2021 Orange County Press Club Awards: Video Announcement, In Memoriam and Winners List

The Orange County Press Club welcomes members to view a virtual presentation of the 2021 Excellence in Journalism award recipients. An in-person awards gala is scheduled to return in 2022.

Announcement Video

In Memoriam Video

Full Winners List


Best News Story

First place: Scott Schwebke

¨Even in the #MeToo age, this woman got nowhere trying to fight back against harassment,¨ Daily Breeze


Second place: Meghann Cuniff

¨Amid an increasing homeless population, Santa Ana fights with Orange County over jail releases,¨ Daily Pilot


Third place: Erika Ritchie

¨Two investigations underway to find cause of Marine Corps’ deadliest AAV training accident,¨ OC Register


Best News Feature Story

First place: Brandon Pho

“In South OC’s Wealthy, Mostly White School District, Students of Color Tell Stories of Racism, Harassment and Inaction,” Voice of OC


Second place: Erika Ritchie

“A year after Marine disappears on High Sierra hike, family still unsure of what happened,” OC Register


Third place: Scott Schwebke

“After 36 years and a troubled life, transgender veteran finally wins honorable discharge,” LA Daily News


Honorable Mention: Roxana Kopetman

“Vietnamese refugee convicted of murder is free after 23 years, faces possible deportation,” OC Register


Best Breaking News Story

First place: Noah Beisiada, Nick Gerda

¨Silverado Canyon Burns Again As Bond Fire Erupts Under High Winds,¨ Voice of OC


Second place: Andrew Turner

¨Baseball community mourns the death of Orange Coast College coach John Altobelli,¨ Daily Pilot 


Third place: Nick Gerda

¨OC to Ban all Public and Private Gatherings Under Emergency Health Order,¨ Voice of OC


Best Investigative Story

First place: Joe Nelson and Scott Schwebke

“Embattled Rialto Water District awards contracts to friends of new president,” San Bernardino Sun


Second place: Noah Biesiada

“The Great Park Tax: How Irvine Homeowners are Paying for the City’s Big Dream,” Voice of OC


Third place: Hannah Fry

“Kobe Bryant’s pilot had been disciplined by FAA,” LA Times


Best Series 

First place: Keith Sharon

“Loud in the Silence” series, OC Register


Second place: Joe Nelson and Scott Schwebke 

Series on the Rialto Water District, San Bernardino Sun


Third place: Norberto Santana Jr.

Series on the unemployed during the pandemic, Voice of OC


Best Beat Reporting 

First place: Jeff Collins

Housing and real estate, OC Register


Second place: Spencer Custodio

Angel Stadium sale, Voice of OC


Third place: Scott Schwebke

Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, LA Daily News


Honorable Mention: Deepa Bharath

Religion, OC Register


Best Public Affairs Story

First place: Beau Yarbrough

“Is a minimum 664 training hours enough to become a California police officer?” OC Register


Second place: Daniel Langhorne

“After swimmer deaths, OC Parks studies new gate for Table Rock Beach Access,” Laguna Beach Independent


Third place: Tony Saavedra

“Spate of deputy misconduct cases casts harsh spotlight on OC Sheriff’s Department,” OC Register

Judges’ Comments: “A very good explanation of an important concern.”


Best Feature Story

First place: Jonah Valdez and Ruby Gonzales

“First robbed of freedom by enslavement, then robbed of life by coronavirus,” OC Register


Second place: Sara Cardine

“Goat herd helps clear up a hillside headache at OC fairgrounds amphitheater,” Daily Pilot


Third place: Shawn Price

“Dialogue on Diversity and Racism with Multiracial Families,” Parenting OC


Honorable Mention: Gabriel San Román

“He was one of the first black cops in O.C. His memoir reveals struggles with racism and why he was forced out,” Daily Pilot


Best COVID-19 Feature Story

TIE: First place: Peter Lefevre

“What Do Local Performing Artists Do While They Wait to Get Back Onstage?” Voice of OC


TIE: First place: Norberto Santana Jr.

“Santana: Latinos in Santa Ana and Anaheim Confront a Day of The Dead Unlike Any Other,” Voice of OC


Second place: Deepa Bharath

“Hospital chaplains fill role of surrogate family members during times of isolation, depression, death,” OC Register


Best COVID-19 Fallout Story

First place: Jessica Peralta

“Can Pets Get COVID-19?” Parenting OC


Second place: Christopher Trela

Executive Dining, OC Business Journal


Third place: Shawn Price

“Mom Power— Giving Birth to Premature Twins During the Pandemic,” Parenting OC


Honorable Mention: Susan Christian Goulding

“Voiceless victims of coronavirus: Quarantined nursing homes plagued by stress and loneliness,” OC Register


Best COVID-19 Investigative Story or Series 

First place: Spencer Custodio, Nick Gerda and Noah Biesiada

“The Downplaying of Orange County’s Coronavirus Numbers”


Second place: Spencer Custodio and Brandon Pho

“Hospital Workers Ring Alarm Bells, Say Fountain Valley Hospital Could be Coronavirus Hotspot”


Third place: Ian Wheeler

“Lapses in state coronavirus data cause false plunge in Orange County case rates”


Best Election Coverage 

First place: Collin Breaux and Lillian Boyd

The Capistrano Dispatch/Dana Point Times 


Best Public Demonstration Story

First place: Brandon Pho and Julie Leopo

“Orange County Coastal Enclave Becomes Ground Zero of Police Violence Controversy and Protests,” Voice of OC


Best Round-Up or Best Of

First place: Brad A. Johnson

“Where to eat in Orange County in 2020: A map of the best places,” OC Register


Second place: Edwin Goei

“How an O.C. food critic navigates takeout and drive-throughs during the pandemic,” Daily Pilot


Third place: Anne Valdespino

“Perfect gift for the pandemic holidays? California’s fanciest chocolates,” OC Register


Best Business Story

First place: Jeff Collins

“Untethered from the office, urban tenants are flocking to the Inland Empire,” OC Register


Best Sports Story

First place: Kyle Goon

“For Lakers support staff, the bubble has been a frantic, collaborative effort,” OC Register


Second place: Andrew Turner

“Tony Ciarelli left his mark on high school track and field,” Daily Pilot


Third place: Richard Dunn

“Neither COVID-19 nor brain cancer can stop Jay Hewitt from completing an Ironman Triathlon,” OC Register 


Best Arts/Culture Story

First place: Joel Beers

“Stages Theatre, a Mainstay for 28 Years on the Local Theater Scene, Closes Its Doors,” Voice of OC


Second place: Roxana Kopetman

“When a Christmas tip leads to a story about family, work and music,” OC Register


Third place: Kristina Garcia

“Black Student Union Members from Garden Grove High Find Their Voice and Purpose,” Voice of OC


Best Arts/Culture Review

First place: Paul Hodgins

“Hodgins: ‘She Loves Me’ Serves as a Fine Directorial Debut,” Voice of OC


Second place: Liz Goldner

“New Exhibit Dirty Elements Subverts Classic Art Tropes,” Irvine Weekly


Third place: Laura Bleiberg

“American Ballet Theatre Takes Us to Ancient Greece in ‘Of Love and Rage’,” Voice of OC


Best Music/Entertainment Story

First place: Peter Larsen

“Jimmy Angel’s an 85-year-old teen idol with tales to tell of Pat Boone, a lucky teddy bear and the mob,” OC Register


Second place: Kelli Skye Fadroski

“No Doubt talks ‘Tragic Kingdom’ at 25: The tears, tours and triumphs behind the classic album,” OC Register


Third place: Kelli Skye Fadroski

“Tom Morello talks Chris Cornell, Rage Against the Machine’s first gig ahead of new release,” OC Register


Best Music/Entertainment Review

First place: Peter Larsen

“Patti Smith brings passion and poetry to the LA Phil’s Power To The People! festival,” OC Register


Second place: Kelli Skye Fadroski

“What it was like to see Andrew McMahon perform a concert to socially distanced fans at Drive-In OC,” OC Register


Third place: Simone Goldstone

“Soundcheck: Queen Tribute Band Reigns Supreme at OC Fairgrounds,” Newport Beach Independent


Best Health/Wellness Story

First place: Susan Christian Goulding

“COVID survivors already fight stigma and worry Trump’s diagnosis will make it worse,” OC Register


Second place: Deepa Bharath

“Have coronavirus shutdowns, restrictions spawned a mental health crisis?” OC Register


Best Environmental News Story

First place: Brandon Pho

“Annual High Tide Spurs Concerns About Future Safety of San Onofre Nuclear Waste Stock Near South OC,” Voice of OC


Second place: Sara Cardine

“Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park Wetlands, once seen as a boon, bogged down by deficiencies,” Daily Pilot


Third place: Brandon Pho

“Conservationists Split Over Poseidon Desal Project’s Potential to Help Bolsa Chica Wetlands,” Voice of OC


Best Education Story

First place: Sara Cardine

“Push for reopening Orange County schools without masks has pro-charter school links,” Daily Pilot


Second place: Andrew Turner

“‘You can’t see through the masks the smiles’: Students return to class in Laguna Beach,” Daily Pilot


Best Food/Restaurant Story

First place: Bradley Zint

“Any way you slice it, a cheesemonger’s profession is serious business,” Daily Pilot


Second place: Roy Rivenburg

“Will the pandemic hurt the candy-industrial complex?” LA Times


Third place: Anne Valdespino

“Local chefs are turning to Instagram to sell directly to consumers,” OC Register


Best Food/Restaurant Review

First place: Brad A. Johnson

OC’s Best Places to Eat 2020: And the Restaurant of the Year is…” OC Register


Second place: Edwin Goei

“Review: As restaurants pivot to delivery, this food reviewer tests out local delivery-only ‘ghost kitchens,’” Daily Pilot


Third place: Edwin Goei

“Review: La Farola Empanadas moves from the back of a Tustin liquor store to its own restaurant in Costa Mesa,” Daily Pilot


Best Travel Story

First place: Jessica Kwong

“Travel: Downtown Miami comes alive for Super Bowl LIV,” OC Register


Second place: Erika Ritchie

“Travel: Mammoth Mountain opens up after coronavirus shutdown,” OC Register


Best Profile

First place: Deepa Bharath 

“Pastor builds huge TikTok following by sharing passion for chai and spiritual conversation,” OC Register


Second place: Peter Larsen

“Nearly 98, this man shook President Truman’s hand, befriended Dr. Seuss and Stan Lee and hasn’t stopped dancing,” OC Register


Third place: Susan Christian Goulding 

“Los Alamitos councilman slammed for racist email in 2009 faces Black colleague in reelection bid,” OC Register


David McQuay Award for Best Columnist 

First place: Patrice Apodaca

Daily Pilot


Second place: Norberto Santana Jr.

Voice of OC


Third place: Brad A. Johnson

OC Register


Marjorie Freeman Award for Best Humorous Story

First place: Susan Christian Goulding

“Chad and JT’s excellent adventure: Comics make viral video about Surf City’s ‘mask shortage,’” OC Register


Second place: Gabriel San Román

“‘You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time:’ ‘Combating Coronavirus’ comedy provides much-needed levity,” Daily Pilot


Third place: Mark Crantz

“Applesauced,” Laguna Beach Independent




Best News Story

First place: Greg Mellen

“Tustin’s police recruits remain dedicated to agency’s community policing, public safety mission,” Behind the Badge


Best Feature Story

First place: Greg Mellen

“CUSD student was finalist for Boys and Girls Clubs national award,” CUSD Insider


Second place: Elysse James

“Capo Valley High counselor recognized as High School Counselor of the Year,” CUSD Insider


Third place: Greg Mellen

“Aviation student set to soar at Tesoro High,” CUSD Insider 


Best COVID-19 Coverage 

First place: Elysse James

CUSD Insider


Second place: Cindy Arora

Behind the Badge


Best Music/Entertainment Story or Review

First place: Jessica Peralta

“Candle House Collective Creates Connections, One Creepy Call at a Time,” Halloween Every Night


Second place: Richard Chang

“UCI Music Professor Uses Technology to Build Bridges,” UC Irvine


Third place: Daniella Litvak

“Fireflies @ South Coast Repertory – Review,” the Orange Curtain Review 


Best Arts/Culture Story or Review

First place: Brad A. Johnson

“Hotel Review: Cara, Los Angeles,” Brad A. Johnson, Food & Travel


Second place: Gabriel San Román

“Santa Ana Artist Reflects on Día de los Muertos with ‘And Still I Rise’ Installation,” Libromobile 


Third place: Patty Marsters

“ICT streams performance of ‘Daisy,’ starting Oct. 24,” LW Weekly 


Best Food/Restaurant Story or Review

First place: Brad A. Johnson

“The Disappearing Art & Rhythm of Chinese Tea in Hong Kong,” Brad A. Johnson, Food & Travel




Best Video

First place: Jose Hernandez

“May 30, 2020, Orange County Protests,” Voice of OC


Second place: Jose Hernandez
“Annual High Tide Spurs Concerns About Future Safety of San Onofre Nuclear Waste Stock Near South OC,” Voice of OC


Third place: Shawn Price

“Summoning the Ghost of Jacob Marley,” Halloween Every Night


Best Use of Multimedia

First place: Jessica Peralta

“Maverick Theater’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’: These Zombies Really Can’t Be Killed,” Halloween Every Night


Best Use of Data

First place: Brooke Staggs, Ian Wheeler and Alicia Robinson

“How Did Your Neighbor Vote?” OC Register

at illustrated the data were clear, colorful and useful. The graphics told the story of the data.”  


Best Audience Engagement/Use of Social Media

First place: Norberto Santana Jr., Spencer Custodio and Sonya Quick

Voice of OC


Second place: Brad A. Johnson 


Third place: Jessica Peralta

Halloween Every Night 




Best Graphic

First place: Sonya Quick

Hate Crimes, Voice of OC


Second place: Nicole Lavanier

Escape the Overlook, Halloween Every Night


Third place: Sonya Quick (with James Gordon and Jacob LaGesse)

Live Election Results, Voice of OC


Best COVID-19 Graphics

First place: Jeff Goertzen, Kurt Snibbe and Nikie Johnson

Evolution of a Pandemic, OC Register


Second place: Sonya Quick, Caitlin Bartusick and Nick Gerda

Orange County CA Coronavirus Tracker (among several submitted), Voice of OC


Third place: Kaz Fantone

“This Is a Public Service Announcement—With Ghouls,” Halloween Every Night


Best Illustration

First place: Justin Pakneshan

Thriller, Halloween Every Night


Second place: Justin Pakneshan

Millicent Patrick, Halloween Every Night


Third place: Jenna Red

Edward Scissorhands, Halloween Every Night


Honorable Mention: Ashley Oliman

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, Halloween Every Night




Best News Photo

First place: Julie Leopo

Photo of Elsa Hernandez, Voice of OC


Second place: Lillian Boyd

Photo from BLM protest, Dana Point Times


Third place: Richard Koehler

Photo of pedestrian killed in hit and run, OC Register


Best Feature Photo

First place: John Fredricks

Photo of the Bond Fire, Epoch Times 


Second place: Brad A. Johnson

Photo of tom yum with fresh water lobster, OC Register


Third place: John Fredricks

Photo of Kwami Adzitso, Epoch Times


Best COVID-19 Coverage

First place: Steven Georges

Behind the Badge


Best Portrait

First place: Omar Sanchez

Photo of Reyna and Nina Gonzalas, Voice of OC


Second place: Julie Leopo

Photo of Joyce Perry, Voice of OC


Third place: Brad A. Johnson

Photo of Chef Susumu li at Sushi li, OC Register


Best Photo Essay or Slideshow

First place: Steven Georges

First Responder Gratitude Tour, Behind the Badge


Second place: Julie Leopo

Photos of a grocery truck, Voice of OC


Third place: Brad A. Johnson

Photos of best donuts, OC Register



The Real O.C. Award is given to the story, review, feature, column, photo or broadcast/video that best captures something special, surprising, telling or essential about Orange County. 


First place: Gabriel San Román

“The Fantasies of Ole Hanson, San Clemente’s Founding Father,” Gustavo Arellano’s Weekly


Second place: Brad A. Johnson

“Critic’s Notebook: Why I’m rating restaurants for their COVID-19 response,” OC Register


Third place: Brandon Pho, Julie Leopo

“In Wake of Raucous Protests, Santa Ana Residents Rally Around Clean Up,” Voice of OC

Posted in Awards, News.