San José Spotlight wins award for coverage of VTA mass shooting
The Guadalupe light rail yard in San Jose. Photo by Tran Nguyen.

San José Spotlight this month won a national award for its breaking news coverage of a mass shooting in May at a VTA light rail yard that killed nine transit workers.

The award from the Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers recognizes our nonprofit newsroom among the top news publications in the country. LION Publishers is an association of nearly 400 independent online media operations across the U.S.

After San Jose experienced a mass shooting in May, San José Spotlight’s reporters sprung into action with 14 hours of nonstop reporting from the field followed by an in-depth story about the nine victims. Then, reporters dug deeper and pored through hundreds of pages of records to bring a series of investigative stories that examined the agency’s systemic failures and revealed widespread work culture problems at the transit agency. San José Spotlight also hosted a live panel discussion on gun policy featuring elected leaders, a VTA victim’s widow and Second Amendment advocates.

Dozens of judges evaluated newsrooms across the country for the 2021 LION Publishers awards.

Judges praised San José Spotlight for its in-depth investigative reporting, elevating the voices of victims’ families and driving a conversation with readers and stakeholders about gun policy. San José Spotlight was also named a finalist for Publisher of the Year, an honor the organization won in 2020.

“I love the rich context to these stories, even the first one, when it would have been easy to just focus on the shooting,” the judges said. “The photos of the victims were moving. Thumbs up to the live event for community members.”

The national recognition comes months after San José Spotlight won the Society of Professional Journalists’ NorCal chapter’s prestigious James Madison Freedom of Information Award and four California Journalism Awards in 2020 in an annual competition sponsored by the California News Publishers Association.

“This recognition belongs to our reporters who work tirelessly to serve the community and to readers who have embraced and supported nonprofit, public-service journalism in San Jose,” said co-founder and CEO Ramona Giwargis.

Since its launch in January 2019, San José Spotlight has produced more than 3,500 news and enterprise stories about policy, politics and government, including in-depth reports on housing, homelessness, racial inequity, COVID-19, education, business and more. Its website, which doesn’t have a paywall or ads, has garnered more than 15.4 million page views from 6.5 million readers.

“This award validates all the time and effort our reporters put into covering this horrific event and the aftermath,” said Nick Preciado, editor of San José Spotlight. “While other media outlets moved on after parachuting in to cover the shooting, our team remains dedicated to investigating the whispers we hear of ongoing issues inside VTA. Our work is far from over and we will continue to shine light into the corners of our community.”

San José Spotlight’s comprehensive coverage serves as an example of how independent reporting that engages its audience has far-reaching impacts to our community and democracy. Our efforts would not have been possible without the support of you—our readers—and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Please help us continue this award-winning public service journalism in San Jose by becoming a sustaining member today.

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