The California News Publishers Association's 2020 Journalism Awards was truly one for the books for the Pleasanton Weekly.
We earned 12 awards in all, between first and fifth places in print and digital categories, for our work during an unprecedentedly demanding year.
Each of member of our Pleasanton Weekly and DanvilleSanRamon editorial team received recognition. We placed fourth for Online General Excellence in our circulation division. I got two second-place awards, including for my editorial on the Kate Steinle case.
But one award stands above the rest in my eyes.
We won first place for Public Service Journalism (Digital) for our 2020 Tri-Valley candidate forum series. This CNPA award is a well-earned testament to the hard work our entire editorial team put into a grueling local election season in the midst of a global pandemic.
What a whirlwind it was.
Our publisher Gina Channell Wilcox and I co-moderated eight forum events for 12 Tri-Valley local election races during a five-week stretch between August and September, including forums on four nights in a row from Sept. 21-24 -- every one in the evening after a full workday.
Each event was free and livestreamed, with a video-recording posted online afterward for voters to access whenever they had time before submitting their ballot. We also featured individual news stories about every forum, with reporters Ryan J. Degan, Julia Baum and Cierra Bailey alternating coverage amid other stories assignments.
The result: Live candidate forums for (in order, chronologically) Alameda County District 1 Supervisor, Pleasanton Mayor and City Council, Dublin Mayor and City Council, Dublin School Board, Pleasanton School Board, Livermore Mayor and City Council, San Ramon Valley School Board, and San Ramon Mayor and City Council.
That was twice as many as we'd ever had in any single election cycle.
All of this while our team and I were also in the throes of pandemic and wildfire coverage, among a wealth of other news during hectic 2020.
But, as I told the CNPA judges in our nomination packet, the candidate forums were an important priority for us.
We co-organized the events because the stakeholders wanted them and because we recognized that without us, they would not happen: No other local or regional news media would be presenting interactive, objective, live debates for Tri-Valley elections.
The judges certainly took note. One wrote, in part:
"Their reporting on the candidates, issues and forums was top-notch, and when compounded by the fact that they set up and moderated these forums and during a pandemic and while completing their 'regular' jobs, it's almost unfathomable that the staff was able to accomplish this without having some wide variety of super powers.
"This is the type of journalism and newsroom that I will teach to my reporting public affairs students for years, as it represents the very best of what we can be and do as local journalists when we try hard enough to make it happen...
"This is good, old-fashioned reporting at its best, and the timeline behind it all again makes me wonder if super powers came into play. This team and the Pleasanton Weekly truly did its community a tremendous public service."
I'm so proud of this honor from our peers.
In all, we received four Print Division awards (Weeklies, 11,001-25,000 circulation) and eight Digital Division awards (Monthly unique visitors 100,000 and under for all except Coverage of Local Government, which was expanded to 400,000 visitors and under).
Also of note, our former photo intern Daniel Kim earned seven awards, including two first-place wins, for his photography coverage with the Sacramento Bee last year. Former Weekly reporter Julia Brown was honored with second place in Feature Story for work with our sister paper, The Almanac. And locally, the Las Positas College-Express won top honors for 2-year college paper.
Here's the full list of the Weekly's 2020 awards:
Public Service Journalism (Digital): 2020 Tri-Valley candidate forum series - Staff
Breaking News (Digital): "Pleasanton PD officers cleared of criminal charges for man's death after confrontation outside Raley's" - Jeremy Walsh
News Photo (Digital): "Dining out in Pleasanton" - Ryan J. Degan
Online General Excellence: PleasantonWeekly.com - Staff
Editorial Comment (Print): "The time for the first community debate on policing in Pleasanton is now" - Jeremy Walsh
Coverage of Youth and Education (Digital): "Danville student settles free-speech lawsuit against SRVUSD, will receive $655,000 and public apology" - Ryan J. Degan
Coverage of Local Government (Digital): "Policing in Pleasanton" series - Julia Baum and Jeremy Walsh. (Lead story here)
Photo Coverage of Protests and Racial Justice (Digital): "Moment of silence (8:46) during Pleasanton march" - Ryan J. Degan
Coverage of Youth and Education (Digital): "Another abrupt superintendent departure for Dublin Unified" - Jeremy Walsh, Riya Chopra and Cierra Bailey. (Lead story here).
Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Pleasanton Weekly since February 2017. His "What a Week" column runs on the first and third Fridays of the month.