SPJ/LA Names Distinguished Journalists Honorees for 2019

The Greater Los Angeles Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will honor five local journalists and a First Amendment activist at its 44th annual Distinguished Journalists Awards Banquet on March 25, 2020, in downtown L.A.

The honorees are longtime regional journalists practicing in print, television, radio and digital media. They are: Tom Bray, Southern California News Group senior editor; Maria L. La Ganga, Metro reporter for the Los Angeles Times; KTLA assignment manager Vance Scott; retired KNX-1070 news reporter and anchor Diane Thompson; and Lynell George, journalist and essayist.

The Freedom of Information award will go to David Snyder, the First Amendment Coalition’s executive director.

SPJ/LA presents the Distinguished Journalists 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.

Distinguished Journalists Award Winners

Print (circulation under 90,000)

Tom Bray, senior editor of Southern California News Group’s six daily newspapers in Los Angeles County, has been a journalist of one sort or another since he started covering high school sports in 1975. Over the years, he’s served as a reporter, copy editor, section editor and page designer. Bray served as managing editor at The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, the News-Leader in Springfield, Mo., the Sun in San Bernardino and the Times-Delta in Visalia, Calif., and also toiled at the now-defunct Downey Southeast News, the now-defunct Huntington Park Daily Signal and The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, among others. He has earned individual or team awards from Sigma Delta Chi, Best of Gannett (including two Gannett President’s Rings), APNEC, CNPA and others.

Print (more than 90,000 circulation

Maria L. La Ganga is a Metro reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She joined The Times in 1981 as an academic intern, splitting her time between the former Metro section and National Dragster, the official publication of the National Hot Rod Assn. She has served as Seattle bureau chief, San Francisco bureau chief, as a Business section editor and pitched in on six presidential elections, five for The Times and one for the Guardian. La Ganga left The Times in 2015 and returned in 2018 after a brief hiatus during which she wrote for the Guardian and the Idaho Statesman.


Vance Scott, a TV journalist for over five decades, has been at the forefront of some of Los Angeles’ most epic and enduring news events, from fires and floods to riots and earthquakes. Scott began his career in 1968 on the assignment desk at KNXT (now KCBS) during the legendary ‘Big News’ era, widely regarded as the golden age of television news. In 1981 he joined KABC’s ‘Eyewitness News’ as an assignment editor, special projects producer and Orange County bureau chief. In 1990 Scott helped launch KCAL’s innovative ‘Prime Time News.’ As the station’s news assignment manager, he helped direct KCAL’s award-winning coverage of the Northridge earthquake, the 1992 L.A. riots, the 1993 floods and devastating firestorms that followed. Scott is celebrating his 25th anniversary as assignment manager at KTLA, where he manages the station’s daily news gathering operation.


Diane Thompson spent 40 years in the broadcast news business. She started, while still finishing college, at KVUE-TV in Austin as a weekend producer. She moved to Los Angeles in 1980 after working for 18 months in Phoenix as a news anchor/reporter at KJJJ and KBBC/KTAR.Thompson worked at three legendary stations in Los Angeles: KFWB, KHJ and KNX. She spent 34 years as a news reporter and anchor at KNX. She covered 26 Academy Award ceremonies, 14 Rose Parades, the 1984 Olympics, the opening of the Reagan Presidential Library, the official visits of both Pope John Paul II and South African President Nelson Mandela, the L.A. riots, San Francisco and Northridge earthquakes, the Simpson/Goldman murders and broke the story nationally of the murder of Phil Hartman. Starting in 2007, she produced the “KNX Hero of the Week” feature where, she said, the people and their stories changed her from a cynic into a believer and restored her soul.


Lynell George is an award-winning Los Angeles-based journalist and essayist. A former staff writer for both L.A. Weekly and the Los Angeles Times, her work has appeared in various news outlets including Boom California, The Journal of Alta California, Preservation Magazine, Zocalo Public Square, Smithsonian, Vibe, The Washington Post, Essence, and Ms. She has also provided arts commentary for KPCC | The Frame and KCET | Artbound. She was selected to be a USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellow in 2013 and received the Huntington Library’s Alan Jutzi Fellowship for her studies of California writer Octavia E. Butler in 2017. She is the recipient of a 2017 GRAMMY for her liner notes for “Otis Redding Live at the Whisky A Go Go.” George is the author of several books, including “No Crystal Stair: African Americans in the City of Angels” (Verso/Doubleday). Her new book, “A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World That Made Octavia E. Butler,” will be published by Angel City Press in 2020.

Freedom of Information

David Snyder, the First Amendment Coalition’s executive director, spent 2019 in legal battles across the state, winning key rulings resulting in the release of public records, often in the face of well-funded, powerful opponents who tried to keep police misconduct, search warrants, sexual misconduct and other public records a secret. On a nearly daily basis, in conjunction with the First Amendment Coalition’s Free Legal Hotline, Snyder drops what he is doing and dispenses invaluable information, doing legal research when needed and consulting with other experienced lawyers to make sure any journalist or member of the public who needs help gets it. This helps reporters — freelancers, independent journalists and those working for news organizations of all sizes — hold governments accountable and inform the public.

Snyder worked as a reporter for nearly 16 years, including at the Washington Post, before going into law. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin’s Plan II Honors Program, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Law. He became FAC’s executive director in 2016, growing its staff, open-government litigation and programs, including the Subpoena Defense Initiative, which provides pro bono legal counsel to journalists.


The awards banquet will be held Wednesday, March 25, 2020, 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, contact Sarah Favot at sarah.favot@gmail.com or 617-756-5643.

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

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