The Pleasanton Weekly took home seven awards, including first place for online Coverage of Local Government, for stories throughout 2018 when the California News Publishers Association handed out its annual California Journalism Awards last Saturday in Long Beach.
CNPA judges singled out the Weekly for the top prize in the Digital Division for its ongoing coverage in the aftermath of the on-campus death of San Ramon Valley High School freshman Ben Curry, who drowned unnoticed in the school pool during a PE class on May 8, 2018.
Other high honors for the Weekly included a second-place award for editor emeritus Jeb Bing's "Around Pleasanton" columns, and three third-place awards in the Print Division for Coverage of Local Government, Coverage of Youth and Education and Agricultural Reporting.
Journalists from states outside of California selected the winners of the annual competition from among daily, weekly and school newspapers out of thousands of entries. The Pleasanton Weekly competed in the "Weeklies 11,001-25,000" circulation division for print and in the "40,000 (views) and under" division for digital.
Leading the way for the Weekly was the first-place award for its robust coverage of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office and Danville Police Department in the wake of young Curry's death.
CNPA judges lauded the continued Curry coverage, calling it "an admirable commitment by the publication to follow this story for a long duration -- moving beyond the initial tragedy and into covering how a school and school district reacted and responded as government/public institutions."
The series, with reporting led by staff reporter Ryan J. Degan and contributions from editor Jeremy Walsh, ran throughout 2018 and included the initial articles after Curry drowned on campus, analysis of the police determination of no criminal negligence, Curry's older sister making a passionate plea to the school board and the Curry family ultimately suing SRVUSD for wrongful death.
The Curry series also featured a scathing editorial comment, criticizing the level of transparency shown by the government agencies involved in the investigation, written by publisher Gina Channell. That commentary, "School district, sheriff's office stonewalling unacceptable" (Nov. 30, 2018), took home an individual award as well, fourth-place for Editorial Comment in the Print Division.
Earning the Weekly's second-highest award was Bing's biweekly "Around Pleasanton" with second place in Columns in the Print Division.
The category, for which two articles are submitted per regular column, recognized Bing for his June 22, 2018 column "At 60 gallons an hour, I've got quite a leak" and his Dec. 14, 2018 column "The five".
CNPA judges recognized the Weekly for Coverage of Local Government in the Print Division as well, with a third-place award for the coverage by Bing and Walsh throughout the year on the neighborhood dispute over land-use restrictions on the Chabad Center for Jewish Life.
The series, which included in-depth coverage of lengthy Planning Commission and City Council hearings on the matter, was highlighted by the Aug. 17, 2018 edition that featured Bing's cover story on the debate and a Point-Counterpoint from both appellants.
Another third-place honor came in the Agricultural Reporting (Print) category for the July 27, 2018 cover story profiling the Tri-Valley beekeeping community. The article, "Hive minds: Local beekeepers continue to protect pollinators in face of national crisis," was written by former staff reporter Erika Alvero, who stepped down in December to take a position at the Cortez Journal in her home state of Colorado.
The other third-place award went to the Weekly for Coverage of Youth and Education (Print) for its year-long series on Pleasanton Unified School District enrollment and search for solutions to ease overcrowding on the north side.
The series culminated in the Dec. 21, 2018 story on the PUSD Board of Trustees moving forward with building a new school the Donlon Elementary property to be designated for fourth- and fifth-grade students, while the existing campus will be converted into a TK-3 school.
The PUSD enrollment series featured coverage by Alvero and her predecessor on the Pleasanton education beat, Julia Brown, who was promoted to associate editor of the Weekly's sister papers the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac in February 2018.
The Weekly earned its final recognition in the Breaking News (Digital) category, fourth place to Walsh, for his article on the BART Board of Directors' meeting: "BART votes down Livermore extension; regional authority could take lead on project."
"The Weekly focuses on dedicated and wide-ranging coverage of Pleasanton and the greater Tri-Valley. The seven CNPA awards honor the hard work of our editorial team, as well as our design and production staffs, as we continue to provide strong local journalism in our print and digital platforms," said Walsh, editor of the Pleasanton Weekly and DanvilleSanRamon.com.
The Weekly's sister publications on the Peninsula also scored awards in the CNPA contest, including 23 across both divisions for the Mountain View Voice, 12 print awards for the Almanac and 16 awards for the flagship Palo Alto Weekly, which won first place for General Excellence (Print) as the best large weekly newspaper in the state.
The CNPA is a nonprofit trade association for more than 800 publications. Founded in 1888, it represents daily and weekly newspapers and news websites throughout California.