Congratulations to our annual Wall, Window, Sunshine and Skylight awards winners!

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.

SPJ-SD Provides Input to county’s Transparency Advisory Committee

Last fall, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors announced it was forming a transparency committee to look into ways to make government more accessible and open to the media and members of the public.  Supervisors Nora Vargas and Joel Anderson are leading the committee. SPJ-SD has met with representatives from their offices to discuss issues about county communications officers’ responsiveness to reporters and the county’s current processes for handling public records requests. 

Here is our latest correspondence with the committee; the letter was also sent to Supervisors Nathan Fletcher, Jim Desmond and Terra Lawson-Remer. If you have any questions about the letter or concerns you’d like us to share with the committee, send an email to: spjsandiego@gmail.com.

SD-SPJ Troubled By Murders of Mexican Journalists

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is saddened and deeply troubled by the murders of two Tijuana journalists last week. Their deaths follow the death of a third journalist from Veracruz who was killed during a robbery earlier this month.

According to The San Diego Union-Tribune, on Sunday evening, Lourdes Maldonado López was shot and killed in her car, which was parked outside her home in the Santa Fe area of Tijuana. Her death follows last Monday’s shooting of Margarito Martínez Esquivel, a photojournalist and “fixer” — someone who assists reporters who might not be familiar with an area — who worked with news outlets including the BBC and The Union-Tribune. Martinez Esquivel was shot three times as he was leaving for work.

The Union-Tribune reported that his teenage daughter heard the shots and found her father’s body.

The San Diego journalism community has always had a close bond with Tijuana journalists, who often assist us with coverage and share expertise at conferences and panel discussions. It’s deeply unfair that reporters who live only a few miles south of the U.S. border can’t do their vitally important work without putting their lives at risk.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 56 Mexican reporters have been murdered since 1992, and another 14 have gone missing during that time. For comparison, eight U.S. journalists were murdered in the same time period. 

We join with the San Diego/Tijuana Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in mourning the loss of these reporters and encourage anyone who wants to help to consider donating to support Martinez Esquivel’s family. We will try to share opportunities to aid journalists and their families as we learn of them.

Panel Discussion: Careers in Science Writing (Virtual)

When: Tuesday, January 25th, from 12pm – 1pm PST
Where: Zoom Register HERE

Thinking about a career in science writing? Hear from professionals in journalism and communications about various career paths during a virtual panel. The event, hosted by San Diego State University, San Diego Science Writers Association and San Diego Society of Professional Journalists, will include four panelists:

·         Heather Buschman (director of scientific communications and media relations at the Salk Institute)

·         Katy Stegall (SDSU student, inaugural Bradley J. Fikes Scholarship recipient and investigative assistant at KPBS)

·         Jared Whitlock (freelance journalist, MIT Knight Science Journalism fellow)

·         Jonathan Wosen (biotech reporter at the San Diego Union-Tribune)

Moderated by Temple Northup, director and professor at school of journalism and media studies at San Diego State University.