Voices honored with two journalism awards Society of Professional Journalists recognizes MILPA investigation and student media project

Voices of Monterey Bay has been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists with two Northern California Excellence in Journalism awards. The awards were announced today.

Voices won a Best Investigative Reporting award for a story that uncovered prison gang ties to a Salinas community organization known as MILPA, and it took the top award in the Student Special Project category for stories published by Salinas Valley high school student participants in the 2020 Young Voices Media Project.

“We are thrilled our good work has been recognized by SPJ,” said Joe Livernois, a Voices founding editor. “We believe our story about MILPA helped change the culture in that organization. And we are especially proud of the Young Voices journalists who worked through the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic to produce work worthy of notice by professional journalists on the West Coast.”

In fact, the student stories recognized by SPJ included three tales specific to hardships suffered during the pandemic. They included:

Young Voices has been a signature project for Voices of Monterey Bay since its inception, and it has trained more than three dozen teen journalists during intensive two-week summer programs in which students are expected to research, write and edit their own stories, in their own voices.

Claudia Meléndez Salinas directs the program, and Voices of Monterey Bay journalists serve as mentors and editors. All three winning students were mentored by Kathryn McKenzie. Also assisting in 2020 were journalists Charlotte West, Eduardo Cuevas and Mara Reynolds. The stories were edited by Paul Hersh and Christy Hoffknecht. The Young Voices Media Project has been made possible by a generous grant from the Claire Giannini Fund.

For its investigative team, Voices of Monterey Bay was honored by the Northern California chapter of SPJ for How a criminal organization took control of a nonprofit community group in Salinas,” a look at how the Nuestra Familia attempted to infiltrate MILPA, the more familiar name for a Salinas organization called Motivating Individual Leadership for Public Advancement. That story ran in some form in Voices, The Monterey County Weekly and KSBW-TV in October 2019.

The story was earlier honored with an award by the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. Since the story ran, MILPA made changes to its leadership and hired an independent auditor to lead a review of the organization.

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Voices of Monterey Bay is a nonprofit online news source serving California's Central Coast.

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