Union-Tribune journalists earn top prizes in state contest. Revisit their award-winning work.
The Union-Tribune took home 31 awards in the annual California News Publishers Association journalism contest this month, including several top prizes.
The newspaper competed with large journalism outlets around the state for work produced in 2022. Staff won best-in-the-state recognition in several categories, including first-place nods for feature story, business reporting, editorial cartoons and sports photography.
Here are the winners — and another opportunity to revisit their work:
Political cartoons: Cartoonist Steve Breen swept the Editorial Cartoon category. His first-place winner was a sketched portrait of Vladimir Putin using depictions of the atrocities in Ukraine. The judge noted that the second- and third-place wins could also have been first. “Steve Breen is so talented,” the judge said.
True crime: Reporter John Wilkens placed first in the Feature Story category for “One of their own: A cold case. A DNA hit. And finally justice. Or was it?” The narrative three-part series explored the cold-case investigation into the murder of 14-year-old Claire Hough on a San Diego beach, faulty DNA evidence and the suicide of a crime lab specialist. The judge wrote: “The quality of work in this category may have been the richest in this year’s CNPA competition. And this project from the U-T clearly stood head and shoulders above all others.” The story also placed in several other categories, including Writing. Page designer Michael Price placed third for his Inside Page Layout & Design of the story.
Inside a Ponzi: Reporters Lori Weisberg and Greg Moran placed first for Coverage of Business and the Economy as well as in digital In-Depth Reporting for “The woman who swindled San Diego,” an in-depth examination of the city’s largest Ponzi scheme and the fall from grace of its architect, businesswoman Gina Champion-Cain. The judge called the story “engaging, well written, and well sourced” and the right recipe of “true crime meets business.” The story also placed in several other categories, including Enterprise News Story or Series and Podcasts.
Border City: Reporter Sandra Dibble‘s memoir, “Border City: A podcast about beauty, violence and belonging in Tijuana from a journalist who spent more than 25 years reporting at the border,” won several awards. Page designer Gloria Orbegozo won first place for Special Section Cover. Dibble, editor Susan White and page designer Michael Price placed second for Special Section. Dibble and White also won second place for the Border City podcast. From the judge: “This was a beautifully produced series of podcasts that was like a scrapbook of scenes from one reporter’s notebooks in Tijuana, weaving together major news, heartbreak, and drama along with highly personal moments.”
Water controversy: Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith placed first in Agricultural Reporting and third in Land-Use Reporting for “Rancho Guejito tapped groundwater deep in San Pasqual Valley.” The story explores the age-old battle over water rights, pitting a wealthy landowner against the city and smaller farmers in the region.
Que Viva el Barrio: Photojournalist Ana Ramirez took home first place in Video Journalism for “Que Viva el Barrio.” The film explores the pollution that has plagued Barrio Logan and a Chicano community’s fight for a cleaner future. The judge praised the work’s “outstanding cinematography” and wide variety of voices.
Capturing the Padres: Photojournalist Meg McLaughlin won first in Sports Action Photo for catching Phillies fans reacting to a foul-ball catch by the Padres’ Manny Machado. Photojournalist Nelvin C. Cepeda placed third in the same category for his image of Jake Cronenworth lapping the field. And photojournalist K.C. Alfred took home third in Sports Feature Photo for capturing a winning moment in the locker room.
Photojournalism: The Union-Tribune photo staff placed second in Photojournalism for its 20-picture portfolio that highlighted the team’s best work from around the community. Ana Ramirez also took home second in News Feature Photography for an image of a Haitian migrant living in Tijuana mourning the loss of her brother.
Jail deaths: Reporters Kelly Davis and Jeff McDonald placed third in Public Service Journalism for “Dying behind bars.” Their ongoing investigation into jail deaths continued to showcase the lack of proper medical and mental health care that so often contributes to in-custody deaths, the prevalence of illegal drugs in county jails and the sheriff’s objection to drug-scanning employees on their way into work. This body of work has pushed the department at last to confront the obvious and begin to change. The judge wrote: “Relentless, exhaustive and determined with this coverage, the U-T is clear with those in power: this is unacceptable in our community. And we will not rest until it stops.”
Decaying landmark: Reporter Jennifer Van Grove and photojournalist Nelvin C. Cepeda placed third in digital Land-Use Reporting for “The California Theatre is for sale again, leaving decaying building in limbo for longer.” The story digs into the doomed plans to restore a historic downtown landmark that has become an eyesore and danger zone. The judge praised the package for “outstanding” research, writing and visuals.
Design: Page designers Gloria Orbegozo, Michael Price and Tyler Rau took home prizes for print Page Layout and Design, while graphics journalist Michelle Guerrero placed third for Informational Graphic for her depiction of the new Snapdragon Stadium.
The U-T design staff also won six Awards of Excellence at the international Society For News Design’s Creative Competition annual awards.
Ani Arambula was recognized in feature design for her Confessions of a Foodie “Tostadas” presentation, which she wrote, designed and photographed. Anthony Tarantino and cartoonist Steve Breen won for the opinion design, “Selena.”
Michael Price and illustrator Cristina Byvik won a special coverage design award for the “One of Their Own” three-part series.
Gloria Orbegozo and freelance illustrator Val Mina won for the cover presentation of the year-end Arts + Culture “Look Back at 2022.” Also, Orbegozo won an editorial page design award and joined photojournalist Ana Ramirez for a story design award for “Fall Arts: Women Who Inspire Us.”
In addition, reporter Natallie Rocha was awarded this month Small Business Journalist of the Year by the Small Business Association for San Diego and Imperial counties. Her award praises her for work that “enthusiastically and thoughtfully provided small business community coverage that informs.”
The Union-Tribune has also been nominated for eight regional Emmy awards. Winners will be announced June 17.