Jeanine Michelle Fiser, who graduated in spring 2016 with a degree from the MCJ Department, won The Newspaper Guild‘s prestigious David S. Barr Award, a nationwide honor given to student journalists who focus on social justice issues. 

The package of investigative articles that Fiser, of Hanford, wrote for the Sanger Herald – looking into the case of an unarmed ex-Marine who was gunned down by police officers – had already won several other awards of distinction:

  • A Gruner Award for Public Service Journalism, competing against professionals.
  • Best Investigative Reporting from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. Her work competed against work from dozens of similar-sized professional papers statewide, and it was the first time a community journalism student won that award, according to her professor, Gary Rice.

“The recognition the Charles Salinas story received is very gratifying,” Fiser said. “I knew I was putting out some of my best work when I was investigating and writing the story, and it’s been extremely satisfying to have others recognize that. At the same time though, it’s a little bittersweet, because, although the story is winning awards, the Salinas family lost their trial against the Sanger Police Department.”

Fiser was the MCJ Department’s outstanding graduate in May, and she was a runner up for the Dean’s Medal. She is now attending Loyola-Marymount University in Los Angeles, pursuing a master of fine arts degree in Film and Television Production.

“I am proud  Jeanine’s work has gotten the credit it so richly deserved,” Professor Rice said. “At a time when journalism is often rightly criticized for shallowness, shrillness, superficiality and vacuity, Jeanine showed she could produce real professional journalism. Her talent, caring nature, insistence on perfection and empathy carried her far. She worked as hard as any student I’ve ever had and never wavered as she tackled a story that would have stymied most professional journalists.”

Fiser worked on the Salinas story for about 9 months. 

“The length of the project alone showed me how much focus and dedication it can take to put together such a complicated piece,” Fiser said. “I was also fortunate with this project to get a glimpse of journalism’s place in being a voice for the voiceless.”

The Guild wrote this about Fiser’s project:

Working for a semester and a half, Fiser produced a three-part report that detailed moment by-moment the death of Charlie Salinas in the small central California town of Sanger. Salinas was an ex-Marine, he was unarmed, alcoholic, mentally ill and suffering from PTSD. He was shot 11 times – several times after he was lying on the ground.

Fiser’s reporting revealed confusion, unprofessional behavior and faulty leadership among officers involved in the shooting. She found experts locally and nationwide appalled by the killing and also revealed how state law shields law officers from public scrutiny and accountability, even in cases involving questionable killings.

“This compelling package reveals a passion for justice and fairness on the part of the author,” the judges said. The judges were journalists and NewsGuild Executive Council members Eric Russ, Jeff Gordon and John Hill.

The Guild will fly Fiser and her father to Washington, D.C., to receive the award, which will be presented in a ceremony at the News Guild Union Headquarters on Dec. 7. Fiser said D.C. is one of her favorite places, and she is excited she will get to share her achievement with her dad, who has never been there before.