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.

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 spjsandiego@gmail.com. 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!