SD-SPJ Announces This Year’s Wall, Window, Sunshine and Skylight Award Winners

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Every year, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists honors the public officials and agencies who did the most (and the least) to usher in transparency in the past year.  Read on to learn more about this year’s honorees, including our first-ever Skylight Award winner. We’ll celebrate Sunshine Week, government transparency and this year’s honorees at our annual celebration at Starlite. 

When: Wednesday, March 18, at 6:30 p.m. Program starts at 7 p.m.

Where: Starlite (back patio), 3175 India St. in Mission Hills

RSVP here.

Window Award: Michael Vu, San Diego County Registrar of Voters 

We’re proud to present our 2020 Window Award to San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu. Vu is a shining example of a public official who goes above and beyond to make sure people understand how their government works. Journalists appreciate that he makes time — often after-hours — to talk on the phone or give an interview, even as the business of running county elections becomes more complex and demanding. At a time when election integrity is under increasing scrutiny, Vu has shown a commitment to transparency that every public official — elected or appointed — should aspire to.

Sunshine Award: Hon. Dana M. Sabraw, U.S. District Judge of the Southern District of California

The Hon. Dana M. Sabraw wins our 2020 Sunshine Award for facilitating media coverage of a landmark case he oversees concerning the separation of families at the U.S. border with Mexico. Judge Sabraw created a toll-free phone line so journalists could listen in to live hearings. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this case for U.S. policy and the thousands of affected families. In July 2018, Judge Sabraw held several hearings a week and, to this day, regularly holds hearings that are full of significant disclosures and testimony from government officials. Very few, if any, news organizations or journalists could afford to attend every key hearing in person. Judge Sabraw posted dial-in information for media in the public docket entirely on his own initiative, with no obligation to do so. As a result, this case has received the extensive coverage it so clearly demands.     

Skylight Award: Karen Dalton, San Diego County Superior Court Public Affairs Officer 

For years, it was difficult to get basic information on happenings at the San Diego County Superior Court and court officials were rarely prepared for major news events that drew large groups of reporters. That reality changed with Karen Dalton. San Diego SPJ is creating a new lifetime award this year to honor the former KNSD broadcast reporter who, since taking on the role of media liaison, has quickly responded to reporters’ questions and gone out of her way to explain complex court procedures. Dalton has also worked with many reporters to track down data and information they might otherwise have struggled to access. She’s been an advocate for the news media before judges and has helped reporters do a better job covering the court, which helps the public better understand the justice system. We’re proud to give Dalton our first-ever Skylight Award for her career championing the public’s right to know. 

Wall Award: San Diego County Sheriff’s Department

This year’s Wall Award goes to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, largely for how it’s responded to public scrutiny of deaths in its jails. Our members also say it’s often difficult to get basic information from the media division on arrests and investigations in a timely fashion. In recent months, the department has refused to provide basic information after someone dies in custody, not just to the press but also to some inmates’ families. Instead, the department waits until the medical examiner determines a cause of death — a process that can take months — and then issues a press release while the autopsy report is still sealed, depriving journalists and the public of important information. The department insists it provides inmates with the highest level of care, but over the last six years, the county has paid nearly $8 million to settle lawsuits stemming from jail deaths and is currently facing at least a dozen lawsuits over inmate deaths and serious injuries. These numbers are troubling and underscore the need for greater transparency.  



Potential Changes Coming to State Law Impacting Freelance Journalists

For the last several months, the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SD-SPJ) has been in touch with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez about AB 5, a law that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, that sought to address worker classification. Unfortunately, the new law has led to some freelance journalists losing work, largely due to uncertainty over the law’s language.

On Thursday, in a series of tweets, Gonzalez said she’s working on bill language (AB 1850) that will lift the cap of 35 submissions per hiring entity that AB 5 placed on freelance journalists, and clear up confusion over the law’s business-to-business exemption.

We plan to continue a productive dialogue with Gonzalez and her staff as AB 1850 moves through the legislative process. We look forward to seeing the new bill language — which Gonzalez said should be available in the next week — and we appreciate her willingness to listen to, and engage with, people affected by AB 5.

Who Pushed (or Blocked) Transparency in 2019?

It’s that time again. The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is preparing to continue our annual spring tradition of recognizing the most helpful — and least helpful — public agencies and officials and we’re seeking nominations.

We’ll celebrate our honorees at our annual Sunshine Week celebration at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18 at Starlite, 3175 India Street in Mission Hills.

Our Wall Award will go to the person or public agency that made it hardest for journalists to do their jobs in 2019, ignoring requests or otherwise compromising the public’s right to know.

The Window Award will go to the person or public agency that most prioritized transparency and the public’s right to know in 2019.

And our Sunshine Award will go to a journalist or community member who worked the hardest to make government more transparent and hold elected officials accountable.

Submit nominations here by Feb. 28, 2020. You can read up on last year’s winners (and losers) here.

The Latest on AB 5

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wants to make sure our members are aware of information available about AB 5, the law authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez that potentially impacts media outlets that work with freelance journalists. It took effect Jan. 1.

The state’s Labor & Workforce Development Agency has created a web portal that includes FAQs on AB 5, as well as information for both employers and workers. And the Employment Development Department is holding a series of “employment status” seminars to address questions about worker classification under AB 5. The seminars are geared toward employers, but freelancers are welcome to attend. Also, Gonzalez’s office has put together a fact sheet for freelancers and employers.

Finally, Gonzalez announced recently that she plans to introduce a bill in the coming weeks that will clarify AB 5’s business-to-business exemption and address concerns from independent contractors working in the fields of music and photography. We hope the bill will also raise the 35-submission cap for freelance journalists, and we will continue to work with Gonzalez’s office to ensure freelancers’ interests are represented in that amendment process.