SD-SPJ

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Calling San Diego journalists: Celebrate the holidays and a great year of journalism at with the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at Stone Brewing at Liberty Station.

WHO: All San Diego media folks.

WHEN: Tuesday, Dec. 17 from 5:30-9 p.m.

WHERE: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station, 2816 Historic Decatur Rd, # 116 San Diego, CA 92106

MORE DETAILS: When you arrive, grab a name tag so you can easily meet other San Diego media folks. Food and drinks will be available for purchase.


San Diego SPJ: Intimidation of Journalists at the Border Needs to Stop

Five American journalists have sued the U.S. government, alleging that authorities violated their First Amendment rights by inspecting their cameras and notebooks and questioning them extensively about their coverage of last year’s migrant caravan. Their detailed accounts, on pages 15-34 of a complaint filed Nov. 20 by the ACLU, are alarming and should be read by any journalist who leaves or enters the United States.

It is also alarming that the detained journalists were all freelancers, who may have been seen as easier targets for harassment.

We understand the caravan was a significant challenge for law enforcement, but harassing journalists for confidential information as a condition to return home is not how to address it. The actions described in the lawsuit amount to a direct attack on journalists’ ability to do their jobs and, if not addressed and corrected, could have a chilling effect.

The U.S. government has yet to publicly address its actions in any meaningful way. Those actions may never have come to light if KNSD, the NBC station in San Diego, hadn’t received records from a government whistleblower showing the names and photographs of 59 people that the agency linked to the caravan. Ten were identified as journalists.

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists applauds the ACLU for taking on this issue and asks the public for its support in ensuring this intimidating behavior stops. Journalists are not informants or intelligence agents for the U.S. government. These tactics are common in dictatorial regimes but have no place in a healthy democracy.

EVENT: One Year After the Caravan: What We Learned About Covering the Border and Immigation

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Last November at the Tijuana-San Diego border, the migrant caravan arrived, and along with it, a flood of international coverage. Images of thousands of weary people, tear gas canisters, mothers fleeing with children, and makeshift shelters overflowing with sewage captured the public imagination. Yet as media attention waned and families remained at the border, what happened next?
Please join the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at San Diego Central Library‘s Shiley Special Events Suite (9th floor) on Wednesday, Nov. 6 for a lively discussion on the caravan, the border, and immigration policy. Our featured panelists are veteran journalists from Tijuana and San Diego who will reflect and share their thoughts about what unfolded in the year following the “caravan.”
Free and open to the public.
Guillermo Arias, photographer, AFP Tijuana
Vicente Calderon, Editor, Tijuana Press
Inés García, reporter, Zeta
Jordi Lebrija, videographer, Reuters/ Associated Press / CNN
Maya Srikrishnan, reporter, Voice of San Diego
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov. 6
Light food/social hour starting at 6 p.m.
Program begins at 6:30 p.m.
Moderated by Erin Siegal McIntyre, investigative author
More details and updates:

Joint Media Groups Event: Mental Health and Self Care for Journalists

San Diego journalism groups are teaming up on Oct. 22 to host an important conversation about mental health and self-care for journalists during and after tragic events and the effect these events have on media consumers.
Please note that pre-registration is required for this event. RSVP here:
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22
WHERE: Colt Hall at Point Loma Nazarene University – 3900 Lomaland Dr, San Diego, California 92106
Pauline Repard, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune
Rachel Moore, former U-T Copy Editor, now psychotherapist
Tammy McCoy-Arballo, psychologist
Wayne Beach, director of the Center for Communication, Health, and the Public Good, San Diego State University
ORGANIZERS: San Diego chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, Association of Black Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the San Diego Press Club and National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Pacific Southwest, Point Loma Nazarene University’s Department of Literature, Journalism, Writing & Languages

Oct. 14 : Making (Better) Headlines

With a flat headline, readers may never see the first sentence. A headline that oversells or misleads undermines our credibility and undercuts our hard work. How do you write compelling headlines and social media posts that leave readers and viewers wanting to know more and accurately reflect what’s in the story?

Join the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at the San Diego Central Library on Monday, Oct. 14 for a panel discussion on headlines and social media posts. We’ll delve into the do’s and don’ts of what makes them sing.

Free and open to the public.

WHO: Ryan Bradford, web editor and writer, San Diego City Beat; Sara Libby, managing editor, Voice of San Diego; Paul Krueger, senior field producer, NBC 7 San Diego; Kelly Davis (moderator), independent reporter. Attorney Matthew Halgren, a specialist in news media law at Sheppard Mullin’s San Diego office and an SPJ San Diego board member, will also make introductory comments on legal considerations.

WHEN: Monday, Oct. 14, 6 p.m. social hour with light food, 6:30 p.m. start.

WHERE: San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd., San Diego 92101. Shiley Suite on the ninth floor. FREE PARKING IN LIBRARY GARAGE WITH VALIDATION STAMP IN LOBBY.


Bring your questions or send them in advance to

San Diego SPJ Statement on AB 5

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wants to thank Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez for her willingness to listen to our concerns, and those of other freelance journalists, regarding AB 5.

We cannot predict exactly how employers, or the courts, will interpret AB 5 after it goes into effect next year, and many of our members remain concerned over what this bill will mean for them. The final version allows a hiring entity to accept up to 35 submissions per year from a particular freelance contributor. If the hiring entity would like additional content, it must classify the contributor as an employee. Assemblymember Gonzalez agreed to raise this cap from 25, and amended the bill to clarify what constitutes a “submission.”

A submission is: “one or more items or forms of content by a freelance journalist, editor or cartoonist that: (I) pertains to a specific event or topic; (II) is provided for in a contract that defines the scope of the work; (III) is accepted by the publication or company and published or posted for sale.” The bill also states: “Items of content produced on a recurring basis related to a general topic shall be considered separate submissions.”

For freelance still photographers and photojournalists, a submission is: “one or more items or forms of content … that: (I) pertains to a specific event or specific subject; (II) is provided for in a contract that defines the scope of the work; and (III) is accepted by and licensed to the publication or stock photography company and published or posted. Nothing in this section shall prevent a photographer or artist from displaying their work product for sale.”

These are improvements from the bill’s original language, brought about through the work of a coalition of 20 trade organizations that included SD-SPJ. We remain hopeful that as AB 5 is implemented, freelance journalists and photographers will continue to be able to earn a living in California and news organizations will value their work with fair treatment and compensation.

SD-SPJ concerned about SPJ national conference sponsor selection process

San Diego SPJ has sent a letter to SPJ National board president Alex Tarquinio and other national board members to share its concerns about what seems to be a lack of transparency and rigor in the process for selecting sponsors for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference.

Here is the text of that letter:

Dear Ms. Tarquinio and members of the SPJ national board,

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is concerned by the apparent lack of transparency and rigor in the system for selecting sponsors for the Excellence in Journalism conference. While we are sympathetic to NAHJ’s decision to rescind its 2019 EIJ sponsorship invitation to Fox News and return a portion of the sponsorship funds contributed by Fox News, the purpose of this letter is to share our more general concerns with the process for choosing conference sponsors, especially those whose actions may conflict with core SPJ values.

Last year, we were one of many chapters that expressed concern over the Charles Koch Institute sponsoring a conference panel. We praised SPJ’s decision to form a task force that created a new policy for vetting sponsors. We’ve been told that the SPJ board followed this policy when choosing the 2019 conference sponsors.

Yet, that vetting process remains vague. The only details shared publicly are that the EIJ Planning Committee vets proposals submitted by media and non-media entities.

We’d like to see the sponsorship task force reconvene and develop more specific sponsorship guidelines. Any group that provides SPJ with financial assistance should demonstrate a commitment to SPJ’s Code of Ethics. Guidelines should specify what would preclude sponsorship — for example: clear affiliation with a political party, a history of uncivil discourse or a pattern of deliberately spreading misinformation. The absence of such standards will only increase the likelihood that controversy will again overshadow what should be a celebratory event.


San Diego SPJ

Congratulations 2019 Award Winners

Thanks to everyone who made it to our awards banquet last night! It was a splendid evening with great attendance. If you didn’t make it, here is the final list of who won what and comments from the judges.

Our Journalist of the Year, KPBS border and immigration reporter Jean Guerrero, gave a rousing speech that you can view here.

If you were not able to attend and would like to snatch your 1st place plaque or 2nd or 3rd place certificates, please send us an email at Congrats to all the winners!

Without Changes, AB 5 Will Harm Freelance Journalists

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SD-SPJ) would like to update its members on a piece of legislation that could impact the careers of freelance journalists in the state.

For the last few months, SD-SPJ has been keeping an eye on AB 5, legislation authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego. AB 5 seeks to codify into law a recent state Supreme Court ruling about how workers are classified. 

The ruling created a three-pronged “test” for differentiating between independent contractors and employees for purposes of certain California wage laws. The second prong, which has raised concern among freelance journalists, columnists, photojournalists, and other content creators states that a worker will be considered an employee if he or she performs work that is within the usual course of the hiring entity’s business. The Supreme Court ruling essentially made it impossible for a newspaper to use freelancers to produce content and, as a result, some media companies have severed ties with California freelancers.

While we agree that employers need clarity on how to classify their workers, SD-SPJ and other media organizations have asked Gonzalez to consider adding exemptions to the bill that will allow California-based freelancers to continue to work and media companies to continue to hire them. As introduced, the bill would have required newsrooms to make freelance writers part-time employees — something editors will tell you is easier said than done for reasons that have nothing to do with the worker exploitation this bill seeks to address.

Gonzalez has said she’s open to amending the bill and has been taking input from a number of organizations. But the latest amendment by the Senate’s Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee is, in our opinion, not workable. The provision, added Wednesday, would limit to 25 the number of “submissions” a freelancer can produce annually for a client. This cap raises a number of concerns for us including how “submission” is defined. What about a photographer who shoots dozens of photos for one assignment? What about freelancers who write a weekly column? Additionally, even if ambiguities in the term “submission” could be resolved, we believe that 25 submissions per year per client is too low.

The California Newspaper Association came up with a sensible proposal that we thought fairly addressed concerns on both sides. You can read the proposal here.

Freelancers play a vital role in adding diverse voices, experiences, and viewpoints to published platforms of all sorts. We appreciate Gonzalez’s concern that workers not be exploited, but we fear that newsrooms and other outlets will simply cut freelancers rather than hire them as part-time employees or deal with cumbersome, vague rules. We hope that as AB 5 moves towards a final Senate vote, Gonzalez and other state lawmakers will sit down with journalists and come up with a solution.

Congrats to our board election winners!

Thank you to all of our members who cast ballots in our most recent board election. Please join us in congratulating incoming board members Arthur Santana and Lauren J. Mapp, and returning board members Bianca BrunoMatthew Halgren,  Lisa Halverstadt  and Elizabeth Marie Himchak. You can read a bit more about Lauren and Arthur below.

And don’t forget our banquet in three weeks!

SPJ San Diego is having its annual banquet on July 17Tickets are still available for purchase here. Join us in celebrating our journalist of the year, Jean Guerrero, and all of our award winners!

Lauren J. Mapp

Lauren J. Mapp is a recent graduate from the San Diego State University School of Journalism and Media Studies. She is currently an intern at inewsource, a contributing editor at Times of San Diego and a freelance reporter for North Coast Current. Over the years, Mapp has covered a variety of topics from public transportation and education to sustainability and the local food scene in San Diego. She previously wrote for The Daily Aztec at SDSU and was the editor in chief of The Mesa Press. Mapp was also a staff writer at Indian Time and The People’s Voice on the Akwesasne Kanien’kehá ka Mohawk Reservation before moving to San Diego in 2005. During her time as an SPJ San Diego board member, Mapp aims to increase newsroom diversity and work to help increase equitable coverage of underrepresented communities.

Arthur Santana

Arthur Santana is an associate professor of journalism at San Diego State University. Prior to joining SDSU in 2015, he was a journalism professor at the University of Houston. For the past 11 years, he has taught and researched journalism. His published research focuses on participatory media, user-generated content and the intersection of journalism, politics and social media. Prior to joining academia, Arthur was a reporter and editor for 14 years, including at the San Antonio Express-News, The Seattle Times and The Washington Post. He’s been the recipient of journalism awards from the Washington, D.C. Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. At the Post, he was part of a team of reporters who were nominated for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service. In 1993, Arthur earned a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He received an M.S. in 1996 from Columbia University, and in 2012, he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. In the fall, Arthur will begin this third year as SPJ advisor to the SDSU SPJ chapter.

Jean Guerrero, our 2019 Journalist of the Year

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is proud to announce our 2019 Journalist of the Year: Jean Guerrero, author and KPBS investigative reporter covering border and immigration.

You name a border story over the past year and Guerrero covered it with persistence and compassion. When the Trump administration announced it would be sending some asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for their cases to reach a judge, Guerrero was there. When a caravan of Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana seeking to enter the United States, Guerrero was there.

And when the Trump administration began separating migrant parents from their children at the border, Guerrero covered that story, too.

In fact, Guerrero’s first story on family separations at the border came many months before the issue made national headlines. And the people in her stories have names — like Jose Demar Fuentes, an asylum seeker from El Salvador whose one-year-old son, Mateo, was taken from him and sent to a shelter in Texas nearly 1,500 miles away. Jean gave a face to the policy of family separation, earning enough trust from the family to interview the mother, Olivia Caceres, on camera after she got her son Mateo back.

Guerrero’s reporting was frequently featured in national media. Her depth of understanding of the border sets her apart from many of the national reporters who have been parachuted in.

And as if her contributions to our understanding of the U.S.-Mexico border weren’t great enough, last year, Guerrero came out with her own personal story of the border. Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir, tells the moving story of her own family’s history of crossing borders, both physical and metaphysical.

Please join us in celebrating Jean Guerrero and all of this year’s award winners at our annual banquet on July 17 at the Kona Kai Resort and Spa. Click here to see a full list of award winners and purchase tickets.

College Newspapers Entitled to Full Press Freedoms

The board of the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is concerned by the recent actions of Southwestern College administrators undermining the press freedoms of the student-run newspaper, The Southwestern College Sun.

In May, two Sun staff members attended a student election board meeting, which was open to the public, and recorded video of the meeting. After The Sun reported on the meeting, the school’s Title IX investigator requested the video, invoking the California Public Records Act.

The Sun declined to release the video. In a letter to the newspaper’s staff, Gloria Chavez, the college’s director of employee relations and Title IX, claimed that the paper’s refusal to release the video was a “subversion of the public’s right to access,” which, she said, “appears to directly violate one of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.”

The letter does not say which provision of the SPJ Code of Ethics Chavez believes The Sun violated. Based on our knowledge of the situation, The Sun has not committed any violation of the SPJ Code of Ethics. Protecting unpublished material, which can be done for a variety of important reasons, is a basic tenet of journalism that we urge the school to honor in preparing its students for careers in the field.

Full list of 2019 San Diego SPJ award winners

The SPJ San Diego Pro Chapter is pleased to announce the winners of the 2019 SPJ San Diego Area Journalism Awards Contest.

Click here for the list of first place, second place and honorable mention awards.

You’ll have to wait until the banquet to find out who won what!

Please join us to celebrate all of this year’s award winners at our annual banquet on Wednesday, July 17, at Kona Kai.

What: SD-SPJ 2019 awards banquet

When: Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Reception at 5:30 p.m., dinner and program starts at 6:30 p.m.

Where: The Kona Kai Resort & Spa, 1551 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106. Cocktail hour on the Point Loma Terrace, banquet in the Ballroom.

Cost: $65 per person, $55 for students, $480 for reserved tables of eight

Registration: Please register and pay here:

Join the San Diego SPJ board!

We’re currently seeking candidates interested in running for a seat on our chapter’s board. Board members are involved in planning and executing events, putting on our annual awards banquet, crafting and releasing statements and generally advocating for journalists everywhere. We meet on the first Tuesday of every month in the evening. If you’re an SPJ member, you’re eligible to run!

The election will be held in June. If you’d like to run for the board, please submit your bio (200-word limit) by May 24 via email (subject line: SPJ Election). Election results will be announced in late June. Need to renew your membership? Click here!

SPJ Board Meets with Wall Award Winner

Late last month, the San Diego SPJ board met with two city officials about how the city and the Public Utilities Department can improve relations with local media after receiving this year’s Wall Award. City Communications Director Katie Keach and Craig Gustafson, Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s communications chief, told the board that the city is determined to move forward in a more transparent way after the city’s PUD was declared the local agency that did the most to block public access to information in the past year.

They said the city has made changes after a series of media reports documenting multiple instances where PUD was not forthright about spiking water bills, water meter upgrades and more. Going forward, Keach and Gustafson encouraged reporters to contact either of them directly if they run into issues with records or information requests. They also urged reporters to contact city officials or communications staff before making complex requests in hopes of easing the release process.

Help us protect the Public Records Act

California State Capitol Building, photo by Jeff Turner.

SPJ San Diego has been tracking a bill in the state legislature that we believe would undermine the California Public Records Act. AB 700 (Friedman) would create a new exemption for certain records created by employees of community colleges and public universities, and their affiliated labs and medical facilities.

You can read more about our position in this letter we sent to the offices of three key Assembly members (Gonzalez, Maienschein and Friedman). In short: Journalists have used the CPRA to uncover wrongdoing at public universities, and this bill would take away a vital tool for investigating such stories in the future.

We rarely ask our members to take public positions on bills, but this one is too dangerous for us to be silent. Please consider calling or emailing your Assembly member, and/or the three Assembly members we have contacted, to ask that the bill be amended or pulled from consideration. Be sure to reference AB 700 (Friedman). Suggested talking points:

Journalists would have never been able to uncover wrongdoing at public universities if this bill had been law.

The state legislature should be focused on strengthening the CPRA and expanding access to public records. This bill would do the opposite.

The bill’s supporters say it would curb CPRA abuses to discredit researchers, but they’ve failed to give examples of that actually happening.

Legislative staff to contact:, chief of staff for Lorena Gonzalez, chief of staff for Brian Maienschein, chief of staff for Laura Friedman

Or find your own Assembly member and contact them!