By Timothy Lane, Staff Writer

March 8, 2023

Eleni Economides Gastis, Chair of Laney College’s Journalism Department, has been awarded the James Madison Freedom of Information Beverly Kees Educator Award by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Northern California chapter. 

Gastis is being recognized for her leadership and for teaching as the faculty advisor to The Citizen, an entirely student-run online news publication covering the Peralta Community College District (PCCD). The publication recently received a James Madison Freedom of Information Award for its ongoing coverage of PCCD’s oversight of contracting, expenditures, facility maintenance, and public safety. 

The Indianapolis-based SPJ is a non-profit organization dedicated to support, encouragement, and ethical practice in journalism. Its 6,000 members advocate for freedom of information, First Amendment rights, and the safety of journalists. It is organized into nearly 250 regional chapters across the United States and territories with virtual chapters across the globe.

Gastis, a 2004 graduate of San Francisco State University, began her career in journalism with the Bay Area News Group and the San Francisco Examiner, where she covered local governments, culture, and crime. She began teaching at Laney in 2011, and became full-time faculty in 2015. In 2019 she took over as faculty facilitator for PCCD’s student-run publication – at the time called The Laney Tower –  and spearheaded the effort to update and revitalize it to meet industry standards. The publication was rebranded as The Citizen in November 2019.

The Citizen reached out to Mark Johnson, PCCD’s Executive Director for Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations for comment from the district. Johnson provided a statement from the district that is included below.

“The Peralta Community College District is pleased whenever members of our amazing faculty are recognized and honored by communities in their areas of expertise. Faculty at Berkeley City College, College of Alameda, Laney College, and Merritt College are made up of experts and seasoned professionals – professors who love to teach. Our students benefit greatly when taught by these outstanding faculty members, which certainly includes Professor Gastis.” 

Johnson also passed on Interim Deputy Chancellor Stephanie Droker’s congratulations in the statement.

“Congratulations, Eleni! Well-deserved!” Droker said. 

Johnson also expressed his personal congratulations to Gastis and staff members of The Citizen that recently appeared on local Fox station KTVU-2 to talk about the award and promote the journalism program at Laney College.

“I’d also like to applaud Professor Gastis and student journalists Shiloh Johnston and Ken Lester for their appearance on KTVU in a delightful interview celebrating student journalism at Laney College. The promotion of community college education, particularly at Laney College, and particularly in journalism, is greatly appreciated. Well done!”

Gastis will receive the award at the SPJ NorCal James Madison Freedom of Information Awards Ceremony in San Francisco on March 16, 2023.