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. We’re proud to announce this year’s award winners and will celebrate them with a reception on the back patio of Starlite restaurant from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, March 23. An RSVP is required. Please note that Starlite is a 21+.
Window Award: Music Watson, Chief of Staff, San Diego County Office of Education
SD-SPJ’s annual Window Award goes to a person or public agency that has prioritized transparency and access to information. This year’s winner is Music Watson. Watson has been with the San Diego County Office of Education since 2012 and has earned a reputation among local education reporters for being helpful and transparent — someone who will go out of her way to help journalists get the information they need. “Music is the best,” said NBC7’s Rory Devine. “She knows our deadlines and works diligently to help us meet them.” Voice of San Diego education reporter Will Huntsberry describes Watson as someone who never just gives a reporter a canned statement. “Music is happy to help put any reporter in touch with anyone who works for the San Diego County Office of Education,” he said. “And if there is a document or piece of information she has access to, she will not hesitate to provide it. If government agencies were full of people like her, the benefit to public knowledge would be incredible and exponential.”
Wall Award: San Diego County Sheriff’s Department
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.
Unfortunately, this is the second time in two years we’ve given this award to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. In 2020, we criticized the department for putting up roadblocks to requests for basic information on arrests, investigations and deaths in custody. To the department’s credit, it now issues a press release within 24 hours of a death and we appreciate the responsiveness of public information officer Lt. Amber Baggs. But problems remain. The department has also been extraordinarily slow at releasing the records it is required to disclose pursuant to SB 1421, California’s landmark police transparency law. The law went into effect in January 2019; more than three years later, at the end of 2021, the department was still far from releasing all of the mandated records. It also offered a ham-fisted response to criticism about a video that purported to show a deputy collapsing after coming into contact with fentanyl. Scores of addiction experts were quick to point out that the video was inaccurate — you can’t overdose from touching fentanyl — and that misinformation about the drug could lead to treatment delays. As of this posting, the department still has the video on its website with no disclaimer.
Sunshine Award: Dave Maass, Electronic Frontier Foundation
SD-SPJ’s 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. This year’s winner is Dave Maass, a former San Diego reporter who moved to Northern California in 2013 to work for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit working to defend privacy rights and free speech. Reporters and members of the public who have delved into government surveillance issues praise Maass for his passion and depth of knowledge. Journalist Katy Stegall credited Maass for leading the team that created the Atlas of Surveillance, an interactive map that shows all surveillance technologies being used along the U.S-Mexico border. “He’s also one of the few experts in the country who is able to explain this highly complex topic to both academics, reporters, activists and any layperson who wants to learn more about the surveillance,” Stegall said. “His deep knowledge and understanding of the topic is even further amplified by his passion, willingness and flexibility to meet others where they are and help them fully understand how surveillance impacts communities.”
Skylight Award: Greg Block
SD-SPJ’s Skylight Award is reserved for San Diegans who have devoted their careers to championing the public’s right to know. This year’s award goes to Greg Block, a longtime public affairs pro whose past gigs included the San Diego mayor’s office and San Diego State University. He died in early November after a years-long battle with cancer. Block always went out of his way to help journalists and mentor young reporters. Even when Block was going through harsh chemotherapy treatments, he continued to help facilitate interviews and was never too tired to share his thoughts on a story or a tweet — good and bad — via text message. Block was tireless in his efforts to make sure journalists had the right information and proper context. He also cared deeply about San Diego public affairs and regularly had spirited conversations with beat reporters about the stories of the day. Before he died, Block worked with SDSU to set up a scholarship for young journalists. In his honor, San Diego SPJ will be donating $100 to this scholarship and we encourage our members to make a donation as well.