The founders of Voices of Monterey Bay — the VOMB Squad — were honored as recipients of the Ralph B. Atkinson Award for Civil Liberties by the Monterey County chapter of the ACLU during a streaming ceremony on Sunday.
The award cited the VOMB Squad’s “efforts to maintain a free and independent press in Monterey County and to stand up for our unabridged First Amendment Rights.” The Atkinson Award has been presented by the ACLU annually since 1977.
In addition to handsome plaques delivered to the recipients — Julie Reynolds Martinez, Claudia Meléndez Salinas, Kathryn McKenzie and Joe Livernois — the ACLU gathered certificates of recognition from Rep. Jimmy Panetta, state Sens. John Laird and Anna Caballero and Assemblymembers Robert Rivas and Mark Stone.
The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Eduardo Ochoa, who told about four dozen attendees that “a thriving democracy relies on the press to tell the stories of those who do not have the social influence to directly affect our community, to bring light to the realities of the human condition and to articulate the effects of policymakers’ decisions. As a watchdog for democracy, the press holds our leaders and our brokers accountable for their actions and helps to encourage them to follow through on their commitments.”
Caballero, who appeared at the event to make the presentation, said she regrets the steady erosion of local news organizations, and praised VOMB’s founders for its efforts.
“As an elected official, we write the press releases and it’s a lot easier if it’s printed without any questions,” Caballero said. “It’s done all the time. And I’m not saying that I need somebody to come and ask me critical and tough questions, but it’s a better story — a challenge to the public — if they hear different sides
“It’s not enough to just print a press release. Our system of government is stronger and people are better citizens if they share information, criticize its assumptions, argue about the solutions and come to some common understanding about next steps. We can’t get there without journalists who believe in free speech … who ask tough questions and who are willing to invest the time and effort necessary to tell a really coherent story even if it makes people uncomfortable.”
Former state Sen. Bill Monning praised the VOMB Squad’s annual Youth Media Project, a free journalism bootcamp held each summer for high school students in the Salinas Valley. “I sometimes feel like our First Amendment and real journalism is on life support,” he said. “And this recognition today I think instills a sense of possibility and a continuation, particularly the mentorships that (Voices editors) are providing to younger students and those who aspire to become journalists. It’s so critical now more than ever.”
Watch the entire program here:
View this post on Instagram
Cover illustration by ACLU Monterey County
Have something to say about this story? Send us a letter or leave a comment below.