You might say PW got better with age

By Kevin Uhrich, Pasadena Weekly, 7/11/2019

Looking back during my time here, I tend to think of all the people I came to know and love and the stories that we shared. So it seems natural that there were no better times for me and many others over the past 20-plus years than when we were producing simply terrific journalism — stories that could have appeared in any magazine in the country, with many going on to win top industry honors. So many awards from competing in national, state and regional contests that memories of the few hard times there have been here truly are fleeting by comparison. 

Maybe that’s being too generous, because there have been more than a few dark days, like when we had to report on the death of friends and colleagues, and take salary cuts at the height of the Great Recession, reminding us this really is a business.

But all that gloom seemed to fade away as we entered awards season at the start of each year, confident in knowing that we were bound to win something for all of our hard work the previous year. 

General Excellence

It was more than likely that the initial intent of the founders of what we know today as the Pasadena Weekly back in 1984 was not to go out and win awards for their efforts.

But good things tend to happen when talented people get together for a righteous common purpose, and in the case of PW, the plan was always to produce the best community newspaper possible on a weekly basis.

To that end, this unanticipated byproduct of dedication to the basic directive — winning awards — was achieved under no less than four separate sets of owners.

For those outstanding efforts on the part of reporters, feature writers, illustrators, photographers, graphic artists, as well as editors, publishers and advertising folks, PW staffers have won dozens of first, second and third place plaques and trophies, as well as numerous certificates of achievement, honorable mentions, and other accolades from outside the profession.

From investigative reporting, news reporting, breaking news reporting, news feature writing, entertainment writing, personality profiles, photography, graphic arts and illustrations to classified and display advertising, it seems there was no part of the paper that missed winning some type of award over the years from the LA Press Club, the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) and the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN).

I know it is poor form to boast, but I can’t help but look back with pride over the past two decades as editor, a period during which the PW won more awards from more respected journalistic organizations than at any other time in the modern-day paper’s 35 years in business.

With CNPA, we won a total of 20 top awards from 1984 to 2009, and another five from 2010 to 2014, the year the paper dropped out of the Sacramento-based organization due to financial constraints.

When it came to AAN, which we joined the year after Southland Publishing bought the paper from the LA Times, beginning in 2004 we started winning awards. Three years later, we won first and second place awards the same year, 2007, respectively, one for a somewhat critical story I had penned about Project Censored,  and the latter for a series of stories former Deputy Editor Joe Piasecki had written about the plight of LA County foster kids aging out of the system. In the end, we would win a total of seven AAN awards before dropping out of that organization.

There were two years that stand out in my mind, 2010 and 2011, not so much for the awards that our writers and artists richly deserved, but for the simply outstanding journalism that we produced from our South DeLacey Avenue office in Old Pasadena.

In 2010, they received top CNPA honors for coverage of the previous summer’s Station Fire. In addition, the paper was named as a blue-ribbon finalist in the general excellence category, as were an investigative report and a breaking news story.

As we reported at the time, the paper received a first-place award among weekly papers with circulations higher than 25,001 for the Sept. 3, 2009 story “Fire on the Mountain,” detailing the devastation caused by the worst brushfire in Los Angeles County history, written by then-City Hall Reporter André Coleman, former Deputy Editor Jake Armstrong, as well as Joe, who by then had returned to his alma mater USC to get his master’s degree and was a contributing editor on the project.

In the general excellence category, judges recognized the paper’s Jan. 8, 15 and 22, 2009 editions for their “breadth of story selection and general news coverage.”

As our story points out, Armstrong’s investigative piece, “Just Too High,” examined grossly disproportionate marijuana arrest rates in California and Pasadena, where African Americans are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for pot-related offenses. Piasecki wrote the story “Hater Nation,” another Press Club favorite in 2010, after PW received a letter threatening President Barack Obama.

“I’ve been blessed with some wonderful and talented people, not all of whom were recognized, but are nonetheless great writers and reporters and editors who certainly deserve recognition,” I was quoted saying.

Those journalists at the time also included Carl Kozlowski (who won an award for feature writing from CNPA in 2005 and an honorable mention from the Press Club in 2011), Chip Jacobs and Justin Chapman, as well as veteran Music Editor Bliss Bowen and Calendar Editor John Sollenberger, “who routinely break entertainment-related stories. Also contributing to the paper’s overall success in 2009 was former Art Director Joel Vendette and former PW Copy Editor John Seeley.”

Also in 2010, the Press Club awarded Jacobs a first-place award for a personality profile he had written the previous year about a mysterious smog credit-broker who exploited the state’s air pollution market. Joe also won first-place honors for his report on a local woman’s struggles in keeping her home from predatory lenders. Current Deputy Editor Andre Coleman took home a second-place prize for his story on the officer-involved shooting death of a local man, while Tina Dupuy won second place for investigative reporting with her story on a place posing as a pregnancy clinic that was really a religious oriented operation aimed at dissuading women from having abortions.

Piasecki, who is now managing editor of another of our sister papers, The Argonaut, and former PW Deputy Editor Jake Armstrong were also named as Blue Ribbon finalists with CNPA for stories they had written the previous year.

The following year, Joe repeated as a first-place winner with the Press Club with his story “The story behind the stories,” about the launch of the new literary magazine, Slake, started by former LA Weekly editors Laurie Ochoa and Joe Donnelly.

Jake took home an award for investigative reporting category for an outstanding follow-up story he had reported about on the disproportionate number of African Americans being arrested for marijuana-related crimes, and Michael Collins also won in that category with his exposé on NASA’s use of monkeys for testing of radiation exposure in space. With CNPA, Jake’s story, “Blunting Inequity,” came in third, and another story of his won an honorable mention.

Along with the seven awards from AAN during our limited membership, and 25 from the Press Club since the late 1990s and early 2000s, we have also won 25 awards from CNPA since 1985, one of those a second-place award for display advertising in 1995, the other also a second place, this time for classified advertising in 1996, according to CNPA’s Simon Birch.

Just Last Month

On June 30, longtime PW columnist Ellen Snortland took home a first-place Press Club award for her work last year, and present PW Deputy Editor André Coleman was recognized as a third place finalist for Journalist of the Year for papers with less than 50,000 circulation. In the spirit of full disclosure, I came in second to Ellen in the column category for a piece that I had written on the subject of, ironically, full disclosure, only on the part of police and government agencies.

As indicated previously, this is by no means an exhaustive or definitive list. With the help of Birch, and the Press Club and AAN’s websites, along with my own memory and limited record keeping, I’ve come up with more than 55 awards from those three organizations over the past three decades — not including other civic awards bestowed upon staffers for their civic engagement and other meritorious works.

For all of the above, and so much more, I am both proud and thankful to be associated with the greatest group of newspaper people that a journalist could ever hope to work with.