In summary

CalMatters won first place for general excellence and a host of reporting topics in the California News Publishers Association contest.

CalMatters journalists had a stand-out showing in the California Journalism Awards that recognize the state’s best journalism.

Judges called the staff’s work: “relentless,” “gorgeous in presentation, writing and strategic thought,” “in-depth but understandable,” “eye-catching and user-friendly” and “a great resource for readers to understand what’s at stake for various communities.”

The nonprofit newsroom staff earned first place for general excellence while now competing, for the first time, in the largest audience category for digital news. This puts CalMatters up against the state’s largest organizations including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Sacramento Bee and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

CalMatters journalists took home another five first-place awards across investigative reporting, land-use reporting, enterprise news, Gov. Gavin Newsom recall election coverage and youth and education coverage. The staff also earned 2nd place in the coveted public service category for the Newsom recall election voter guide. In all, CalMatters earned 17 awards for its coverage in 2021.

The statewide contest is organized by the California News Publishers Association, recognizing newsrooms as judged by impartial professional journalists.

General Excellence

1st Place — CalMatters Staff. 

Judges: “Judging by pure impact, CalMatters stood out for its relentless approach to telling engaging stories from multiple perspectives, maximizing the potential to reach a variety of audiences around the state on different platforms and with different preferences. The one-two-THREE punch of the gun control series was particularly impressive in its reframing of an investigation in dramatically different forms. While this isn’t a traditional interpretation of newspaper ‘general excellence,’ the gorgeous presentation, writing, and strategic thought that go into this site make it stand out above all the rest.”

Investigative Reporting

1st Place among publications with 400,001 and more monthly unique visitors and 3rd Place among all digital publications — Robert Lewis and Jeremia Kimelman for “Waiting for Justice.”

Judges: “The research plus the individual perspectives plus the presentation/organization (which was GOALS) made for a comprehensive and moving narrative that delved deeply with tangible takeaways. Amazing work here.” “Great use of data to convey an important topic. The use of firsthand interviews really sets off the stakes involved, especially with family on both sides of the justice system.”

Public Service

2nd Place CalMatters Staff for the “Newsom Recall Voter Guide.” Stories 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Judges: “Excellent use of graphics, photos, videos and other multimedia. The recall voter guide component of this project is really eye-catching and user-friendly. I appreciate the straightforward presentation of the ‘what he has and hasn’t done’ coverage. That really spells it out for readers and makes it clear what’s been accomplished and what is still lacking. The illustrated guide to the Newsom recall was one of my favorite parts of this entry: fun, unique and easy to follow while not being patronizing. And while all of this is stand-out public service journalism already, the ‘how to vote in the recall election’ guide really drives that point home. Fantastic work.”

Land-Use Reporting

1st Place Manuela Tobias for “Why it’s so hard to pass housing bills in California.” Stories 1, 2 and 3.

Judges: “This is “the” land-use topic of the day in California, and the CalMatters team showed out here. Stellar in-depth, but understandable, reporting on a complex and dense topic. Important reporting. Great visuals.”

Enterprise News

1st Place among all digital publications and also 1st Place among same-sized publications — Sameea Kamal for the California redistricting series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

Judges: “This series gives a 365-degree view of the redistricting process — no small feat for a subject so difficult to understand. The amount and quality of reporting in this series is apparent. The infographics go far in telling the story.” “An excellent series explaining the fine details and overall plan for state redistricting. Clear writing as well as fine graphics make the changes in districts easy to understand. A great resource for readers to understand what’s at stake for various communities.”

4th PlaceByrhonda Lyons and Laurel Rosenhall for “Is California’s new police deadly force law making a difference?” 

Judges: “Strong on writing, research and organization; hits the key point of a lack of training at the core of the problem today and likely in the future without action. Mixes the human toll with the data to show personal impact.”

Newsom Recall Election Coverage

1st PlaceLaurel Rosenhall, Sameea Kamal, Emily Hoeven, Matt Reagan for a series of stories on key voting blocs: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 

Judges: “Great collection of stories that take a fresh look at common elements of an election, voting blocs. The separate stories present a diversity of voices and concerns that are reflective of state demographics and public sentiments. Superb writing and presentation of text, images and graphics.”

2nd Place — Ben Christopher for “Polling error: How one survey changed the Newsom recall campaign” 

Judges: “Great idea to take what could’ve been a simple story and instead do in-depth reporting about the overall practice of polling and the specific impact the SurveyUSA poll had. Excellent writing, diverse sourcing and use of graphics.”

Youth and Education Coverage

1st Place — Jocelyn Wiener, Erica Yee, Anne Wernikoff for “The pandemic laid bare existing inequalities. California’s kids felt the pain.” 

Judges: “​​Great use of interactive graphics and maps. Also personalized voices helped bring the struggle home.”

3rd Place — Ricardo Cano and Elizabeth Aguilera for “Special-needs children still seek help after year adrift.”

Judges: “Good use of characters in the story.”


3rd PlaceRobert Lewis for “Outgunned: The story of a woman, an abuser and California’s failing gun control.” 

Judges: “Exhaustive research and a heartbreaking story.”

In-Depth Reporting

2nd PlaceRachel Becker, Julie Cart, Jeremia Kimelman for “California’s Drought Crisis.” Stories 1, 2 and 3.

(No judges comment)

Feature Story

4th PlaceAna Ibarra for “COVID lungs: Transplants are last resort for many California patients.”

Judges: “Until I read this story, I had no idea about this topic. Good writing and good visuals.”


4th PlaceJohn Osborn D’Agostino for “Spend the surplus: This game puts you in charge of California’s budget.” 

Judges: “This interactive put me in the shoes of a legislator. It’s hard work! Very clean presentation. The titles and descriptions for the options were fun to read and kept me engaged. Also valued seeing how my answers compared to other users on the results page.”

Breaking News

5th Place — Emily Hoeven for:  “Assembly leader: California isn’t leading on climate” 

Judges: “As its headline makes explicit, the article makes clear California’s standing in the world’s efforts to combat climate change. Its writing deftly highlights the disparity between what Gov. Newsom has been saying and others with different opinions and the relevant knowledge like Assembly Speaker Rendon. Its publication amid the UN conference on climate change in Scotland also underscores the urgency of the matter.”

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Sonya builds bridges between the community and CalMatters as director of membership and engagement. Previously she managed engagement, fundraising, marketing, digital storytelling and UX at Voice of OC,...