SD-SPJ 2018 Journalist of the Year announced

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is thrilled to announce our 2018 Journalist of the Year: Andrew Keatts, assistant editor and senior investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego.

Local journalists produced lots of important work this past year, but our board believes Keatts’ work stands out for its depth, diligence and impact. His investigation into a 2016 tax measure pushed by SANDAG, the region’s planning agency, led to a staff shakeup and a state law overhauling the agency’s governance, oversight and auditing practices.

Keatts’ months-long investigation kicked off with a bombshell story two weeks before the 2016 election revealing that SANDAG officials’ $18 billion ballot measure relied on the assumption that San Diegans would spend far more than they had historically, meaning the agency’s projections would be off and that its long list of projects might never get done. Keatt’s tenacious reporting was just beginning.

He later reported that SANDAG staff had discovered the issue a year before the November election but never notified the public or the agency’s board.

Then Keatts reported that SANDAG had also failed to divulge major details about increasing project costs and changes in its revenue projections for a past tax measure, posing more problems for the list of projects it promised to complete.

Keatts’ stories spurred the SANDAG board to order an outside investigation that confirmed what he had reported — and led to the departure of the agency’s powerful longtime head executive and the passage of legislation meant to improve the agency’s accountability. Keatts’ dogged reporting reshaped one of the region’s most powerful public agencies and we are honored to recognize him as the 2018 Journalist of the Year.

Please join us to celebrate Keatts and all of this year’s award winners at our annual banquet on Tuesday, July 17, at Kona Kai. The full list of winners will be announced next week.

What: SD-SPJ 2018 awards banquet

When: Tuesday, July 17, 2018. Reception at 5:30 p.m., program starts at 7 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: $60 per person, $50 for students, $480 for reserved tables of eight

Registration: Please register and pay here.

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Sunshine, Window and Wall Award Winners Announced

On Wednesday, March 14, please join the San Diego Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists at 57 Degrees as we celebrate Sunshine Week and continue our annual tradition of recognizing the most (and least) transparent public agencies. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. This year, we’re adding a fun twist to the event and inviting PIOs from city, county and state agencies for a casual meet-and-greet mixer with SPJ members and journalists from other media orgs. We’re hoping it’ll be an opportunity to put names to faces and get to know each other a little better in a relaxed, fun environment.

What: Annual Window, Wall and Sunshine Awards

When: Wednesday, March 14, 6:30 p.m.

Where: 57 Degrees, 1735 Hancock St., Middletown

RSVP here

Sunshine Award

This year’s Sunshine Award winner is Guylyn Cummins, a communications attorney with Sheppard Mullin who’s spent more than three decades fighting on behalf of reporters, media organizations and the public to hold government accountable and defend First Amendment rights. Honoring Cummins is long overdue — for years, she’s been San Diego media organizations’ go-to lawyer when public agencies and elected officials refuse to release critical information. At the end of 2017, she announced she was going into semi-retirement, and one of her last cases was particularly meaningful for San Diego SPJ: Cummins was part of the legal team that successfully challenged, pro bono, the county’s attempt to force local journalist, and SPJ board member, Kelly Davis, to testify and turn over material relating to her reporting on jail deaths. The case highlighted the critical need for a federal reporter shield law, an issue that Cummins has long championed and one that we’re certain she’ll continue to fight for.

Wall and Window Awards

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.

Window Award

Kendal Bortisser, a retired public information officer and fire captain for Cal Fire San Diego, is the recipient of our 2018 Window Award. For more than three years, Bortisser provided assistance to journalists across San Diego County outside of and during fire emergencies. That work continued even after Bortisser’s December 2016 retirement. He returned to work during the Lilac Fire to help media personnel get into evacuation zones and provided minute-by-minute updates to the public on the fire’s progression. When he wasn’t responding to media calls during emergencies, Bortisser made a point to stop by each newsroom to provide fire safety seminars that covered journalists’ rights to information and access in emergency zones. Bortisser has always performed his duties in a transparent manner, helping journalists deliver the facts quickly and accurately to viewers and readers.

Wall Award

San Diego County government is the recipient of our 2018 Wall Award. During an unprecedented hepatitis A outbreak last year that killed 20 people, left hundreds of others ill and made countless more residents and tourists fear for their health, county officials lagged on declaring a public health emergency. While officials ultimately offered regular updates on some elements of the emergency and on the county’s response, their replies to formal record and data requests fell well short of full or timely disclosure. County officials refused to release ZIP-code-level data on hepatitis A cases for weeks and only did so after a demand from a lawyer for Voice of San Diego. The county also refused to release the names of the dead, where they lived or where they died—information that multiple news organizations requested on behalf of the public and which would have gone a long way toward easing public health concerns. As The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board wrote, “their lives merited more than statistics and their deaths make details crucial to members of the public.” More recently, county officials targeted freelance journalist and local SPJ board member Kelly Davis in court after she exposed the deaths of dozens of people in its jails. The county’s expensive legal attempt to subpoena notes, require testimony and reveal confidential sources, rejected by a judge, represented an unconscionable failure of transparency and a misguided attack on a journalist instead of an attack on the very real and important problems she uncovered.

The Walls & Windows of San Diego Journalism

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will continue its annual tradition of recognizing the most helpful and least helpful sources from public agencies in 2017.

The Window Award will go to the public official or agency that most prioritized transparency and the public’s right to know in 2017.

The Wall Award will go to the public official or agency that made it hardest for journalists to do their jobs in 2017, ignoring requests or otherwise compromising the public’s right to know.

Your nominations are key to our selection process. Give us your nominations here.

We’ll give out both awards in March, along with our prestigious annual Sunshine Award, which recognizes individuals and groups for making important contributions in the area of open government. Stay tuned for event details. And thanks for taking part in this invaluable exercise to protect the public’s essential access to information.

Better Journalism lineup announced

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is proud to announce its second yearlong series of “Better Journalism Workshops.” Learn from some of the best journalists in San Diego and across the country. We will demonstrate how to excel on multiple platforms, master the art of getting public records, improve your investigative reporting skills and how to interview people in trauma. You will leave with tips and strategies that will pay instant dividends at your job.

The sessions are free and open to anyone. We strongly encourage you to join or renew your SPJ membership to help make programs like this possible.

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Where: San Diego Central Library, Shiley Suite (9th floor), 330 Park Blvd., San Diego 92101

RSVP: http://bit.ly/2ELIF6U

 

Tuesday, Feb. 20

SUCCEEDING ON MULTIPLE PLATFORMS: Learn how to shoot eye-popping photographs and video and capture high-quality audio

Kris Arciaga, video journalist, KPBS

Kinsee Morlan, engagement editor, Voice of San Diego

Howard Lipin, photographer, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Tuesday, April 24 

MASTERING THE ART OF GETTING PUBLIC RECORDS: A conversation with Jason Leopold, senior investigative reporter, BuzzFeed News

With Felix Tinkov, partner, Lounsbery Ferguson Altona & Peak

Tuesday, September 25 

INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING: A conversation with Amy Brittain, investigative reporter, The Washington Post

With Amy Julia Harris, reporter, Reveal.

Tuesday, Nov. 27 

INTERVIEWING PEOPLE UNDER TRAUMA: From wildfires to high-profile crimes and much more, finding people under difficult circumstances and interviewing with skill and care

Rory Devine, reporter, KNSD (NBC7 San Diego)

Lyndsay Winkley, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

TBD