The Oaklandside's local reporting was awarded by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in three categories. Credit: Amir Aziz

The Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists announced the winners of its annual awards program on Thursday and The Oaklandside took first place in three categories: investigative journalism, commentary or analysis, and design for web or mobile.

Best investigation

In the investigative category, SPJ NorCal recognized our story from July 6, 2020, Did OPD violate its own policies against protesters? We investigated, co-reported by our News Editor Darwin BondGraham and contributing reporters Sarah Belle Lin and Jonah Owen Lamb.

Their report came in the wake of large-scale street protests that rocked Oakland and the nation in late May and early June 2020, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd. At the peak of those demonstrations, on the evening of June 1, 2020, Oakland police and Alameda County sheriff’s deputies opened fire on hundreds of protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets. In the aftermath, both law enforcement agencies said the use of force was justified due to the threat posed by protesters.

A little over one month later, on July 6, The Oaklandside published its investigation into the events of that evening, based on a review of over 50 videos and hundreds of photos taken that night, as well as social media posts, interviews with eyewitnesses, and government records, many of which were secured through public records requests. Our investigation determined that the attacks on protesters by law enforcement officers that night were unprovoked and in violation of the Oakland Police Department’s crowd-control policies.

Nearly a year to the day after that night of protest, and 11 months after The Oaklandside published its investigation into what happened, Oakland’s newly hired police chief, Leronne Armstrong, held a press conference to say that the department’s use of force was illegal and that multiple Oakland police officers would face discipline for their actions.

Best commentary or analysis

This award went to a deeply personal first-person essay penned by Oakland-born community advocate John Jones III. The piece, Why is gun violence spiking? An East Oakland native digs into his past and the city’s history to help explain, was painstakingly written by Jones over many weeks. 

Jones describes what he experienced during multiple stages of his life: as a child traumatized by gun violence at an early age, as a teen struggling to reconcile his conscience with the unwritten rules of survival in East Oakland, as a young man drawn into the violence surrounding him and later incarcerated for it, and as the father and community leader he is today, deeply committed to reforming systems perpetuating violence in Black communities. 

Oakland history is seamlessly interwoven throughout the narrative, informed by Jones’ memories and lived experiences, bringing much-needed context to help us better make sense of the troubling escalation in gun violence and homicides that Oakland is experiencing today. 

Best design for web/mobile

The SPJ award for best digital design was given to Doug Ng, news platforms director for Cityside, the parent nonprofit of The Oaklandside and Berkeleyside, for his work on the interactive feature, Scarred but resilient: Telegraph Avenue emerges from the pandemic.

Ng designed the story—an exploration of how businesses on Telegraph Avenue had fared a year after the pandemic—around a scrollable map, allowing readers to travel from downtown Oakland to the foot of UC Berkeley in a digital walking tour.

“Our team had a lot of great ideas about how they imagined people would read the story. They wanted people to visually feel like they were making the journey down Telegraph.”

Doug Ng

The Telegraph Avenue project was the first collaboration between The Oaklandside and its sister news site, Berkeleyside. Its well-crafted design features video, text, and photos overlaid seamlessly onto a Google Maps interface. Staff contributors on the project included The Oaklandside’s photographer Amir Aziz and reporter Ricky Rodas, along with Berkeleyside reporter Supriya Yelimeli, and Cityside’s Frances Dinkelspiel and Tracey Taylor.

“Our team had a lot of great ideas about how they imagined people would read the story,” Ng said. “They wanted people to visually feel like they were making the journey down Telegraph. The Oaklandside’s Amir [Aziz] shot a great video to introduce the piece, and I wanted to find a way to do this for the rest of the story. Mapbox’s interactive storytelling was great at helping us do this.”

A third-generation Californian, Ng moved to Berkeley after finishing a master’s degree in communication from Pratt School of Design. He designed and built Berkeleyside’s initial website in 2010. He works with both Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside on their design and digital capabilities.

More honors

At Berkeleyside, Supriya Yelimeli was recognized as an “outstanding emerging journalist” for a trio of stories she wrote in 2021 reporting on the divide between parents over whether schools should reopen; covering the city of Berkeley’s decision to end single-family zoning; and poignantly profiling a homeless man who died in People’s Park.

Also awarded by SPJ Norcal was David DeBolt, The Oaklandside’s City Hall and policing reporter. DeBolt was among several journalists at The Mercury News (where he reported prior to joining our newsroom last August) who took home the trophy in the explanatory journalism category, for their excellent work on the report, How the Bay Area’s COVID Response Failed Latinos.

Nico Savidge, Berkeleyside’s senior reporter covering City Hall, also won for his work while at The Mercury News. He was among several journalists, including DeBolt, who won in the breaking news category for coverage of the mass shooting at a San Jose VTA rail yard, where nine people were killed.

Since 1909, the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized journalists for their work that “promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry through the daily work of its nearly 10,000 members.”

Jacob Simas is the Community Journalism Director at Cityside and Managing Editor of The Oaklandside. He joined us from Univision, where he led social-impact initiatives and established the Rise Up: Be Heard journalism training program at Fusion for young people and community organizers in underserved areas of California. He was a senior editor and director of youth and community media at New America Media, where he led a community news network that amplified student and youth reporting in California news deserts. He is an advisory board member for Youth Beat, a graduate of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and a former producer with KPFA's First Voice apprenticeship program.