Four Valley newspaper writers win Gruner Awards for Public Service

Gruner Awards

Four reporters at three San Joaquin Valley newspapers won 2017 George F. Gruner Prizes for Meritorious Public Service in journalism.

The awards for work published in 2017 were announced Thursday, March 1, at the 30th 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 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, 95 entries, including four in the Gruner Public Service category, were submitted for consideration from 14 newspapers. The judging is done by a group of professional journalists outside the Valley.

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

This year’s winners are:


First Place

  • Mackenzie Mays, The Fresno Bee, for her “Too Young?” series. Judges comments: This is what public service journalism should look like. In this case, not only identifying a problem — high teen pregnancy rates and how school districts are complying with state law — but holding public officials accountable for their actions. But what made this series really shine was how Mays effectively used everyday Californians to tell the story.
  • Harold Pierce and Stephanie Innes, The Bakersfield Californian/The Center for Health Journalism Collaborative, for their series “Just One Breath.” Judges comments: “By examining a little-known disease and its tragic effects, the series on Valley fever did what the government has not done effectively — raise public awareness. That’s the power of journalism. This series featured clear, concise writing and went beyond the statistics by telling the powerful story of Juan Solis.
  • Greg Little, Mariposa Gazette. Judges comments: Yosemite National Park is arguably the most important institution in the county, and the Gazette effectively explored how a National Park Service proposal to hike fees impacts not only the visitors but the local companies that rely on the park for their livelihood.

Honorable Mention

  • James Houck, Eric Woomer, Luis Hernandez, Calley Cederlof, Sheyanne Romero, Visalia Times-Delta. Judges comments: Readers deserve reporting like this, particularly when it is about life and death. The reporters dug deep on how their community hospital was run. They didn’t stop telling the story, either, following it through to the end.


First Place

  • Vikaas Shanker, Brianna Calix, Rob Parsons, Los Banos Enterprise
  • Rory Appleton, The Fresno Bee
  • Rob Parson, Monica Velez, Merced Sun-Star

Honorable Mention

  • Harold Pierce, Bakersfield Californian


First Place

  • Carmen George, The Fresno Bee
  • James Ward, Visalia Times-Delta
  • Gabriel Dillard, Fresno Business Journal

Honorable mention

  • Steven Mayer, Bakersfield Californian
  • Julissa Zavala, Hanford Sentinel
  • Jackson Moore, Dinuba Sentinel
  • David Casarez, Vida en el Valle


First Place

  • Marek Warszawski, The Fresno Bee
  • Greg Little, Mariposa Gazette
  • Rob Parson, Merced Sun-Star

Honorable Mention

  • Lois Henry, Bakersfield Californian
  • Mike Hazelwood, Visalia Times-Delta
  • John Spevak, Los Banos Enterprise


First Place

  • Gail Marshall, The Fresno Bee
  • Mike Dunbar, Merced Sun-Star
  • Reggie Ellis, Exeter Sun-Gazette

Honorable Mention

  • Mike Dunbar, The Modesto Bee
  • Silas J. Lyons, Visalia Times-Delta
  • Brian Wilkinson, Sierra Star


First Place

  • Trevor Horn, Bakersfield Californian
  • Shawn Jansen, Merced Sun-Star
  • Matt Johnson, Mariposa Gazette

Honorable Mention

  • Noe Garcia, Hanford Sentinel
  • Brian Wilkinson, Sierra Star


First Place

  • Patrick Dillon, Exeter Sun Gazette
  • Felix Adamo, Bakersfield Californian
  • Ron Holman, Visalia Times-Delta

Honorable Mention

  • Keven J. Geaney, Dinuba Sentinel
  • Eric Paul Zamora, The Fresno Bee
  • Wendy Alexander, Madera Tribune


First Place

  • Morgan Voorhis, Sierra Star
  • Felix Adamo, Bakersfield Californian

Honorable Mention

  • Gene Lieb, Los Banos Enterprise
  • Jackson Moore, Dinuba Sentinel
  • Craig Kohlruss, The Fresno Bee

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