Peralta Community College District’s only student-run publication was awarded for its transparency and consistency in reporting on Peralta’s security transitions

March 23, 2022

By Leticia Luna, Editor in Chief

The 37th annual James Madison Freedom of Information Awards were announced on Wednesday, March 16th, by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ Norcal). The award highlights individuals and organizations that are dedicated to maintaining the power of the First Amendment of the American Constitution, freedom of speech. The Citizen received the Student Journalism award alongside Freddy Brewster and Katie Licari from UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and other professional journalists such as Ally Markovich, from Berkeleyside.  

The award was given to the Citizen because of the publication’s extensive reporting on the Peralta Community College District’s selection of security firms after the Board of Trustees did not renew the district’s contract with the Alameda County Sheriffs’ Office in 2020. According to the SPJ Norcal press release about the award, this reporting “would have gone uncovered,” and the fact that two of the four community based security vendors were operating unlicensed would have never been public.

Most of this reporting was done by Associate Editor, David Rowe, and Opinion Editor, Pamela Rudd. Jacquelyn Opalach, Ryan Barba, and Luke Wrin Piper, who served as Editors in Chief during the year-and-a-half-long coverage, shepherded the publication’s articles. 

Citizen reporter, Rudd emphasizes the “honor” of working with a news team that is, “so committed to first amendment rights and to speaking truth to power,” adding, 

“Who would have thought that transparency would be so illusive on a college campus, where education is meant to encourage inquiry, critical thinking, and the pursuit of truth.” 

As a returning student, Rowe acknowledges a feeling of fortune to be in “such a great journalism program and to have the opportunity to cover this fascinating story.”

During the course of this reporting, the Citizen filed multiple California Public Records Act requests to the PCCD, unveiling a pattern in the district. 

“The efforts of our administration to hide the facts and the veiled threats issued by those who stood to lose their contracts gave me invaluable insights into the challenges faced by investigative journalists in today’s world,” Rowe said. 

This reporting questioned many of the district’s procedures, and although the reporting was acclaimed by journalists regionally and locally, the Citizen team felt the need to respond to criticism by authoring the editorial entitled A Letter to Peralta, where Wrin Piper and Managing Editor at the time, Leticia Luna, had to explain the intentions of the reporting.  

“We believe in transparency above all else. That was the motivating principle behind our newsroom response,” Wrin Piper said. “An award like this is a fantastic reassurance from the journalistic community. We’re a small team with varying degrees of experience, and Pam and David have proven themselves to be truly expert watchdogs.” 

The Citizen’s coverage of the Peralta Security continues on the grounds of transparency and freedom of information. In the latest article on the subject, Rowe investigates the memorandum of understanding (MOUs) between the district and the local police departments.