Ally Markovich. Credit: Ximena Natera, Berkeleyside/CatchLight

Berkeleyside Education reporter Ally Markovich, City Hall reporter Nico Savidge and Housing and Homeless reporter Supriya Yelimeli have won 2022 excellence awards from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Markovich won both the Outstanding Emerging Journalist award and an award for Ongoing Coverage, SPJ NorCal announced Monday. This is the second year in a row that a Berkeleyside reporter has been recognized as the outstanding emerging journalist of the year. Last year, Housing and Homeless reporter Supriya Yelimeli was the honoree.

Savidge and Yelimeli won for Explanatory Journalism for their deep dive into how Berkeley will create 9,000 new homes by 2031.

“This is exciting news and well-deserved recognition for all three hard-working reporters,” said Pamela Turntine, Berkeleyside editor-in-chief.

As the Outstanding Emerging Journalist, Markovich was recognized by SPJ for a series of stories including an investigation into how Berkeley High administrators failed to protect generations of students who accused a chemistry teacher of sexual misconduct. The district superintendent ultimately signed a gag order allowing the teacher to resign quietly. It took four months of reporting, including cultivating confidential sources and, ultimately, the threat of a lawsuit by Berkeleyside, for Markovich to publish this investigation, which won a James Madison Freedom of Information Award earlier this year.

In another reporting project, Markovich delved into school district data to evaluate the disproportionate enrollment of Black and Latino students in special education. The story blends academic discussion, historical context, and data visualizations to zero in on the question of how students are being failed in Berkeley — providing a framework for parents hoping to hold the district to account.  

Markovich has shown a penchant for hard-hitting stories, but she also has a knack for feature writing, which she aptly demonstrated in a beautiful profile of a retiring swim instructor who was a local legend in the recreational swim community.  

She was also recognized for Ongoing Coverage of her reporting on how the Berkeley Unified School District mishandled sexual misconduct cases.

“I’m honored to be recognized for this award and grateful to Berkeleyside for supporting my growth as a journalist,” Markovich said. “I’ve had time to devote to under-reported stories and mentorship to help me do it right which, in journalism, is a rare gift. Thank you to my editor, Zac Farber, especially for the coaching and SPJ for the honor.”

Markovich joined Berkeleyside as a full-time employee in November 2021, but had worked as a freelancer for the newsroom since 2020.

Although she has only been a full-time journalist for two years, Markovich has already mastered the complexities of her education beat.

“Markovich is a tenacious and versatile reporter who forms deep bonds of trust with her sources,” said Berkeleyside Managing Editor Zac Farber. “Her approach to her work is thoughtful and nuanced, always rooted in people’s experiences. And each day at Berkeleyside she lets fly a volley of incisive questions — her curiosity stemming from a desire to better understand how systems work and how decisions are made.” 

It wasn’t always clear Markovich would become a journalist. She landed her first bylines in The New York Times and The Washington Post as a college junior, then headed to Ukraine (the country of her birth) for a summer internship at the Kyiv Post, writing about corruption, secret detention centers and political polarization. But, after graduating, she became a high school English teacher — first in Mississippi, next in Trenton, New Jersey, then in Oakland. 

By her third year of teaching, she had come to realize that her true interest lay in the larger education policy questions around charter schools, testing, funding and how to close the opportunity gap. So she decided to return to writing, and, about a year after she started freelancing for Berkeleyside, we brought her onto the team full-time. 

Our readers routinely thank her for her work, praising her “persistent,” “thorough and balanced,” “invaluable” reporting on emotionally charged topics such as pandemic protocols, union contracts and integration plans. She’s also written deep-dives on how the climate crisis is taught in classrooms, and why it took so long to arrest a student whose classmates reported he was planning a mass shooting. 

A deep examination into Berkeley’s commitment to build new housing

In their award-winning reporting, Savidge and Yelimeli dug into how Berkeley would attempt to meet its goal of building 9,000 new housing units by 2031, as outlined in the Housing Element of the city’s General Plan. The two examined the issue from many different angles, explaining what the Housing Element is, and addressing several essential questions, including: who creates the Housing Element, how local resident can get involved, how Berkeley’s plan fits into the Bay Area’s housing and homelessness crises, and how it addresses Berkeley’s history of segregation.

“We’re grateful to be recognized for this work, and hope readers found it helpful in understanding how the Housing Element process will affect Berkeleyans in the years to come,” Savidge said.

“City housing processes can be complicated and dry, but we were excited to try and demystify some of it based on reader questions. We learned a lot and hope our readers did too,” said Yelimeli.

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