Sun-Gazette takes home five awards at state competition

Publisher Reggie Ellis and Editor Paul Myers win for coverage of youth and education, Newsom recall campaign, ag reporting, editorial comment and sports feature photo at 2021 California Journalism Awards

SACRAMENTO – The Sun-Gazette won five statewide awards last week for its comprehensive coverage of Tulare County in 2021.

On May 27, the California Newspaper Publishers Association released winning entries for print, digital and campus newspapers across 46 categories. Contestants entered into divisions based on their circulation with three levels for digital and student media and seven levels in print. The Sun-Gazette competed in the 4,301 to 11,000 circulation category for weekly newspapers and won awards in all aspects of local coverage including local government, education, sports, agriculture and opinion.

“Despite a challenging landscape for local news, The Sun-Gazette continues to produce great journalism grounded in factual reporting and research,” Publisher Reggie Ellis said. “These awards are another way in which we continue to grow local journalism to meet the needs of our community.”

Ellis took home three awards including first place in the Coverage of Youth and Education category for his story on the Visalia Unified School Board’s decision to deny one of its charter school’s its primary source for current event materials just days before the start of the school year. 

Titled “VUSD takes control away from charter school,” the story discusses the school board’s narrow vote against renewing Global Learning Charter’s subscription to Newsela, an online platform for instructional content two days before the start of school. The 4-3 vote of the seven-member school board was based on the belief the platform used biased material which promoted Critical Race Theory, a controversial academic concept of systematic racism, especially against Black people, in American institutions and laws throughout the nation’s history. However, content for the site is provided by reputable news sources including The New York Times, Associated Press, PBS News Hour, Columbia University Press, and The Christian Science Monitor, respected historical sites including National Geographic, White House Historical Association, Smithsonian.com, and the History Channel. 

“Lots of reporting on display, a complex story well told,” the judge’s sheet said.

Ellis won second place in the Coverage of Newsom Recall Election category for his story titled “Tulare County is key in recall campaign.” The story focuses on Visalia resident Ellen Woitalla, a retired school teacher who coordinated the Recall Newsom 2020 campaign across six Central Valley counties. Her home of Tulare County was in the top 10 for counties with the most signatures (38,174), most verified signatures (34,605) and the highest percentage of signatures compared to voter registration (18.8%), as of Feb. 10, 2021 just days before the deadline to collect 12% of voters in the state. The story was published on April 14, 2021, 15 days before the signatures were verified by the state. Ultimately, nearly two-thirds of voters were in favor of keeping Newsom as governor in the recall election held in September 2021. 

Ellis also won fourth place for Agricultural Reporting. The story, titled “Advocates want pesticide warning system now,” covers a rally led by a coalition of Valley pesticide safety advocates calling for a notification system to alert residents when harmful pesticides are being sprayed in their area. The rally was held at the Tulare County Agriculture Commissioner’s Office in May 2021 with local farmworkers in rural communities asking for the county officer to post notifications of pesticide use near their homes. Twenty-three percent of pesticides in California are deemed harmful to humans and Tulare County ranked third in pesticide use in a state which accounts for 20% of all pesticides used in the nation.

A strong story that required lots of leg work. Nice job,” the judging sheet said.

Editor Paul Myers won second place for Sports Feature Photo. The photo depicts the celebration following the Strathmore High School girls basketball team winning the California Interscholastic Federation Championship in the Southern California Division 5-AA tournament. The Spartans defeated the Fallbrook Warriors 63-57 on their home court to win what is essentially a state title following a 21-6 season. The team was led by star senior Jasmin Soto who was the state’s leading scorer, steals leader and set the Central Section record for career scoring earlier that year.  

“The photographer has captured the moment effectively,” the judge wrote. “The facial expressions and floating confetti are strong elements.”

Myers also won third place in the Editorial Comment category for his front page editorial on the Jan. 6 insurrection titled “Trump’s rioters live in the wrong world, journalists need to show them the right one.” The opinion piece, which ran in connection with a story about how local Congressmen voted in the 2020 Presidential Election certification and a photo of Capitol Police holding the Congressional Chamber door with guns drawn, discussed how President Donald Trump’s history of misinformation and labeling of the media as enemies of the state roiled up his most militant and extreme followers to “Stop the Steal” of the 2020 election of Joe Biden by marching to the capitol. More importantly, the editorial points out the importance of a free press and the need for members of the media to continue providing unbiased information for the American public. 

“This piece was well written,” the judge noted.

Other local newspapers to win statewide awards were:

  • Valley Voice won two awards in the 100,000 & Under unique monthly visitors level. Publisher Catherine Doe won second place for coverage of the Newsom recall election and fifth place for in-depth reporting on the Tulare Cemetery District turmoil. 
  • Visalia Times-Delta won nine awards in the 15,000 & Under divisions with two second place finishes, four third place finishes, two fourth place finishes and one fifth place finish. Categories ranged from wildfire news and agriculture reporting to high school sports and public service journalism.
  • GV Wire in Fresno won four digital division awards in the 100,001 to 400,000 unique monthly visitors levels, including a second place finish in the Newsom recall election, third place in public service, fourth place in breaking news and fifth place in opinion column.

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