San José Spotlight nets 8 wins in annual California Journalism Awards
The San José Spotlight team. Front: Editorial advisor Moryt Milo, reporter Lorraine Gabbert, CEO Ramona Giwargis, Executive Director Josh Barousse and reporter Tran Nguyen. Back: Director of Development Lyn Balistreri, senior reporter Eli Wolfe, editor Nick Preciado and reporter Jana Kadah. Photo by Newsha Naderzad.

San José Spotlight has won eight California Journalism Awards in the annual contest sponsored by the California News Publishers Association, including four first place honors.

The yearly competition highlights the best print and digital news reporting and photography in the state. News organizations compete based on size and circulation. San José Spotlight took part in the digital category for publications with between 100,001 and 400,000 monthly unique visitors.

“I’m tremendously proud of our talented editorial team and the stellar work they’ve produced this past year,” said Ramona Giwargis, co-founder and CEO. “From highlighting injustice in the homeless community to covering a deadly pandemic and holding powerful officials accountable, this is the kind of high-quality journalism that sets San José Spotlight apart.”

San José Spotlight received first place awards for its extensive coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and local government—namely the homelessness crisis in Silicon Valley—in addition to its breaking news reporting on the 2021 VTA mass shooting, where a disgruntled transit employee killed nine of his coworkers before turning the gun on himself. This is the second award the organization has won for its reporting on the shooting, following last year’s honor from Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers.

In a first for the nonprofit newsroom, San José Spotlight won a first place award for its video journalism series, Backbone of Silicon Valley. The first-of-its-kind video storytelling project documents the plight of six essential workers in Silicon Valley during the pandemic. Competition judges called the series “important and moving.”

“The strongest stories were the undocumented maid who talked about her fight for legalization and the former homeless individual who now worked to help other unhoused,” judges said. “A strong reminder about the reality behind the scenes in Silicon Valley.”

San José Spotlight took home four other awards: second place in the digital division for general excellence; third place for enterprise work on how San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo plans to influence this year’s elections; third place for land-use reporting on where affordable housing is located throughout the city; and fifth place for investigative reporting exposing how an ally of Liccardo helped net Bloom Energy an exemption to San Jose’s natural gas ban.

“I decided to join San José Spotlight a year ago because I believe in its mission to fill the void in local news, keep San Jose informed and hold its powerful accountable,” said reporter Tran Nguyen, who was named in five of the eight awards. “I’m so humbled and grateful to be able to do this work everyday—especially with a group of talented and dedicated journalists.”

Judges said Nguyen’s reporting on Liccardo’s plans to influence the 2022 elections is a prime example of local accountability journalism.

“A clear explanation of both the broader history of the issue of election funding in the area and the potential impact of this newest example,” judges said. “Timing is critical: This story came out early enough that it could have an impact on upcoming elections, rather than wagging fingers after the fact.”

Judges also commended Nguyen for her investigative work exposing the efforts of Bloom Energy executive Carl Guardino to carve out an exemption for his company to continue natural gas hookups in the city.

“This investigative series shows how lobbying efforts and best-friend deals are not limited to Washington, D.C.,” judges said. “Adding umph to this series are the screenshots of e-mails by the business and how the wording in the email is reflected, almost word for word, in the legislation. This reporting gives readers a look into how the sausage is made in their local government.”

This year’s California Journalism Awards received 2,800 entries from print, digital and campus publications. The digital contest received a total of 567 entries.

This news organization’s award-winning work is made possible by readers like you. To help us continue our public service journalism, please consider becoming a member today.

Contact Nick Preciado at [email protected]

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