Valley journalists win Gruner Prizes for public service

Sergio Cortes / The Collegian Online

Six reporters at five San Joaquin Valley newspapers have won 2010 George F. Gruner Prizes for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

The awards for work published in 2009 were announced Monday at the annual Gruner Prizes banquet at the Smittcamp Alumni House at California State University, Fresno.

This year’s winners are:

Steven Mayer and Gretchen Wenner of The Bakersfield Californian. Their articles on a Kern County agency that manages health care for the poor revealed serious mismanagement of funds and inappropriate spending that led to greater county oversight of the agency and the resignation of its chief financial officer.

Brad Branan of The Fresno Bee.
His coverage of embezzlement charges against executives of a foster-care agency demonstrated Fresno County’s ongoing use of the agency and lack of attention to the founders’ activities, even after their convictions. The county later withdrew all business from the agency and installed a new policy requiring contractors to disclose criminal convictions.

Rebecca Plevin of Vida en el Valle. She wrote a three-part series on the environmental and health concerns faced by residents of Kettleman City dealing with the possible health consequences of the state’s largest hazardous landfill, which is located nearby.

Valerie Gibbons of the Visalia Times-Delta. During the economic crisis and when many Tulare County employees had salaries reduced, she discovered that county supervisors had quietly voted to give themselves a raise. Her reporting led the supervisors to rescind the raise and promise to provide greater documentation of future raises.

Vanessa Rakis-Garabedian of The Sanger Herald. Her six-page special section profiled cancer patients and their families, offering hope and encouragement to readers and a resource for community members who deal with the disease.

Each award carries a $500 prize. The Fresno Bee and the parent McClatchy Company provide funds for the awards and banquet.

Fresno State’s Department of Mass Communication and Journalism coordinates the Gruner competition, named for a Fresno Bee executive editor who retired in 1988.

For more information, contact Don Priest, a Fresno State mass communication and journalism professor, at 559.278.2087 or

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