Norberto Santana, Jr.

A pioneering leader in the nation’s rising nonprofit news movement and an award-winning journalist. Santana has established Voice of OC as Orange County’s civic news leader, uncovered the truths across Southern California governments for more than two decades and reported on Congress and Latin America.

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At Voice of OC, interns have real impact. Right away.

Our training regimen for young journalists is unlike any in our modern field, akin to an old fashioned apprenticeship – it’s rigorous and steeped in training the fundamentals, like public records, documents, interviewing skills, public agency coverage.

It’s no surprise that every single one of our starting reporters today all began as interns.

Their tireless efforts as journalists on behalf of the residents of Orange County keep me in awe on a daily basis and really inspire me to keep this newsroom going as publisher.

They never stop. They were like that as interns. They’re like that as daily reporters.

Thy Vo just shook up the City of Westminster, working as a reporter for a few years to unearth a series of documents through legal challenges that raise some troubling questions about deep corruption at Westminster City Hall.

Thy did the same kind of thing as an intern, starting her work to unearth troubling nepotism in Garden Grove, which ultimately impact the mayor’s election there, unseating longtime incumbent, Bruce Broadwater. As an intern back in 2013, her published work also put a square focus on the speaking fees from pharmaceutical companies received by one of the county’s lead health care agency psychologists, triggering immediate change.

As an intern in 2016, Spencer Custodio was all over former Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz the night he crashed his car on a Fullerton street and got a ride home from the local police department. Felz just recently pled guilty to a count of reckless driving involving alcohol.

That night Spencer was out on the scene as an intern, on his own, taking photos, asking questions. He was relentless on the story for us and later, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed charges.

Today, as our man in South County, Spencer has already delved into some tough budget spending fights in Laguna Niguel, monitored district elections in Lake Forest and led coverage of the veterans’ cemetery battle in Irvine.

As an intern at Voice of OC in 2011, Nick Gerda led the newsroom’s efforts in a joint investigation with PBS So Cal that raised questions about high school sports coaches and equipment kickbacks from an athletic supply company.

Since taking over the county beat and the City of Santa Ana coverage a few years back, Nick has not only become an award winning reporter but really been able to put an amazing laser focus on countywide homelessness response, which is a central vexing issue that is confronting us all as citizens and residents.

Nick also consistently monitors a wide array of county agencies, covering complex issues such as IT contracting woes, ensuring that taxpayers get the most current ability to engage with their government on key decisions and issues.

We also just welcomed our latest staffer, our deputy digital editor, Gabrielle Colon, who, you guessed it, also started as an intern.

Gaby is the reason you see a civic calendar on our front page every day (turned off now during holidays and fundraising drive). She took up that project as an intern last year with great initiative and really worked to revamp the calendar, making it an effective way for residents to track when public meetings occur.

Today, she’s key to our social media efforts and also central to keeping our website and graphics in top shape.

All these interns got a chance to develop and make a difference in Orange County thanks to the generous donors who enabled us over the past eight years to develop America’s toughest local government newsroom.

This week, consider joining them.

Until Dec. 31 your donation will be matched up to $1,000 by a special grant program called NewsMatch, sponsored by a coalition of foundations led by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Voice of OC has been selected as an eligible newsroom based on its commitment to transparency and accuracy.

Our total potential matching amount is $56,000.

We already have received a tremendous outpouring of support during this special fundraising drive, netting just over $38,000 in online donations.

There’s still another $18,000 available in matching dollars but it’s only there for a few more days.

Now as you can see our interns have done a lot to create a better OC.

Yet consider the fact that there are 34 cities across Orange County — plus a ton of super agencies like the County of Orange, water districts, the Orange County Transportation Agency and CalOptima — that all have a massive impact on our quality of life.

These places all need more news coverage.

And we have many more interns who want to make a difference for taxpayers.

Help us get them out there.

Since you've made it this far,

You are obviously connected to your community and value good journalism. As an independent and local nonprofit, our news is accessible to all, regardless of what they can afford. Our newsroom centers on Orange County’s civic and cultural life, not ad-driven clickbait. Our reporters hold powerful interests accountable to protect your quality of life. But it’s not free to produce. It depends on donors like you.

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