Photojournalism took center stage Wednesday night at the 33rd annual George F. Gruner Awards, which honor the best work in Central Valley print journalism.
The Californian and Tehachapi News swept the photo categories during a brief awards ceremony presented via Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"The past year was certainly different, and that was reflected in several of our contest entries this year," said Executive Editor Christine L. Peterson. "I am thankful to work with talented journalists who are telling these important stories for our communities."
Californian photographer Alex Horvath won first place for news or feature photo for documenting a hospitalized COVID-19 patient, and first place in sports photo for a skateboarder catching some air with the perfect clouds in the background — a departure from pre-pandemic times when often a prep sports photo would have been the norm.
That theme was repeated in Tehachapi News freelance photographer Nick Smirnoff's first place in the sports photo category for weekly newspapers. His photo was of a horse participating in a Halloween-themed play day. Smirnoff also won first place for news or feature photo for weekly newspapers for an image showing a little boy covering his ears amid loud noise at a rally in support of President Trump's reelection.
Each newspaper could submit only one entry in each of seven categories.
Entering in the category of large daily newspapers, The Californian also earned the following honors for work published in 2020:
• Reporter Clay Cunningham won first place for sports story, "She took the long way home," about Cal State Bakersfield basketball player Andie Easley.
• Reporter Stacey Shepard earned an honorable mention in public service journalism for "More anxiety, more sickness, more stress: COVID-19 in Kern."
• Shepard also earned an honorable mention for her feature story, "Teen recovering from battle with rare but serious virus-related syndrome."
• Business Editor John Cox and reporters Steven Mayer and Quinn Wilson earned honorable mentions for their set of stories about then-President Trump's February 2020 visit to Kern County.
• Columnist Robert Price earned an honorable mention for "Fearless: Dolores Huerta, 90, is still in the fight for civil rights that made her an icon."
Tehachapi News, which competed in the category of weekly newspapers, earned these awards:
• Reporter Darla A. Baker earned first place in public service journalism for "Animal shelter woes: What happens to Tehachapi's pets?" It was a set of stories looking at the closure of the Mojave Animal Shelter and the shuttering of the Tehachapi Humane Society.
• Columnist Jon Hammond earned first place for his column, for "Ramon Burgeis: An incredible Tehachapi man and great American."
• Reporter Ron Stapp earned first place for sports story, "Tehachapi wrestling tree fosters public service careers, desire to help others."
The Department of Media, Communications and Journalism at Fresno State University puts on the awards, which are judged by journalists outside California.