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.

Binkowski, who lives in San Diego and has contributed to local media outlets like KPBS and Voice of San Diego, has become something of a national celebrity for her work with Snopes — she’s been interviewed by The New York Times and CNN — but has also made time to talk about accountability journalism and her work with Snopes at local forums, and will be a panelist and our awards luncheon keynote speaker at our upcoming western regional conference.

2017 SPJ San Diego Window and Wall Winners

Our Window Award goes to a public official or agency that prioritized transparency and the public’s right to know. The Wall Award goes to a public official or agency that ignored media requests or otherwise compromised the public’s right to know.

Lauren Mack, public information officer for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Diego, is winner of this year’s Window Award for her responsiveness to requests for information no matter the day or hour and for her efforts to assist journalists, which include arranging interviews and providing background information. Mack recognizes the importance of a vibrant press and advocates within her agency for access and transparency. These attributes will be much-needed as the new presidential administration makes immigration enforcement a top priority.

The San Diego Unified School District is the recipient of our Wall Award. District officials were too often at loggerheads with local journalists this past year, starting in June with a public information officer making, and repeating, a joke about a reporter’s dead body. When 10News sought information about student safety and missing inventory items, the district withheld documents that other school districts delivered within weeks. And when Voice of San Diego sought to understand how local schools reached a record-setting graduation rate, the district ignored repeated requests to meet in person to explain. More recently, when district officials began openly discussing hundreds of potential layoffs, its announcement lacked specifics that reporters and parents alike deserved to know. The district also declined an on-camera interview with NBC San Diego for a story about lead in drinking water and then, as one reporter put it, “pushed back” from its Twitter account. The district’s actions lead us to conclude that it doesn’t value openness and transparency. We hope it receives this award in the spirit that it is intended and, in the future, forges a more constructive relationship with journalists and the public.

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