SPJ/LA Names Distinguished Journalist Honorees for 2017

The Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will honor six local journalists and a First Amendment activist at its 42nd annual Distinguished Journalists banquet next spring.

The Distinguished Journalist honorees are longtime regional journalists practicing in print, radio, television and digital media. They are: Kim Masters, editor-at-large of The Hollywood Reporter; Robin Abcarian, columnist at the Los Angeles Times; 89.3 KPCC reporter Sharon McNary; ABC7 Eyewitness News reporter Miriam Hernandez; and Norberto Santana, founder and publisher of the Voice of OC.

The Freedom of Information award will go to Kelly Aviles of Californians Aware, a nonprofit organization dedicated to open government, free speech and protected reporting.

The chapter will also recognize Rob Eshman, former editor-in-chief and publisher of the Jewish Journal.

SPJ/LA presents the Distinguished Journalist awards to members of the profession who demonstrate good news judgment, a strong sense of ethics and a passion for getting the story right. Honorees have achieved a record of career accomplishments. For nearly four decades, the chapter has recognized reporters, editors and photographers in print and broadcast journalism. Since 1997, the chapter has honored journalists in four categories: television, radio, newspapers with a circulation of less than 90,000 and newspapers with a circulation of 90,000 or more.

The Distinguished Work in New Media award, now simply the Distinguished Journalist award in the digital category, was created in 2008 and is given to a journalist who uses digital media’s unique characteristics and capabilities while striving to uphold traditional journalism’s highest standards of honesty, accuracy, responsibility and accountability.

The Freedom of Information award honors a non-journalist who has helped promote First Amendment issues. Previous winners have worked in the legal profession, academia, government and nonprofit organizations.

The awards banquet will be held March 1, 2018at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Tickets for the event are:

  • $100 for SPJ/LA member
  • $140 for non-members
  • $80 for students
  • Tables of 10 are available for $1,000

A no-host cocktail reception will begin at 6 p.m. Dinner will be served at 7 p.m. To make a reservation, contact Alice Walton at AliceMWalton@gmail.com or (310) 595-5612.

Sponsorship opportunities are also available, as are program ads to congratulate this year’s honorees.

Distinguished Journalist Award Winners

Print (circulation over 90,000)
Robin Abcarian is a columnist at the Los Angeles Times, focusing primarily on California culture, news and politics. Abcarian has devoted many columns to the complex issues surrounding the legalization of cannabis for adult recreational use — visiting farmers in Mendocino, edible cannabis confectioners in Oakland and writing about the social justice aspects of legalization.

Abcarian has also written about the state’s persistent drought and water wars, surf culture, the legacy of the Black Panthers, San Francisco’s homeless crisis and how to take an Uber across the Mexican border. Recently, she has been working what she likes to call the “men behaving badly” beat.

Abcarian has held many positions at the Times, including full-time coverage of three presidential campaigns and national reporting on mass shootings and devastating tornadoes. As a culture writer for the paper’s Calendar section, she covered the Oscars, Emmys and Sundance Film Festival. For most of the 1990s, she was a columnist for the Times’ feature section before becoming its editor in 2003. Abcarian has also worked at the Detroit Free Press, Los Angeles Daily News, now-defunct Santa Monica Outlook and the Ventura Star.

Print (circulation under 90,000)        
Kim Masters is editor-at-large of The Hollywood Reporter and host of KCRW’s The Business. A former correspondent for NPR, she has also served as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, TIME and Esquire, and was a staff reporter for The Washington Post. Masters is the author of “The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else,” and co-author (with Nancy Griffin) of “Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood.”

Recent highlights in Masters’ long career covering Hollywood and the business of entertainment include breaking news of sexual harassment allegations against former Amazon Studios head Roy Price and detailing alleged misconduct by Pixar/Disney creative head John Lasseter that spurred his leave of absence.

Sharon McNary is a reporter at 89.3 KPCC, Southern California Public Radio covering infrastructure. That’s a long word for the things we build together to make life better — like bridges and the power grid. She also covers important things that break, like the big water main at UCLA and that stinky gas well near Porter Ranch.

McNary has worked in TV news and on documentaries, for a wire service and newspapers in Southern California. She moved to public radio 10 years ago and has covered just about every beat a newsroom has to offer. Her reporting work is informed by the jobs she worked to support herself when journalism wasn’t paying the bills: washing dishes, working for a private detective and training herself to be a computer programmer. She also did time as a clown in a roller rink. McNary served in both the military and the Peace Corps, and may be the only reporter in L.A. who’s actually built a water system.

Miriam Hernandez is a general assignment reporter for ABC7 Eyewitness News. At age 12, she got her first paying job writing a weekly youth column for the Santa Paula Daily Chronicle. Her television career was launched at the NBC affiliate in San Diego. She has worked in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York, reporting for CNN, USA TODAY ON TV, WUSA and Good Morning America. She joined ABC7 in 1998.

Hernandez has covered the Mexico City earthquake, political turmoil in Central America and the Oklahoma City bombing. She was the first reporter allowed by the U.S. Marshals Service to take a TV camera behind the doors of the federal Witness Protection Program.

Hernandez was named by Hispanic Magazine as one of the top 100 women in communications. She’s won several Valley Press awards and Emmy nominations.

Norberto Santana Jr. is an award-winning investigative reporter with nearly two decades of reporting experience, most recently engaging Orange County government institutions and decision-makers as the founding publisher of the nonprofit digital newsroom Voice of OC.

Before founding Voice of OC in 2009, Santana spent five years as a lead investigative reporter for the Orange County Register. He’s focused his reporting on local governments across Southern California, previously as a staff writer with outlets such as the San Diego Union-Tribune and the San Bernardino Sun. He began his journalistic career in the early 1990s as an apprentice reporter with Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C.

This Southern California native has a master’s in Latin American Studies, worked as an elections analyst on National Endowment for Democracy programs across Latin America and was one of the founders of CubaNet.org, a website featuring the work of dissident journalists inside Cuba.

Freedom of Information Award Honoree
Kelly Aviles has served as the Vice President for Open Government Compliance at Californians Aware since 2011, and has focused almost exclusively on legal issues related to media and government transparency since graduating from law school more than a decade ago. She provides legal guidance and litigation services to clients throughout the state, concentrating on access to courts, meetings and records.

Aviles has special expertise in the requirements of the California Public Records Act, the Ralph M. Brown Act and the Bagley-Keene Act and has successfully represented numerous private citizens, press organizations, government agencies and nonprofit groups in obtaining legal orders to make our government entities more accountable and accessible. Her father, Rich McKee, is a long-time advocate for open government, who often sued in pro per for violations of the Brown Act and Public Records Act.

Special Recognition 
Rob Eshman was editor-in-chief and publisher of the Jewish Journal before stepping down in September after 23 years at the Los Angeles paper. Eshman arrived at the Journal in 1994 as a reporter, after working as a freelance journalist in San Francisco and Jerusalem. He became managing editor in 1997 and three years later was named editor-in-chief. When the paper fell into dire financial straits in 2009, Eshman helped find new investors and a year later took on the role of publisher of the Journal, which combines news of the 600,000-person Los Angeles-area Jewish community, the third largest in the world, with commentary, features and national and international news.

Eshman is credited with greatly expanding the reach of its website, introducing a greater mix of political and religious voices, and overhauling the print circulation model by making the Journal a free weekly distributed citywide. He’s now focusing on writing full time and teaching at the USC Annenberg School of Communication.

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to promoting high standards of ethical behavior and encouraging the free practice of journalism. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. The Greater Los Angeles professional chapter celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2009.

SPJ/LA Affirms Support For Laid-Off LA Weekly Journalists, Transparency And Accountability From New Ownership

UPDATE: SPJ/LA was pleased to learn from its online posting Friday that the LA Weekly has revealed at least some of the previously undisclosed buyers of the publication. Media ownership transfers are often followed by significant management changes and personnel reductions, and the resulting loss of employment and reporting talent is always an occasion for regret and concern in the journalism community. We wish our colleagues well in finding new positions, and we expect the new owners of the LA Weekly to honor the principles of transparency and accountability as they strive to become one of the “reinvigorated journalistic voices in the new media landscape” as a primarily digital media outlet.

SPJ Calls On LA Weekly To Reveal Ownership Identity

UPDATE: The new owners of LA Weekly were disclosed on Friday, Dec. 1.

The Society of Professional Journalists released the following statement on Nov. 30, 2017, regarding the recent sale of LA Weekly:

INDIANAPOLIS – It is an absolute outrage that the public doesn’t know who owns LA Weekly. No media outlet should hide who its owners are, especially one of such prominence in America’s second-largest city.

The Society of Professional Journalists is committed to supporting a high level of excellence and responsibility among news organizations. Those traits must emanate from the organization’s ownership and begins with disclosure of their identities.

The Los Angeles Times reported in October that LA Weekly, an alternative paper in the city, was being sold to Semanal LLC, a company that was created for the purchase. None of Semanal’s backers were revealed at that time. David Welch, an attorney, was eventually reported as an investor. Brian Calle, a former opinion writer, also said in the press that he’d manage the paper’s operations.

The sale of the paper closed Wednesday and nine of the 13 editorial staff members lost their jobs, according to The Los Angeles Times.

SPJ is calling on the new owners of LA Weekly to disclose their identities and be transparent with their readers. The community and the nine people they fired deserve to know that information.

“In an era of rampant misinformation and distrust, it’s especially important that we do not allow the owners and backers of news organizations to remain a mystery,” said Andrew Seaman, SPJ’s ethics committee chairperson. “We cannot allow this to become the norm.”

SPJ’s delegates made a commitment to speak out in similar situations when a company backed by Sheldon Adelson and his family purchased The Las Vegas Review-Journal in late-2015 under the cover of darkness.

As SPJ made clear during the purchase of The Las Vegas Review-Journal, people have considerable justification to question the quality and value of the information provided by an organization overseen by a shadowy company of anonymous financial backers.

“There is no excuse for the owners of the LA Weekly to hide their identities, and they should be revealed immediately,” SPJ President Rebecca Baker said. “As SPJ has said before, to not reveal yourselves is to treat your readers with less dignity than humans deserve and with less respect than democracy should demand. It is appalling and offensive.”

The new owners of LA Weekly – and all news organizations – should be transparent about their identities. SPJ demands it. The public demands it. Democracy demands it.

Rebecca Baker, SPJ National President, 203-640-3904, rbaker@spj.org
Andrew Seaman, SPJ Ethics Committee Chair, 570-483-8555, as@andrewmseaman.com
Anna Gutierrez, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-920-4785, agutierrez@spj.org

Meeting Minutes: October 2, 2017

SPJ/LA Board of Directors Meeting Minutes

Monday Oct. 2, 2017

7 p.m.

Louise’s Trattoria

10645 W. Pico Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90064


Present: Stephanie Bluestein, Sarah Favot, Elizabeth Marcellino, Frank Mottek, Alice Walton, Roberta Wax, Natalie Windsor


Bluestein called the meeting to order at 7:14 p.m.


I.               Approval of minutes from the Sept. 11 board meeting

Postponed until November meeting

II.             President’s report – Bluestein

Bluestein reported that on Fri., Oct. 20 the Chapter is partnering with the Junior League of Los Angeles to host the “Los Angeles Leaders in Media” luncheon honoring KTTV Fox 11 news anchor Christine Devine at the Junior Leagues’ headquarters. All SPJ-LA members are invited. We are going to issue a press release to our members to invite them to the luncheon. We are anticipating Windsor will represent the Chapter on Oct. 21 at the PR event “How Nonprofits Can Build Impact Through News, Advocacy and Digital Engagement” hosted by the Nonprofit Communications and Media Network.

Bluestein also reported that Cocca said there is a glitch with our Chapter website and we are looking into it with Google.

III.           Treasurer’s report – Hendrickson


IV.            Standing/Ad Hoc Committees

a.     Awards – Streifler

Marcellino reported the committee has received three awards nominations as of today, which is not surprising based on the number of submissions in past years at this time ahead of the deadline. She encouraged members to send emails to their colleagues to encourage them to send in a nomination. The deadline is Oct. 15. The committee will meet on Oct. 18 and recommend a slate at the November board meeting.

b.     Banquet – Walton

Walton reported the banquet will be March 1 at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. We are waiting to hear back from a national television journalist who we have asked to be our keynote speaker. Once that person is secured we will send out a “Save the Date” since we will have a date, place and keynote.

c.      Courts – Marcellino

No report

d.     Diversity – Arias/Nonahal

No report

e.     Ethics – Bellman

No report

f.      FOI – Zahniser

Bluestein reported that Zahniser said he won’t be able to plan a FOI event in November.

g.     Generation J – Bluestein

Bluestein reported about her programming idea to have Lunch with a Journalist. We need to decide if the Chapter will provide financial support to pay for the lunch. We will discuss it at the November meeting.

h.     Membership – Nonahal

Marcellino reported SPJ National’s website was down for maintenance. She reported it looks like we’ve gotten handful of new members, but the quality of the membership data generated automatically by National continues to be problematic. Once we get confirmation of our new Chapter members, Marcellino will send out the names to members, so we can reach out to welcome them. The same applies for lapsed members so board members who know them can encourage them to renew. The easiest way for people who are national members to join the Chapter is to call national, which we don’t want to ask our members to do. Marcellino will reach out to Nonahal because she has experience with registering people who join SPJ when attending our events.

i.       Nominations – Favot

Audi, Mottek, Saxton, Wax and Cocca’s seats are up for re-election for three year terms. Irene Moore’s seat needs to be filled for the remaining two years of her term. Favot will reach out to members who are up for re-election to see if they will run again and will reach out to new people to see if they are interested in running for the board. She encouraged members to send her suggestions.

j.       Regional Conference– Hendrickson and Favot

Bluestein reported that she checked with Mike Reilley from Google News Lab who gives seminars on Google Tools for News. He cannot do just a one-hour session on Saturday. He would need to do a three-hour workshop. We are thinking about having him on Friday afternoon. At the regional conference in San Diego last year he conducted a panel on Friday afternoon for the first 25 people who registered for the conference. Bluestein will find out from the hotel how much it will cost to host the additional session. We can also charge attendees an extra fee. Wax reported to the board the panel topics we are planning and our expected speakers.

k.     Scholarships – Audi

V.              Old Business

a.     Video editing workshop with Mike Fleeman on Oct. 7– Bluestein

Bluestein reported 16 people attended the event at CSUN. Five people weren’t members, so they paid the $10 fee. We’d like to plan another video editing workshop next year.

b.     Nov. 15 game night mixer

Bluestein reported that Peschiutta said she hadn’t been organizing this event.

VI.            New Business

a.     Directors & Officers Insurance

Bluestein will send an email to summarize the quote that she received for board members to consider at the November meeting. The quote expires on Nov. 24.

b.     Planning for holiday party in December

Mottek reported we are planning for Dec. 7 at Shanghai Grill in Beverly Hills.

VII.          Next board meeting: Monday, Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.

VIII.          Adjournment

Bluestein adjourned the meeting at 8:31 p.m. in memory of Anacleto Rapping, former LA Times photographer and teacher at the Brooks Institute of Photography, who died of cancer on Sept. 17.  He also had worked for the Thousand Oaks News-Chronicle.


Respectfully submitted,

Sarah Favot

Join Us for SPJ/LA’s Annual Holiday Party

‘Tis the season… for news and good cheer!

You are invited to join the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for our festive annual holiday party on Thursday, Dec. 7 in the heart of Beverly Hills. Enjoy the beautiful holiday atmosphere as we gather to celebrate the season at the Shanghai Grill. 

The party this year includes a generous dinner buffet holiday feast and a no-host cash bar.

Space is limited.

When: ThursdayDec. 7, from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Where: Shanghai Grill, 9383 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Cost: $25 for SPJ/LA members and $40 for non-members (check or credit card only)

Parking: Free valet parking available at Spago Beverly Hills with validation from Shanghai Grill. There is also free parking on Wilshire Boulevard after 7 p.m.

RSVP: spjlosangeles@gmail.com

Contact: Navid Nonahal
                (818) 317-2234