Berkeleyside wins 2 awards for excellence in journalism

Supriya Yelimeli and Doug Ng were recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists for their outstanding work in 2021.

The Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists announced Thursday that Berkeleyside has won two awards for excellence in journalism.

Supriya Yelimeli was recognized as an “outstanding emerging journalist” for a trio of stories she wrote in 2021 reporting on “Berkeley’s racist zoning history, the death of a homeless veteran of the U.S. Navy who had hoped to become a music producer, and how the school district handled reopening schools during the pandemic.”

Doug Ng, news platforms director for Cityside, Berkeleyside’s nonprofit parent organization, won in the web/mobile design category for his work creating an interactive story format for a project exploring how businesses on Telegraph Avenue had fared a year after the pandemic. Ng designed the story around a scrollable map, allowing readers to travel from Downtown Oakland to the foot of UC Berkeley in a digital walking tour.

Yelimeli, who began her career as a professional journalist in 2018, joined Berkeleyside as a staff reporter in May 2020. She has proven she can write complex stories on controversial topics in an engaging and understandable style. She takes the time and effort to dig deep into stories and reaches out to sources who are the most impacted by laws and life.

As Berkeley Unified came under increasing pressure because of school closures during the height of the pandemic, Yelimeli wrote about whether schools should reopen. Using a protest as a news hook, she examined the competing claims about whether in-person learning was safe or not, revealing the economic and racial divides exposed by the fight.

In February, Yelimeli used a city council measure to examine how Berkeley invented single-family zoning as a tool of racial exclusion and the steps the city was considering to rectify that history and knock down existing barriers to equality.

Yelimeli’s desire to give a face to marginalized and homeless people was evident in the story she wrote about Kiovionni LaRoyce Lyles. The news story is an ode to a once-unidentified young man found dead in a tent in People’s Park. But, instead of reporting the death as just another drug overdose, Yelimeli sought out the man’s friends and family and revealed the complexity of the 28-year-old music producer and Navy veteran’s life. 

“I’m grateful to Berkeleyside for prioritizing stories about people who were most deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and creating a space to focus on equity and race in housing coverage,” Yelimeli said. “A huge thank you to SPJ for recognizing these efforts.”

Telegraph Avenue

The Telegraph Avenue project was the first collaboration between Berkeleyside and its sister news site, The Oaklandside. Its well-crafted design features video, text and photos overlaid seamlessly onto a Google Maps interface.

“Our team … wanted people to visually feel like they were making the journey down Telegraph.”

Doug Ng, Cityside news platform director

“Our team had a lot of great ideas about how they imagined people would read the story,” Ng said. “They wanted people to visually feel like they were making the journey down Telegraph. The Oaklandside’s Amir [Aziz] shot a great video to introduce the piece, and I wanted to find a way to do this for the rest of the story. Mapbox’s interactive storytelling was great at helping us do this.”

Staff contributors on the project included The Oaklandside’s photographer Amir Aziz and reporter Ricky Rodas, along with Berkeleyside reporter Supriya Yelimeli, and Cityside’s Frances Dinkelspiel and Tracey Taylor.

A third-generation Californian, Ng moved to Berkeley after finishing a master’s degree in communication from Pratt School of Design. He designed and built Berkeleyside’s initial website in 2010. He works with both Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside on their design and digital capabilities.

The Oaklandside, Savidge, DeBolt

The Oaklandside also took first place in investigative journalism and commentary.

In the investigative category, The Oaklandside was recognized for its story from July 6, 2020, Did OPD violate its own policies against protesters? We investigated, co-reported by News Editor Darwin BondGraham and contributing reporters Sarah Belle Lin and Jonah Lamb.

The award for best commentary or analysis went to a deeply personal first-person essay The Oaklandside published on Jan. 13, 2021, penned by Oakland-born community advocate John Jones III. The piece, Why is gun violence spiking? An East Oakland native digs into his past and the city’s history to help explainwas painstakingly written by Jones over many weeks. 

Nico Savidge, Berkeleyside’s senior reporter covering City Hall, and David DeBolt, The Oaklandside’s City Hall and policing reporter, won for their work while at the Mercury News. They were among several journalists who won in the breaking news category for coverage of the mass shooting at a San Jose VTA rail yard, where nine people were killed. 

DeBolt was also among several journalists at the Mercury News who took home the trophy in the explanatory journalism category, for their excellent work on the report, How the Bay Area’s COVID Response Failed Latinos.

Since 1909, the Society of Professional Journalists has recognized journalists for their work that “promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry through the daily work of its nearly 10,000 members.”

Pamela Turntine is editor-in-chief of Berkeleyside. Email: pamela@berkeleyside.org.