The Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists announced Monday that Berkeleyside’s Emilie Raguso, senior reporter and community engagement chief, has been named 2017 Journalist of the Year.
The honor was one of six board awards given as part of the society’s annual Excellence in Journalism awards. The winners are chosen from nominees fielded from board members and the local journalism community.
“The chapter honors Raguso for her exemplary work covering Berkeley,” SPJ NorCal wrote in a statement released Monday evening. “A reporter with deep knowledge of the community, Raguso is dedicated to exploring the longterm implications of local events. Her work also explores the local impact of state and national level decisions. As a senior reporter, she covers several beats including crime, land use and local government, and doggedly tracks down the information her readers need. Raguso is there for the breaking news and for the follow up stories. The board commends Raguso, whose work provides the kind of nuance, context and depth that are increasingly rare in community journalism.”
Raguso said the award came as an honor and a shock. “It was such a thrilling and gratifying surprise when I learned the editors had nominated me for the award. I never thought it would go any farther than that.” She continued: “The award is really a testament to the importance of local news in communities that are not otherwise served on a daily basis by larger outlets — and to Berkeleyside, which has always prioritized quality coverage over clicks, which is particularly significant in the online news world.”
Raguso honed her considerable skills covering the crime beat at the Modesto Bee and then as editor of the Albany Patch website. She joined Berkeleyside in October 2012 and immediately began to make her mark. She set new standards for Berkeleyside, with the high quality of her reporting and her commitment to, and passion for, serving a community through journalism.
In its nominating letter to the SPJ NorCal board, Berkeleyside wrote: “The term ‘above and beyond’ might have been invented to describe Emilie Raguso, Senior Reporter at Berkeleyside. While she covers several beats, including crime and land use, attends nearly every Berkeley City Council meeting and most zoning board meetings, she never writes a story that isn’t thoroughly reported, well written, accurate and balanced.”
The nomination singled out Raguso’s crime reporting in particular, although she also covers several other beats. Raguso has spent the night at police dispatch; been on ride-alongs with BPD; was the only reporter invited to observe the department participating in a day-long de-escalation exercise and a separate active shooter drill at a Muslim college; uncovered a fascinating historical story about the force; drew out the police chief on department tactics at demonstrations; and, perhaps most significantly, was instrumental in nudging the department to publicly acknowledge the presence of gangs in Berkeley — and to talk about it on the record with, of course, Raguso.
“She is often first with a local crime story, regularly scooping the much larger and better resourced regional papers,” Berkeleyside wrote in the nomination. “Her reporting remains steadfastly objective, however, and she has written many stories about internal discord and scandals within BPD. In fact, she revealed the deep divisions within the police force” about the police chief’s approach to leadership in the department. Three weeks later, the chief retired.
The nomination also highlighted Raguso’s exemplary deep-dive reporting when tragedy strikes in the community. “When an 8-year-old girl was shot and killed through a front door during a double murder rampage, Emilie sought out and spoke to members of the family and others to paint a picture of what led to the tragedy and its aftermath,” the letter said.
“After a man driving under the influence mowed down a Berkeley mother and scientist on her bicycle, causing her to be pinned under his car and to narrowly escape death, Emilie went on to chronicle Megan Schwarzman’s miraculous recovery by earning the trust of Schwarzman and her husband and telling their story in a painstaking and moving way. Her reporting doubtless influenced the city’s decision to install a new bike lane where the crash happened.
“The same is true for the portraits Emilie crafts of young men cut down in their prime during street shoot-outs. Emilie goes out of her way to find out as much as she can about the victim, writing sensitive profiles that don’t skirt around the grim realities, but do provide some solace for families and the community.
“These stories represent local journalism at its best: demonstrating a knowledge of, and laser focus on, the community we serve, and delving into the nuances and local implications of stories that the regional or national media might bypass.”
SPJ NorCal’s honor reflects what Berkeleyside readers are all too aware of: the value Raguso brings to Berkeleyside and to Berkeley. There is a near-constant flow of incoming praise to Berkeleyside for her reporting and responsiveness.
Berkeleyside was the winner of SPJ NorCal Excellence in Journalism awards for Community Journalism in 2013 and 2014. In 2016, Berkeleyside’s Frances Dinkelspiel and Emilie Raguso won an Excellence in Journalism award in the Explanatory Journalism category from SPJ NorCal for their inaugural package on homelessness, which was part of a Bay Area-wide effort to cover the subject.
Raguso will be presented with the Journalist of the Year award at the Excellence in Journalism awards dinner Nov. 9 at the City Club in San Francisco, where she will be accompanied by her proud Berkeleyside teammates.