Journalism alumni win host of awards in 2012

School of Journalism alumni won a variety of awards in 2012 contests, the citations given for a broad range of work that includes news coverage of race and gender, investigative reporting and digital story-telling.

Rocio Zamora, an associate producer at NBC Dateline in Los Angeles and a 2007 graduate; Lata Pandya, of KCET and a 2009 graduate, Brian Frank, web editor at KCET, and class of 2009, and Jenee Darden, Mental Health and Wellness Radio reporter in Oakland, Calif., and a 2006 graduate, are among the first graduates of the school to benefit from curriculum changes that increasingly train USC Annenberg students across platforms. All earned master’s degrees from the school.

“This kind of recognition for our terrific graduates is a wonderful affirmation of our commitment to ensuring that every Annenberg student learns not only how to tell stories across platforms, but how to think entrepreneurially and cover diverse communities,” said Geneva Overholser, director of the school. “Every year, we are expanding the opportunities for our students to be part of reinventing journalism in our learning labs, our innovation lab and through collaborative efforts with other USC schools and L.A. media partners. Congratulations, Rocio, Jenee, Lata and Brian!”

Darden won a 2012 New America Media award for “Outstanding Community Reporting-Radio.” She won the $300 award for her podcast, “Dark Girls Documentary and the Psychological Effects of Colorism.” In her report for Mental Health and Wellness, Darden explored the issues of race and its effects on darker-hued women in the black community worldwide.

Mental Health and Wellness is a public-radio style podcast that explores issues surrounding mental health and ways to maintain wellness. Host and show creator Darden brings listeners diverse guests to discuss personal stories of mental-health recovery, legislation impacting consumers (people who use mental health services), mental health consumer advocacy, wellness, culture and more. Mental Health and Wellness Radio is a media product of the Oakland nonprofit PEERS, which stands for Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services, a consumer-run organization that advocates for and empowers people with mental health challenges.

Frank won a Los Angeles Press Club Award for working on a top-to-bottom website redesign of KCET’s popular SoCal Connected news show. In the revamped site, he worked with designers to introduce graphic elements from the on-air show to match the look and feel, and he assisted in improving the site navigation and video viewing experience.

He previously shared a DuPont-Columbia Award in 2009 with other KCET staffers for a months-long investigation into the way FEMA flood maps are drawn, resulting at times in higher insurance rates for homeowners who see hardly a raindrop each year. In putting together an interactive map to complement the main story, Frank discovered a controversial flood map that was improperly withheld from the public. The KCET series of stories helped win the team of journalists, including Frank, the award.

Frank also serves as the editor of OJR, the Online Journalism Review, housed at USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism.

Zamora shared with KCET colleagues the Los Angeles Press Club’s 2012 Golden Mike Award for the first of a four-part series “The Junketeer.” Zamora served as an associate producer on the award-winning story along with Lata Pandya, another Annenberg alumna, and was in charge of sorting through mountains of data, crunching numbers, and finding out where the biggest fiscal grievances were. The series concluded, according to KCET’s news release following the series, that the city’s housing authority was an agency out of control and accountable to no one. In the end, the head of the Housing Authority, Ken Simmons, was fired from his job just eight months after his predecessor, Rudy Montiel had also been ousted.

The series also won the Press Club’s “Public Service Award” for the last three parts of the series, with Zamora serving as a producer for those reports.

Pandya, who shared in the Los Angeles Press Club’s “Public Service” award to KCET’s housing authority series, also won the Press Club’s award for Talk and Public Affairs, Entertainment category. “It’s an honor to win these awards,” said Pandya, “but an even greater honor to earn them alongside my distinguished colleagues at SoCal Connected.”