The Valley Voice earned eight awards in the California News Publishers Association’s (CNPA) 2020 California Journalism Awards competition, which judged the Voice against similarly-sized online publications.
Because the Voice’s last print edition was in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all entries were in the digital category for publications with a monthly unique visitor count of 100,000 and under.
In a bitter sweet end to editor Joseph Oldenbourg’s writing career, CNPA awarded him a third place award in the “Columns” category for his From The Publisher’s Desk columns in 2020. Oldenbourg died December 4, 2020.
The columns, “The Blue Meanies” and “Resign,” took on the controversy surrounding a blue Jeep at a Visalia Black Lives Matter protest and Assemblyman Devon Mathis’ 2020 donation of $10,000 to the Tulare Hospital Foundation.
“Great local columns about police abuse and protest. Powerfully written, clear, with a strong point. Very impressive,” the contest judge wrote.
Catherine Doe, publisher and writer for the Voice, was awarded two first places, one second and a fourth for her coverage of local elections and the impact of the coronavirus on local government entities.
Doe won first and second place in “Coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic-Fallout” for her stories on the Tulare Public Cemetery District controversy that has continued into the present.
Her first place award was for the “Tulare Public Cemetery Inequity” package, which covered the families impacted by the district’s burial policy modifications made as the pandemic spread through the area and nation.
The inequity stories covered perceived double standards around those policies, the Martin family’s claim that they were told “if one more person called concerning [their deceased relative’s] funeral, [the cemetery office manager] would lock the gates and the family would have to watch the service from outside the fence,” the district board locking down remote participation in, or viewing of, a board meeting during the height of the pandemic, and a public apology made by the district board chair to the Martin family over the handling of their deceased relative’s funeral.
“A fantastic example of in-depth community reporting and following a full arc of a story to show how a global issue plays out in a hyper-local way, refracted via inequity. Great reporting. Would have loved to see some more illustrations, but considering the personal nature of the story I can see how that might have been impossible,” the judge wrote.
The second place award was for the “Tulare Cemetery District Turmoil” package, which also included coverage of meetings that did not include Zoom or remote participation options, a closure of the cemetery and service/burial cancellations due to COVID infections, lawsuit threats by a board member, the same board member nearly being iced out of voting remotely by Tulare County Counsel, and that board member surviving an attempt to remove her from the board.
“A vivid depiction of how conflict around the pandemic affected a local government behind the scenes. Deeply involving and a great document of how things played out during these contentious times,” the judge wrote.
Doe responded to the news of the awards by saying, “being a middle-aged woman I can report the brutal truth and that ruffles a lot of dysfunctional people’s feathers. It is, though, extremely rewarding.”
Doe also won two awards in the “Digital Local Coverage of Election 2020” category; she was awarded first place for “Alta Irrigation District Holds Rare Election” and third place for “Contentious Election Erupts at Sierra View Hospital.”
Martin Velasco-Ramos, a writer for the Voice, took first place in the “Digital Coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic-Health Reporting” category for his coverage of how the pandemic took hold at two of Tulare County’s nursing homes, Lindsay Gardens and Linwood Meadows.
The reporting also triggered intense reader discussion through the Voice’s website and Facebook comments.
“This was clearly not an easy story to report. The number of sources and the kind of details made it very very believable. The follow-up strengthened the case,” the contest judge wrote.
Velasco-Ramos was also awarded third place in the “Coverage of Protests and Racial Justice-News or Feature Stories” category alongside Tony Maldonado, a Voice writer and the paper’s print production/website manager, for stories surrounding Visalia’s student-led Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd.
The stories covered clashes over protesters’ signs on the El Diamante High School fence, the signs’ scheduled removal, a “human chain” protest and its outcome, parent and community reaction to the board over the district’s perceived handling of the protests, and efforts the district planned to take to ensure students felt they were in a safe, equitable environment.
“In a riveting series of stories, the Valley Voice chronicles a tense, weeks-long standoff between local high school students and district officials that begins with a controversy over Black Lives Matter signs but soon exposes far deeper community rifts centered on race, gender and power. The reporters, via detailed daily dispatches, help inform the discussion by giving unfiltered voice to a broad array of community members,” the contest judge wrote.
“I am honored to bring this award home to the Central Valley and the Valley Voice Newspaper,” said Velasco-Ramos. “Catherine and Joseph constantly challenged me as a journalist, so this is a win for all of us.”
“More importantly, it’s a win for the courageous Certified Nurse Assistants who risked their reputations to share their brutal experiences while working in nursing homes during the early months of the pandemic. This award is for them too. We see their sacrifice. We hear their voices and we thank them for your bravery,” said Velasco-Ramos.
Dave Adalian, a writer for the Voice, took fourth place in “Digital Breaking News” for his story on then-Tulare City Councilmember Carlton Jones admitting to tearing down campaign signs belonging to his competitor, Steve Harrell and online comments Jones made after the event about Harrell’s son who was caught in an online “To Catch a Predator” style sting; Harrell’s son maintains his innocence.
“It’s always a serious honor to have the quality work from the Voice’s team recognized by our peers. I like to think we make a difference with what we do. This year for a lot of reasons it’s even more true,” said Adalian.
Other area publications CNPA awarded include the Visalia Times-Delta, Fresno Bee, Business Journal, Porterville Recorder, The Bakersfield Californian and Fresno State’s The Collegian.