SPJ/LA Announces Distinguished Journalists for 2016

The Distinguished Journalist honorees include longtime regional journalists practicing in print, radio, television and digital media. They are: Hector Becerra, editor with the Los Angeles Times; R. Scott Moxley, investigative reporter for the OC Weekly; Greg Habell, editor for KNX 1070; Adrienne Alpert, general assignment reporter for ABC7 Eyewitness News; and Ken Bensinger, Jeremy Singer-Vine and Jessica Garrison of BuzzFeed News.  

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 are journalists who 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 awards banquet will be held January 26, 2017 at the Omni Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. 

          Tickets for the event are:

  • $100 for SPJ/LA members
  • $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, please 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.

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 Los Angeles professional chapter marked its 75th anniversary in 2009.

Distinguished Journalist Award Winners

Print (circulation over 90,000)         

Hector Becerra was born and raised in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights neighborhood and got his start in journalism as the editor of the University Times at Cal State Los Angeles. He started at the Los Angeles Times in 1999, and over the years in his career as a general assignment reporter Becerra covered everything from wildfires and child killings to picking strawberries as a field worker in Santa Maria. He has penned narrative features about the last Jewish man in Boyle Heights and was a fly on the wall during a conference in Pennsylvania as detectives from around the U.S. discussed the very un-PC topic of crimes committed by so-called “gypsies.” He spent two months with the family of a Marine killed at the onset of the Iraq War, hung out with street handball players who played for big cash and wrote about the Aztec dancers that seem to be at about every leftist rally. Becerra was part of the team of reporters that won the Pulitzer Prize’s Public Service award for their coverage of the city of Bell corruption scandal and he wrote extensively about arguably the strangest city in California — the tiny and rich industrial city of Vernon. As a morning assignment editor for the California section he contributed to the Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the San Bernardino terrorist attack and is now one of the editors charged with coverage of California after the election of Donald Trump to president.

Print (circulation under 90,000)

For more two decades, R. Scott Moxley has worked as an investigative journalist at Orange County Weekly, where he writes about courts, politics and government. 

In 1996, a controversial California congressman blamed Moxley’s pre-election coverage, The Secret Lives of Bob Dornan—the recipient of a national award — for his historic loss. In 2002, he exposed a wealthy Newport Beach doctor for injecting water instead of critical medicine into AIDS/HIV patients, stories that resulted in a federal grand jury indictment and conviction. Three years later, he wrote a pre-trial article explaining how a robbery/carjacking defendant couldn’t be guilty, saw the innocent teenager go to prison for 16 months before forensic testing finally located the actual perpetrator. A well-connected congressional aide was sent to prison in 2008 after Moxley exposed the man’s criminal activities involving underage boys in Southern California and Virginia. His exclusive, multi-year coverage of a corrupt sheriff, prompted the lawman’s eventual FBI arrest and incarceration. In 2009, he broke news that a self-styled “family values” state assemblyman who was vice chairman of a energy subcommittee enjoyed wild sexual affairs with two power company lobbyists seeking rate hikes. In recent years, he’s devoted his attention to systemic constitutional violations of pre-trial defendants’ rights in Orange County.

In 2016, the Los Angeles Press Club named him “Journalist of the Year.”

Before joining OC Weekly, Moxley interned for legendary playwright Jerome Lawrence of Inherit the Wind and Auntie Mame fame; worked as reporter in Texas; and served a six-year stint as a spokesman for the Federal Election Commission in Washington, D.C. In that capacity, he helped write a chapter on investigating politicians for an Investigative Reporters and Editors publication as well as toured the country giving seminars teaching reporters how to use campaign finance records. 

Moxley—who was born in Richmond, Virginia—graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. At Georgetown University, he participated in two training conferences pertaining to public policy. He lives in the heart of Orange County’s Little Saigon.

Radio

Greg Habell grew up in the San Gabriel Valley with six brothers and two sisters… and two parents whose patience was stretched to the limit every day. He graduated from Don Bosco Technical High School in Rosemead and from Pomona College in Claremont. Habell then worked in the Bay Area and Alaska before he was off to off to Ontario, Oregon (eastern Oregon… next to Idaho border) anchoring/reporting news (what a small town education!). He then went to Las Vegas, still anchoring and reporting, and landed at KFWB 980 and Westinghouse Broadcasting about 1980 where he worked as a senior editor. He joined CBS Radio and KNX 1070 in 1986 and is still there editing and producing. The main force in his universe: his three daughters: Sheena, Monica and Germaine.  “And now they are giving me advice and counsel and they are right about 100 percent of the time!” 

Television

Adrienne Alpert joined ABC7 Eyewitness News as a general assignment reporter in February 1996. Her role has expanded to host of “Eyewitness Newsmakers,” a half-hour weekly program dedicated to a deeper exploration of local issues and concerns. Through a broadcasting career that began in 1973, Adrienne has won a number of Emmys, Golden Mikes and Associated Press awards for investigative reporting, news writing and a documentary. Adrienne moved to Southern California with her family in 1961. Their first home was in southern San Diego County. Adrienne has progressively moved up the California coast ever since. She attended school in San Diego. After graduating from San Diego State University with a degree in journalism, she landed her first job at KSDO News Radio in San Diego. She worked there as an anchor/reporter with a Sunday night talk show for four years. Adrienne joined the staff at San Diego ABC-TV affiliate KGTV in 1977 and worked there as an anchor/reporter for 19 years. Adrienne and her husband Barry Paulk have a son, Michael.          

Digital

Ken Bensinger has been a staff reporter at BuzzFeed News since 2014, and is a member of the publication’s investigations team. He previously served as a reporter at The Wall Street Journal and SmartMoney magazine, and for four years worked as a freelance reporter in Mexico City, where he contributed to a variety of publications. Prior to BuzzFeed, Bensinger was for nearly seven years a business reporter for the Los Angeles Times, where he won two Loeb awards: in 2010 for his coverage of the Toyota sudden acceleration crisis (which was also a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize); and also in 2012 for a three-part series on predatory subprime automobile lending. A multi-part 2015 series on abuses in the nation’s unskilled guest worker visa system, “The New American Slavery,” written with Jessica Garrison, was recognized with a National Magazine Award this past February. Bensinger lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children. 

Jeremy Singer-Vine is the data editor for BuzzFeed News’ investigative unit. Previously, he worked on investigations at the Wall Street Journal.

Jessica Garrison is a reporter and editor on the Investigations team at BuzzFeed News. Previously, she worked at the Los Angeles Times for nearly 15 years, covering City Hall, education and courts, among other topics. 

All three journalists worked on “The New American Slavery” series. 

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