Bee reporter Andrea Castillo was honored for her public-service coverage of the drought’s effects on health at the 28th annual George F. Gruner Awards.
The awards for work produced in 2015 were announced Thursday night at a reception at the Fresno Art Museum.
New this year, the competition expanded to recognize not only meritorious public service but also best news story, best sports story, best feature, best photo and best column or editorial, attracting a total of 79 entries from 19 San Joaquin Valley newspapers.
The Bee’s Bill McEwen, Marek Warszawski, John Walker, Pablo Lopez and John Ellis were among the winners in the new categories.
The prizes honor George F. Gruner, whose 46-year career included 33 years at The Bee, retiring in 1988 as executive editor.
Castillo won for her series of stories that focused on East Porterville, an unincorporated community where many of the wells ran dry, causing a crisis with lasting effects. Castillo’s reporting was undertaken for the California Health Journalism Fellowship, a program of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.
The judges remarked that Castillo “blended science, public policy and compassion into a series that drives home the scope of problems related to the state’s severe drought. … This was intelligently reported and written with grace and humanity.”
She won in the category for daily newspapers with circulation over 50,000.
Other winners of Gruner Awards for Public Service were Joseph Luiz of the Hanford Sentinel for a report on Kings County’s education program for special-needs children in the category for daily newspapers with circulation under 50,000; and Jeanine Fiser of the Sanger Herald, a journalism student working as a correspondent for the weekly paper, who produced an in-depth report on the police shooting of Marine veteran Charles Salinas.
Honorable mention in the Public Service category went to John Cox of the Bakersfield Californian for stories explaining oil-drilling decisions, regulatory policies and legal disputes; Linda Renn of the weekly Dinuba Sentinel for her report “Planning board likely violated state law”; and Amy Wu of the weekly Parlier Post for her story “School district takes heat over misdeeds and misdemeanors.”
Winners in the Public Service category received $500, and honorable mentions got $50.
The winners and honorable mentions in the other categories:
News: Lopez and Ellis of The Bee for their report on police shootings in Fresno; David Castellon of the Visalia Times-Delta for drought coverage; and Morgan Voorhis of the Sierra Star for a report on homelessness in Oakhurst. Honorable mentions: John Rieping, Madera Tribune, and Sarah Elliott, Kaweah Commonwealth.
Sports: Warszawski for his human-interest story about the shooting death of Deondre “Day Day” Howard; Michael Lingberg of the Porterville Recorder for a story about how athletic trainers deal with football injuries; and Brian Wilkinson of the Sierra Star for a story about a 7-year-old autistic child who was able to participate in a triathlon. Honorable mentions: Sean Lynch, Merced Sun-Star; and Paul Meadors, Clovis Roundup.
Features: Kelly Ardis of the Bakersfield Californian for her story “McFarland: Up and running”; Ana Ibarra of the Merced Sun-Star for her three-part series, “Slayings exact an emotional toll”; and Felicia Cousart Matlosz of the Reedley Exponent for her story “Brother to Brother.” Honorable mentions: Dan Kukla, Visalia Times-Delta, and Voorhis.
Columns and editorials: McEwen for his editorial demanding city action after Summerset Village Apartments in central Fresno lost heat and hot water; and Renn for her piece “City council makes baffling decisions.” Honorable mentions: Linda Green, Hanford Sentinel, and Elliott.
Photo: Walker for a photo of a witness being comforted by a security officer outside the scene of a murder-suicide; Ron Holman of the Visalia Times-Delta for a photo of a waitress celebrating a victory in a competition; and Gene Lieb of the Los Banos Enterprise for a basketball action shot. Honorable mentions: Wendy Alexander, Madera Tribune, and Valerie Shelton, Clovis Roundup.
The Gruner awards are sponsored by The Bee and the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at Fresno State and are open to newspapers from Merced to Bakersfield.
The judging is done by a group of professional journalists outside the Valley.
The Gruner awards are funded by the Central Valley Foundation and the Central Valley Community Foundation.