Who deserves to be San Diego’s ‘Journalist of the Year’?

Every year, the San Diego Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists honors a local journalist whose work made a major impact in the previous year. Who do you think deserves this year’s award?

Fill out this quick form:  https://goo.gl/forms/yOiATHe2PSRkzXJy2

Previous winners:

2017: Morgan Cook, The San Diego Union-Tribune

2016:  Mario Koran, Voice of San Diego

2015: Jeff McDonald, The San Diego Union-Tribune

2014: Mark Sauer, KPBS

2013: Loren Nancarrow



What do users think of the city’s NextRequest System?

The San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wanted to know what users think of the city of San Diego’s public records request and information system. In the spirit of Sunshine Week, SD-SPJ is releasing our results and analysis of a public survey we conducted on how the NextRequest system has worked for users.

When NextRequest launched in March 2016, the stated goal was to help boost “transparency and openness.” Our mission behind this survey was to find out if the system did just that, by asking users their opinions on how the system has worked for them.

For local journalists and other members of the public, the system has become a vital tool when seeking information about city government operations. Since its launch, NextRequest has received more than 7,400 requests for records, according to city data.

“I think the process behind the [NextRequest] site is a bigger issue than the site itself,” one survey participant wrote.

The survey of 10 questions was live for a little over two months and asked NextRequest users to rate the system and city’s effectiveness when it comes to releasing information in a timely and efficient manner.

To see the survey results, click here.

“The City tends to ‘inadvertently’ interpret very specific requests incorrectly,” one survey taker wrote, “Particularly when it doesn’t want to release information.”

SD-SPJ analyzed data for requests filed via the NextRequest system in 2016 and 2017. More than 5,800 requests were filed in those years and for requests where records were located by city staff, it took an average of 17 days to release them to the requester. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said records were released on the deadlines they were given by city staff.

One comment submitted in the survey read, “A requestor ought to be able challenge or, at a minimum, comment on a ‘closed’ request. On more than one occasion, the City has deemed a request ‘closed’ when it had not produced the records or had ‘inadvertently’ produced incomplete or completely wrong records in response to a very specific request. If the City is being measured on closed requests, this number is skewed.”

“I like that it [NextRequest] maintains a constant record of when it was submitted, all interactions with staff, who is in charge of it, and when I might expect the resolution.” one person commented, “That saves me a significant amount of time going back and forth with a representative, making sure my request was received, asking who is working on it, etc.”

More than two-thirds of survey participants voted they had no technical difficulties with the system.

One complaint brought up in the survey was the lack of communication between the requester and the city staff within the department they are requesting records from.

“There needs to be department contact who can help navigate through the city documentation system for those of us who are not familiar with the ins and outs of how things are filed and preserved,” a survey participant commented.

“More than once I’ve been told by city departments to simply file a PRA in NextRequest without discussion, only to have the request denied outright,” a survey participant said, “Trying to get someone on the phone who is familiar with what records exist is tough, so you have a situation where the legal requirement to assist requesters in identifying records is not being adequately met, in my opinion.”

The SD-SPJ board hopes to use the survey responses in future discussions with city of San Diego staff regarding how the system is working and what needs improvement moving forward.

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.

2018 Journalism Contest

Calling all winners! San Diego SPJ is now accepting entries for our 2018 contest.

We’ve updated numerous categories this year to reflect new journalism trends in areas such as social media, multimedia, data/visualization and much more, so please review all your options at the outset. We’ve also renamed two of our top awards as follows: The Mark of Excellence Award that honors the best story, series or show is now known as the Excellence in Journalism Award and the Wildcard Award is called the Distinguished Coverage Award, which this year honors the outlet that best covered immigration and the border.

Contest entries will be accepted until 9 p.m. on Monday, April 9. Those submitted by midnight on Monday, April 2 will get $5 off their entry fees in every category but our top and special awards. We are also accepting applications for five $1,000 scholarships through Monday, April 9. One, the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation’s Agnes Diggs Road to College Scholarship, is open to San Diego County or Riverside County students from underserved communities. The others are open to all San Diego County students.

Winners will be announced in mid-to-late-May or early June.

Submit your entries using the BetterBNC Media Awards Platform. If you have entered other contests on this platform before, either for last year’s contest or for the SD Press Club, you are already in their system and you just have to ask to enter the 2018 SPJ awards contest.

Below are directions for preparing and submitting entries. If you have questions, please contact Terry Williams at 619-743-3669 or spj.sandiego@cox.net.

All contest entries must be submitted online (except for entries in the College Media Best Newspaper category, which must be mailed and postmarked by the contest deadline to SPJ to P.O. Box 880482, San Diego, CA 92168-0482). All entries must be entered by or on behalf of the individuals who produced the work and must identify those individuals.

To register or enter the contest online now, open a new browser window or tab to http://www.betterbnc.com. Keep this window open to refer to as you submit your awards.

1. How to Enter

2. Contest Guidelines 2018

3. Categories 2018

4. FAQs 2018

5. Scholarship Instructions