Chauncey Bailey Project

SPJ Announces Excellence in Journalism Award Winners

COMMENTARY – The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized the “Vanishing Journalist” with its top award for journalistic excellence. The Chauncey Bailey Project received the award for the best investigative reporting at print dailies.

The recent and unprecedented layoffs and buyouts of hundreds of reporters, photographers, editors, graphic artists and other journalists throughout the region has led to grave absences in local newsrooms. This has translated into fewer people on the streets and knocking on the doors of government officials, less competition and less diversity of perspectives. Every fall, SPJ honors a Journalist of the Year in its Excellence of Journalism Awards competition who reflects the organization’s ideals of initiative, integrity and compassion. This year, the award is a tribute to the many whose longstanding, hard-hitting service to covering their communities was cut off by forces beyond their control.

While the future quality and breadth of news coverage is threatened, there has been much good work to celebrate this year. The SPJ Excellence in Journalism Awards is again commending a group of Northern California journalists whose writing, images, enterprise and investigative spirit contributed to outstanding journalism in the past year.

Winners of the SPJ Excellence in Journalism Awards covered topics ranging from subprime mortgages and climate change to wildfires and gay marriage. They came from both traditional local media, such as the San Jose Mercury News, which won five awards this year, to Bay Area-based national publications such as MarketWatch and Mother Jones. All of the winners will be honored at an awards dinner on November 13 at the Yank Sing restaurant in San Francisco.

This year, the Public Service award goes to Karen de Sá of the San Jose Mercury News for her series on California’s overworked juvenile justice system, which triggered significant reforms. Her work documented how juvenile dependency court caseloads are excessive, giving an inadequate number of judges only moments to decide whether families will be broken up or put back together. The series turned a spotlight on how little attention was being given to life-changing decisions affecting the least powerful of California’s residents.

Two veteran Bay Area journalists, Karola Saekel Craib and Roland De Wolk, are winners of the Career Achievement Award.

In more than 50 years at the San Francisco Chronicle, Karola Saekel Craib covered everything from fashion to floods, cults to custards, earthquakes to ethnic cooking. She became an authority and a valuable resource on the evolution of the culinary scene and the undisputed historian of the food section. Craib, who retired in 2007 and continues to cover the food scene, set the standard for multicultural reporting in the section in the late 1970s in interviewing immigrants for her “Flavors of Home” series.

Roland De Wolk’s career spans newspapers and television news, the last 16 of which at KTVU-TV has resulted in a widely diverse array of solid and important enterprise news stories that have helped anchors and reporters at the station in every beat.

David Perlman, a science reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, receives the Distinguished Service Award. For nearly six decades, readers know David Perlman for his passion and insight in explaining scientific news of the day. While Perlman often has been “the one to beat,” when journalists cover scientific meetings, colleagues and students also know him for his mentoring inside and outside his paper. Unheralded, but recognized today, was his support of women and minority journalists at the Chronicle, during his tenure as city editor in late 1970s, when newsrooms were still barely integrated.

The Unsung Hero Award goes to Karen Holzmeister of The Daily Review for a lifetime of dedication to community reporting, through newspaper ownership changes and its changing fortunes since the 1970s. Readers in Hayward, San Leandro, Castro Valley and San Lorenzo know Holzmeister’s stories, big and small, but “big J” journalism often overlooks this kind of reportage. Despite the raft of budget cuts, newsroom shrinkage and daily doom, Holzmeister comes into the newsroom every morning with amazing energy to get to the bottom of things, and to provide local context.

The John Gothberg Award for meritorious service to SPJ goes to Linda Jue, the immediate past president of SPJ-NorCal who injected fresh infusion of energy, commitment and imagination into a chapter still recovering from the untimely loss of a dynamic president, Beverly Kees. With new ideas and alliances, Jue helped the chapter increase its influence immeasurably, at a time when journalism was entering crisis and needed just the sort of skills, energy and institutional experience she provided. Shouldering multiple family duties and a challenging professional career, Jue motivated others and left the organization stronger with both a personal and institutional legacy.
Full List of Winners:
Breaking News

– Print (daily): The San Jose Mercury News (Julia Prodis Sulek, Patrick May, Lisa M. Krieger, Ken McLaughlin, Julie Sevrens Lyons) for its coverage of the May 2008 Summit wildfire in the Santa Cruz mountains.
– Broadcast: KQED-FM News Team for continuing coverage of the legal battle over gay marriage in California.

Explanatory Journalism

– Print (daily): Ryan Blitstein, San Jose Mercury News, for “Ghosts in the Browser,” an in-depth series on cybercrime and its consequences.
– Print (non-daily): Jacques Leslie, Mother Jones, for “The Last Empire,” which examined the changes in China’s economy as it industrializes, and the associated environmental problems.
– Broadcast: KQED-FM, for the California Report series “Climate Change and California’s Water,” explaining the complex interaction of weather with all living things in the state.
– Online: Consumer Health Interactive (Paige Bierma, James Burke, Tim Fitzgerald, Diana Hembree and Paola Laverde) for its five-part multimedia series demystifying the superbug MRSA, a drug-resistant bacterium.

Investigative Journalism

– Print (daily): The Chauncey Bailey Project (including Bob Butler, Mary Fricker, Thomas Peele, Josh Richman, G.W. Schulz, and A.C. Thompson) for an in-depth, wide-ranging investigation of Your Black Muslim Bakery following the assassination of journalist Chauncey Bailey.
– Broadcast: Holly Quan and Ed Cavagnaro, KCBS-AM, for their four-part investigation into the story behind the tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo.
– Online: Alistair Barr of for stories that showed how the pursuit of profits in America turned into financial losses for Europe.

Feature Writing

– Print (daily): Jennifer Garza, Sacramento Bee, for exploring the changing American Catholic church through the story of a young Latino priest.
– Print (non-daily): Lisa Margonelli, California Magazine, for a story that explores the emerging relationships between energy entrepreneurs and UC Berkeley.
– Broadcast: Amy Miller, producer/reporter at KQED-TV Quest, for her accessible and personalized television report on why the U.S. has the highest rate of premature births of any developed nation.
– Online: Kristen Gerencher,, for a multimedia series on the challenges that the baby boomers present to public health.


– Chip Johnson of the San Francisco Chronicle for his unrelenting role as watchdog of the Oakland city administration.


– Bruce Newman, San Jose Mercury News, for his elegant and compelling movie reviews.


– Dai Sugano, San Jose Mercury News, for his images documenting the sale of a mobile home park and the impact on its elderly and working-class residents.

Outstanding Emerging Journalist

– Julia Scott, San Mateo County Times, for stories on environmental and public health issues related to water.

Outstanding Student Journalist

– The staff of The Advocate, Contra Costa Community College, (Brett Abel, editor) for “Under the Gun,” a series on the impact of gun violence on the campus.

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