8 Valley newspaper writers win Gruner Awards for Public Service

Gruner Awards


PHOTO: From left, Professor Gary Rice, George F. Gruner and former Fresno Bee Executive Editor Betsy Lumbye. (Courtesy of Joe Wirt/CNPA)

Eight reporters at three San Joaquin Valley newspapers won 2016 George F. Gruner Prizes for Meritorious Public Service in journalism.

The awards for work published in 2016 were announced Thursday, Feb. 23, at the 29th annual Gruner Awards ceremony at the Fresno Art Museum.

The Gruner awards are sponsored Fresno State’s Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, which coordinates the competition, and The Fresno Bee. The Gruner awards are named for George F. Gruner, a Fresno Bee executive editor who retired in 1988.

Gruner spoke at the ceremony:

“I remember the good old days – pencil and paper, typewriters, upright phones, telephone booths – ‘hello sweetheart, get me rewrite.’ Those days are gone. Times have changed. But what has not changed is you.  The key tool in newsrooms is not the computer.  It still is the human element- the desire to get the facts, whatever they tell us. All the examples of outstanding work exhibited here tonight  are products of that  essential element – the reporter, man or woman, who has that burning desire … to serve the public interest by laying out the facts.”

Gruner was a figure in a freedom of the press issue in 1976 when, as a member of the “Fresno Four,” he was jailed for contempt of court for refusing a judge’s order to reveal a confidential source of information used in The Fresno Bee’s news stories concerning a city official. He and three other members of The Bee’s staff refused to reveal the source and spent 15 days in custody before being released.

The “Fresno Four” received wide support from journalists and many other individuals and organizations throughout the United States for upholding the right to maintain confidential sources.

This year, 100 entries, including 11 in the Gruner Public Service category, were submitted for consideration from 21 newspapers. The judging is done by a group of professional journalists outside the Valley.

“It was gratifying to see so many entries and see the amount of an incredibly strong journalism that’s done in the Valley every day,” said Fresno State journalism Professor Gary Rice.

The Gruner awards are funded by the Central Valley Foundation and the Central Valley Community Foundation.

This year’s winners are:


First Place

  • Andrea Castillo, Barbara Anderson and BoNhia Lee, Fresno Bee, for their piece on “Living in misery.” Judges’ comments: This is a thoughtfully conceived and professionally executed examination of the grim choices facing tenants who are forced to live in Fresno’s low-cost rental units. The stories tell of great human hardship while also unearthing the historic and statistical patterns that created these problems — and the inaction that allows them to continue. The reporters demonstrate how important stories can be developed with both the head and the heart.
  • Jim Houck, Juan Villa, Luis Hernandez and Calley Cederlof, Tulare Advance-Register, on “Tulare Regional Medical Center.” Judges’ comments: The failure of this medical center to finish its construction as scheduled or to keep its financial house in order was a complicated story — and the in-depth work by this team of reporters was unsparing. The newspaper gave readers the project’s history, explained market forces, exposed internal politics and documented financial manipulations. This coverage could not have been done with one side v. the other side interviews — it required patient digging and clear explanations.
  • Vikaas Shanker, Los Banos Enterprise, on “Disjointed Los Banos school board.” Judges’ comments: At some point in their careers, most reporters will find themselves reporting on a school board or city council that is riven by politics and personalities. This reporter did a noteworthy job of giving readers a clear back story and getting down to the issues, the missteps and the consequences to the schools and the community they serve. Yes, it’s a mess — and the newspaper helped us understand why.

Honorable Mention

  • Joseph Luiz and Laura Brown, Selma-Kingsburg Enterprise-Recorder
  • Greg Little, Mariposa Gazette


First Place

  • Harold Pierce, John Cox and Steven Mayer, The Bakersfield Californian
  • Mike Eiman, The Hanford Sentinel
  • Morgan Voorhis, Sierra Star

Honorable Mention

  • Tim Sheehan and Marc Benjamin, The Fresno Bee
  • Rob Parsons, Michelle Morgante, Brianna Calix and Monica Velez, Merced Sun-Star
  • Laura Brown, Selma-Kingsburg Enterprise-Recorder


First Place

  • Jennifer Self and Robert Price, The Bakersfield Californian
  • Michelle Morgante, Merced Sun-Star
  • Morgan Voorhis, Sierra Star

Honorable mention

  • Julissa Zavala, Porterville Recorder
  • Jackson Moore, Dinuba Sentinel


First Place

  • Lois Henry, The Bakersfield Californian
  • Eric Woomer, Visalia Times-Delta
  • Greg Little, Mariposa Gazette


First Place

  • Bill McEwen, The Fresno Bee
  • Mike Dunbar, Merced Sun-Star
  • Brian Wilkinson, Sierra Star


First Place

  • Jeff Evans, The Bakersfield Californian
  • Nayirah Dosu, The Porterville Recorder
  • Matt Johnson, Mariposa Gazette

Honorable Mention

  • Marek Warszawski, The Fresno Bee
  • Shawn Jensen, Merced Sun-Star
  • Sean Lynch, Los Banos Enterprise


First Place

  • Andrew Kuhn, Merced Sun-Star
  • Craig Kohlruss, The Fresno Bee
  • Gene Lieb, Los Banos Enterprise

Honorable Mention

  • Wendy Alexander, The Madera Tribune
  • Felix Adamo, The Bakersfield Californian
  • Keven J. Geaney, The Dinbua Sentinel,


First Place

  • Gene Lieb, Los Banos Enterprise
  • Ron Holman, Visalia Times-Delta
  • Felix Adamo, The Bakersfield Californian

Honorable Mention

  • Morgan Voorhis, Sierra Star
  • Craig Kohlruss, The Fresno Bee
  • Andrew Kuhn, Merced Sun-Star

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