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.

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