Press Democrat wins 23 awards in CNPA California Journalism Awards

The Press Democrat was honored Saturday by the California News Publishers Association with eight first-place awards, including the top award for general excellence for the second consecutive year.

Overall, the newspaper received 23 awards in 22 categories at the annual CNPA California Journalism Awards. In most categories, the entries were judged against work produced by daily newspapers in California with 15,000 to 50,000 subscribers. In five of the categories – including online general excellence, public service journalism and video journalism – it was matched against the largest newspapers in the state.

“We are grateful for the recognition of our peers among California’s journalists, especially for the sustained work by our staff in persistently detailing the changes to our community after the wildfires,” said Catherine Barnett, executive editor of The Press Democrat.

The awards, which recognized journalism published in 2018, were presented at a gala dinner held in Southern California at The Westin Long Beach hotel.

The newspaper won first place for general excellence based on two editions of the newspaper in September that featured coverage of the one-year anniversary of the 2017 wildfires.

“The Press Democrat owned the fire aftermath coverage,” the judges wrote. “Compelling writing and deep reporting.”

Other first-place awards included:

In-Depth Reporting, for a series of Page 1 stories and 11 special sections that chronicled the rebuilding underway in Sonoma County following the wildfires.

Local Government Coverage, for a series of stories examining government’s response to the wildfires, during and after the disaster. The stories, by reporters Julie Johnson, Kevin McCallum and J.D. Morris, revealed the absence of a protocol for 911 dispatchers to provide clear advice to the public; problems with the water system in Fountaingrove that inhibited the firefight; internal efforts to manage the backlash over the county’s failure to issue more widespread alerts during the early hours of the firestorm; and hard lessons from the fire that are leading to better emergency preparedness.

“Thorough, in-depth reporting and persistence are evident in each of these stories. Thanks to these pieces community members got some answers to crucial questions that some officials weren’t ready to provide yet. A good example of serving readers and holding their elected and appointed leaders accountable,” the judge wrote.

Youth/Education Reporting, for a series of stories by staff about how local schools were impacted by the wildfires. “This is clearly the best, most comprehensive story I’ve read about the Northern California fires. The Press Democrat did an outstanding job of looking at the effects of the fire from a students/teachers perspective and how they are recovering,” the judge wrote.

Writing, for a story by Mary Callahan about the residents of a Mark West Springs neighborhood who were trapped by flames but, despite daunting odds, managed to survive.

Arts & Entertainment Coverage, for two consecutive Sonoma Go sections published in May 2018. “These were fun, engaging reads that looked great on the page. The music coverage is enviable, from the thoughtful profile of a cover band to the profiles of a diverse group of local musicians to the breakdown of festival lineups/tips that make the reader feel invited to the party. The writing and the photos are uniformly strong,” the judge wrote.

Profile Story, for a story by Callahan about the inspiring recovery of Carson Pforsich five months after he was paralyzed while diving into a wave in Bodega Bay.

News Photo, for an image by Kent Porter showing a massive air tanker soaring through smoke-filled skies as it dropped retardant during the River fire last August.

Second-place awards were bestowed in five categories:

Online General Excellence, for

Business Coverage, for a story by Morris and Kevin Fixler about the impact of the Graton Resort & Casino.

Video Journalism, for a video by Chad Surmick that utilized Google Earth animations to show hillside Santa Rosa neighborhoods, before and after the 2017 wildfires.

Sports Feature Story, for a story by Phil Barber about the restorative power of baseball inside San Quentin State Prison.

Enterprise Reporting, for a series of stories by Callahan and Meg McConahey on homelessness in Sonoma County. It included a yearlong project by freelance photographer Erik Castro, who captured the lives of a homeless couple in intimate, black-and-white detail. Castro’s work also received a pair of third-place awards in the categories of Online Photo Story/Essay, and, Online Story Presentation.

The newspaper earned third-place awards in four other categories, including:

Breaking News, for stories by Johnson, Martin Espinoza and Christi Warren about the March 2018 shooting at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville that left three mental health workers dead.

Land-Use Reporting, for a series of stories by McCallum, Morris, Robert Digitale and Carole Kelleher about regional efforts to address the housing crisis after the 2017 fires.

Business Coverage, for a series of stories by Bill Swindell, Glen Martin and Stephen Nett about insurance issues after the fires.

Feature Photo, for an image by Beth Schlanker showing a nun praying with students, parents, faculty and guests upon the reopening of Cardinal Newman High School in January 2018.

A series of stories by Johnson on the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department received fourth-place in public service journalism, a category that included work from the largest news organizations in California.

The newspaper received fifth-place awards in three categories, including Investigative Reporting, for Johnson’s stories on Rohnert Park; Photo Story/Essay, for Castro’s project on homelessness; and Online Informational Graphic, for a timeline by Janet Balicki that showed the North Bay’s path from disaster to recovery.

Two other publications owned by Sonoma Media Investments, the Press Democrat’s parent company, also were recognized.

The Petaluma Argus-Courier won first place in General Excellence for the 10th time in the past 12 years. It was a top five finalist for 16 awards and took first place for Writing, Sports Section and News Photo.

The Sonoma Index-Tribune took first place for General Excellence Digital, Feature Photo and Editorial Comment. It was a top five finalist for 12 awards.