SPJ San Diego Announces 2017 Journalist of the Year

Morgan Cook

The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is thrilled to announce its 2017 Journalist of the Year: Morgan Cook, an investigative reporter at The San Diego Union-Tribune.

San Diego has seen its share of big stories this past year, but our board believes no local journalist did better work than Cook in her relentless accountability reporting on Congressman Duncan Hunter’s use of campaign funds for personal expenses. She broke the story last year and continues to follow it after the Department of Justice made clear in March that it is investigating Hunter, whose district covers Alpine, Escondido and Temecula.

Cook’s first story came last April after she found a letter posted by the Federal Election Commission questioning Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, for using campaign funds to pay for video games. Cook then wrote about Hunter’s other questionable self-reported expenses that he claimed were mistakes — items such as oral surgery, private school tuition and a garage door. Then she dug through Hunter’s campaign filings to fact check additional expenses and found other items that didn’t add up, including $229 for “food and beverages” at a Disneyland gift shop where the only food sold is PEZ and a Star Wars-themed Rice Krispies treat.

Throughout her coverage, Cook has explained to readers why this matters — the practice of campaign contributors funding a candidate’s personal life, not just his campaign, opens up the possibility of undue influence. To that end, Cook’s reporting has included who was giving the money and what they might be getting in return. She has persevered in her coverage despite a barrage of criticism and lack of cooperation from Hunter’s campaign.

In light of Cook’s stories, Hunter has returned more than $60,000 to his campaign and the Department of Justice is continuing its investigation. We applaud Cook’s dogged reporting that has stayed focused on what is important — and why — and are honored to recognize her as our Journalist of the Year.

Celebrate Cook and all of this year’s winners at our banquet on Wednesday, July 19, at Kona Kai. The full list of winners and all banquet details will be announced in June.

It’s Society of Professional Journalists San Diego Chapter board election time!

Would you like to serve on the SPJ board of directors? If you are a member of the society, you are eligible to run for the board.

The board meets monthly to plan SPJ events, run the annual awards contest and weigh in on issues concerning journalists, among other things.

The election will be held in June. If you’d like to run for the board, please submit your bio (150 word limit) by June 5 via email to Joe Guerin at guerin_joe@yahoo.com (subject line: SPJ Election)

Election results will be announced in early July.

Announcing the 2017 Sunshine Award, Plus Our Window and Wall Winners

Please join SPJ in celebrating the Sunshine Award winner, as well as the Window and Wall awardees, on Wednesday, May 17, at 57 Degrees. The event begins at 6:30 p.m.

The San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is proud to announce Brooke Binkowski is the winner of our annual Sunshine Award, which honors efforts to make government more transparent and hold elected leaders accountable. As managing editor of the fact-checking website Snopes.com, Binkowski and her team of journalists have become instrumental in sorting out truth from fiction in this new era of “fake news” and “alternative facts” and providing important context to help readers better understand complex issues.

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SPJ journalism conference early-bird discount expiring soon. Register today.

Register today for the 2017 Society of Professional Journalists’ western region conference being hosted by the San Diego SPJ chapter in April. Spots are filling up and the early-bird registration deadline is Friday, March 24. Sign up today! Come celebrate and improve professional and student journalism across California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, Guam and the Mariana Islands as proud members of Region 11, one of SPJ’s biggest regions.

Journalists have great challenges ahead of them, and our speakers and attendees are meeting them head-on, starting with our keynote speaker, NPR’s All Thing Considered and Embedded podcast host Kelly McEvers. We have 37 speakers in all.

Like all good journalists on deadline, you’re no doubt procrastinating on registering for the conference, which is being held April 28 and 29 at Humphreys Half Moon Inn in San Diego. Here’s a good reason not to wait: a free Google Tools preconference training is available to just 25 people, on a first-come, first-serve basis. You must register for the conference to sign up for the Google Tools training. You can do so here. Here’s another great incentive to register today: That early-bird registration is fast approaching.

More conference info can be found here.