San José Spotlight wins four California Journalism Awards
The San José Spotlight editorial team is pictured at the organization's one-year anniversary celebration in San Jose. From L to R: Co-founders Josh Barousse and Ramona Giwargis, reporters Nadia Lopez, Janice Bitters and Katie Lauer.

San José Spotlight has won four California Journalism Awards in an annual competition sponsored by the California News Publishers Association.

“I’m very proud of our talented team and the fact that we placed in the top five in four categories in our first year of operation,” said Ramona Giwargis, San José Spotlight’s co-founder and editor. “These statewide awards are competitive and this recognition speaks to the excellent work our team has done — and will continue to do.”

The annual journalism contest honors the best print and digital news reporting and photography in California. News organizations are judged against one another based on size and circulation. San José Spotlight competed in the digital category for publications with 400,000 and under monthly unique visitors.

San Jose City Hall reporter Nadia Lopez placed 4th in the Land Use Reporting category for her article, The price of growth: Alum Rock businesses at risk of displacement, which took a critical look at how development is upending San Jose’s historic East Side. Lopez revealed how an unusual zoning law — the only one in the city — allows developers in this low-income neighborhood to bypass community meetings and City Council approval for major projects.

The judges said the piece was an “interesting and important issue, engaging lede, and very thorough reporting.”

Lopez also placed 5th in the Writing category for A night on Route 22: ‘Homeless riders’ fear loss of overnight bus, an enterprise story that involved spending the night on an overnight bus that’s served as a safe haven for Silicon Valley’s homeless residents for years.

While aboard the overnight bus, which was at risk of being eliminated, we introduced readers to some of its regular riders and shared their heartbreaking stories. The route was eventually saved.

“Instead of focusing on advocates and bureaucrats, these journalists went straight to real people. A mosaic of portraits told through an innovative team approach,” the judges wrote.

Senior reporter Janice Bitters won a 5th place award in the Investigative Reporting category for her story, Santa Clara bucked city rules with Singer public relations contracts, which involved submitting dozens of public records requests, poring through pages of complex contracts and uncovering a slew of evidence showing Santa Clara violated its city code when bidding a pair of lucrative six-figure taxpayer-funded contracts for PR services.

Bitters’ series on Google’s secret plans for San Jose, a four-part series that shed light on how San Jose leaders “lost” tape recordings of closed-door discussions about the massive Google land deal, took 5th place in the Coverage of Local Government category. Bitters reviewed countless pages of private meeting transcripts — she was not allowed to take photocopies or pictures — to show how Silicon Valley’s top elected leaders feared Google would walk away from the deal.

“This one makes the cut because of the idea of going through all the transcripts, with someone watching — dogged reporting that deserves an audience,” the judges wrote.

Josh Barousse, San José Spotlight’s co-founder and director of development, said the challenge now is to continue building support for nonprofit journalism in San Jose to expand the award-winning work achieved in the organization’s first year.

“We know this is a difficult time for everybody but the community has and is continuing to step up to help keep this valuable, public-service journalism alive,” he said.

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