Sacramento Bee journalists recognized for exceptional coverage in 2023 at Press Club awards

Reporters, photographers and an opinion writer for The Sacramento Bee earned five top prizes and were recognized as finalists in four categories Thursday evening at the Sacramento Press Club Journalism Awards, which honored exceptional coverage of policy and politics in 2023.

Among The Bee’s winning entries was the work of reporters Lindsey Holden and Matthew Miranda in the category of Capitol Enterprise, recognizing journalism that takes a deeper look at the decisions made by state lawmakers, the influences behind them and their effect on the broader public.

Holden and Miranda produced three stories on the struggles migrant farmworkers face in California, including finding affordable housing, the educational challenges their children face and the state’s practice forcing these families out rent-subsidized apartments that sit empty for three to six months every year.

Press Club judges said the stories on migrant farmworkers were a “compelling read bolstered by shoe-leather reporting and original survey data,” highlighting the “devastating impact of a state law” that requires these families to vacate temporary, state-run farmworker housing after each season.

“The reporting underscored the fact that migrants are no longer birds of passage,” one judge said. “They’re staying and they want to advocate and fight for their children.”

The stories on migrant farmworkers by Holden and Miranda also won the top prize in the Social Justice and Equity Reporting category. The Press Club commended the duo’s effort in visiting seven of 24 migrant housing centers in the state and conducting interviews in 150 households.

Skydiving deaths in Lodi

The Bee’s Michael McGough and Stephen Hobbs won the top prize in the Business and Labor category for their expansive story on the Parachute Center in Lodi that remains open for business despite the deaths of 28 people in skydiving incidents.

The Press Club called the writing and storytelling by McGough and Hobbs an “excellent example of investigative business reporting that shines a light on the tragic intersection of questionable business practices and weak regulation.” The Press Club judges found the investigative story was complemented by “compelling photography, poignant video and clear and informative graphics.”

Reporters Ari Plachta and Joe Rubin from The Bee were recognized as a finalist in the Business and Labor category for their investigative story on how the Sacramento-based California Restaurant Association became a key ally for Southern California Gas Co. and its multimillion-dollar effort to push back against California cities cutting planet-warming pollution in new buildings.

Rubin also was a finalist in the Criminal Justice reporting category for a story on a pedophile priest who fled the United States as a California district attorney dropped charges against the priest and let him slip away. Rubin’s investigative story was followed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta agreeing to investigate the prosecutor’s decision.

Robin Epley of The Bee’s Editorial Board was recognized as a finalist in the Opinion/Commentary category for powerful columns on how a Sacramento mother became homeless as she waited for police to arrive to evict her and another woman’s descent into mental illness and the lack of public knowledge about pregnancy, women’s bodies and reproductive health care.

Holly Porter, 40, who is functionally quadriplegic, stops her brother Mike Porter from placing her in a donated wheelchair Friday, March 24, 2023, when the armrest prevented her from sliding into it. Because she couldn’t use the wheelchair, Porter had to sign her housing application while in the sling, since the property management representative was not allowed inside her tent for insurance reasons, at Camp Resolution in Sacramento.

Visual journalism winners

In the Feature Photography category, The Bee’s Renée C. Byer won the top prize for her still images of Holly Porter, a functionally quadriplegic homeless woman, in her hospital bed in a tent at Camp Resolution, a self-governing encampment in North Sacramento that is now slated to close.

Byer’s images also captured Porter’s brother, Mike Porter, trying to move his sister into a donated wheelchair using a hydraulic lift at the encampment. The armrest prevented her from sliding into the chair, so she had to remain in the sling to sign her housing application since the property management representative would not enter her tent.

Byer also was on assignment months later capturing a joyous occasion as Porter was wheeled around her new apartment by her Hope Cooperative caseworker Tracey Knickerbocker.

“In viewing the work, it is clear that the photographer spent the time necessary to gain trust as well as to be present for several key surprising moments,” the Press Club said of Byer’s photos. “The result is a story that visually that shares the complex range of challenges that this person faces, amplifying the important story through understanding and empathy.”

The Bee’s Hector Amezcua was recognized as a finalist in the Feature Photography category for his images for the migrant farmworker package of stories written by Holden and Miranda, including photos of 23-year-old Carlos Alfonso Perez, who lives at the Lodi migrant housing center with his family, pruning a grape vine as the sun rises and 11-year-old Karla Acevedo Perez waiting for the school bus at the Lodi migrant center.

Karla Acevedo Perez, 11, waits for the school bus at the Lodi migrant center on Oct. 29, 2023. Karla will have to leave her school when she returns to Mexico after the center closes for the winter.
Karla Acevedo Perez, 11, waits for the school bus at the Lodi migrant center on Oct. 29, 2023. Karla will have to leave her school when she returns to Mexico after the center closes for the winter.

Amezcua also was honored in the Spot News Photography category, winning the top prize for his photos of submerged and stranded vehicles on Dillard Road near Highway 99 in south Sacramento County. A January 2023 atmospheric river storm led to levee breaks along the Cosumnes River. Three drivers were killed in the flooding.

One of Amezcua’s winning photos captured Rachel Thorpe after her husband, Jamey, came to her rescue when she and dozens of other drivers were stranded by floodwaters on Twin Cities Road near Highway 99.

“The flooding photo on the highway shows a key strength of effective breaking news photography: being in the right place at the right time,” the Press Club said about Amezcua’s work, including photos he captured using an aerial drone “The photographer utilized smart lens choice to compress the scene and depth of field that directs the viewer’s attention.”

Environmental reporting

Los Angeles Times climate reporter Sammy Roth was recognized as 2023 Journalist of the Year for work that included an in-depth series on renewable energy trade-offs that was also honored as best environmental reporting. The Press Club noted that Roth’s twice-weekly climate column “provides consistent insight on the climate threat and helps readers understand how our world is changing.”

The Press Club’s Courage in Journalism award went to Doni Chamberlain, who publishes a Shasta County-based online magazine,

Chamberlain has “endured physical harm and repeated threats covering the growing influence of local militias,” according to a Press Club news release. Last summer, she suffered multiple injuries after being attacked while trying to cover a militia meeting whose location had been promoted publicly.

Alexei Koseff, the Press Club board president and a reporter for CalMatters, thanked the contest’s 42 volunteer judges, the Press Club board and the sponsors who helped raise thousands of dollars this year for the Press Club’s student scholarship program.

“The Sacramento Press Club is proud to honor important politics and policy journalism that allows Californians to better understand their government and holds powerful officials accountable,” Koseff said.