Voice of OC took home 14 first place wins and 27 total awards in the Orange County Press Club awards, revealed Thursday night.

The Voice of OC team won first place for: news feature, breaking news story, COVID-19 investigative series, public demonstration story, arts and culture story, arts and culture review, environmental news story, video, audience engagement/use of social media, infographic, news photo, portrait photo and COVID-19 feature story (a first place tie between two VOC stories).

In Voice of OC’s first years the news team was known for taking home wins across best investigation, public service and news. In last year’s awards, for stories produced pre-pandemic in 2019, the agency totaled 9 awards. The winning entries are selected by impartial journalist judges at press clubs across the nation.

This summary of wins demonstrates the news agency’s growth while still being deeply devoted to telling stories that are truly essential to the community’s quality of life.

View Voice of OC’s 2021 Orange County Press Club Awards:

COVID-19 INVESTIGATIVE SERIES | 1st Place: “The Downplaying of Orange County’s Coronavirus Numbers” by Spencer Custodio, Nick Gerda and Noah Biesiada. Judges: “Great work getting this information out to the public and getting insiders to speak.” 2nd Place: “Hospital Workers Ring Alarm Bells, Say Fountain Valley Hospital Could be Coronavirus Hotspot” by Spencer Custodio and Brandon Pho. Judges: “The writing was top-notch.”

COVID-19 FEATURE STORY | 1st Place Tie: “Santana: Latinos In Santa Ana and Anaheim Confront a Day of The Dead Unlike Any Other” by Norberto Santana, Jr. Judges: “This was a very powerful piece that went straight to the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, looking at exactly where people were dying in greatest numbers and asking probing questions about the data related to those deaths. Quite a number of facts and figures were presented in a clear, concise manner, and the writer offered interesting background information that put some key points in important perspective. It displayed classic hallmarks of solid journalism at its best.” AND also 1st Place: “What Do Local Performing Artists Do While They Wait to Get Back Onstage?” by Peter Lefevre. Judges: “Using marvelous turns of a phrase and inspired bits of humor, this piece gave readers—most of whom were likely missing live artistic performances for a number of personal reasons—insight into the performers themselves, whose lifeblood was cut off by the pandemic. It was a heartfelt reminder of the important role the arts play in our lives, and it offered uplifting examples of how some artists, compelled to perform, found creative ways to do so.”

NEWS FEATURE STORY | 1st Place: “In South OC’s Wealthy, Mostly White School District, Students of Color Tell Stories of Racism, Harassment and Inaction” by Brandon Pho Judges: “Important story for the moment told using real students’ stories.”

BREAKING NEWS STORY | 1st Place: “Silverado Canyon Burns Again As Bond Fire Erupts Under High Winds” by Noah Biesiada and Nick Gerda. 3rd Place: “OC to Ban all Public and Private Gatherings Under Emergency Health Order” by Nick Gerda. Judges: “Sharp, crisp, and clear writing, top notch reporting overall.”

PUBLIC DEMONSTRATION STORY | 1st Place:  “Orange County Coastal Enclave Becomes Ground Zero of Police Violence Controversy and Protests” by Brandon Pho and Julie Leopo Judges: “Well-written, timely breaking news story. Aptly captured the feelings and the tension of the demonstration.”

ARTS & CULTURE STORY | 1st Place: “Stages Theatre, a Mainstay for 28 Years on the Local Theater Scene, Closes Its Doors” by Joel Beers. Judges: “Sweet and sad portrait of a Theater Company that couldn’t survive the Pandemic in their current space, written with obvious empathy and a little hope. Well done.” 3rd Place: “Black Student Union Members from Garden Grove High Find Their Voice and Purpose” by Kristina Garcia.

ARTS & CULTURE REVIEW | 1st Place: “Hodgins: ‘She Loves Me’ Serves as a Fine Directorial Debut” by Paul Hodgins. Judges: “The review of ‘She Loves Me’ was filled with historical background and great detail, yet it was clear and easy to read.  A well crafted, thoroughly enjoyable read.” 3rd Place: “American Ballet Theatre Takes Us to Ancient Greece in ‘Of Love and Rage’” by Laura Bleiberg.

ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS STORY | 1st Place: “Annual High Tide Spurs Concerns About Future Safety of San Onofre Nuclear Waste Stock Near South OC” by Brandon Pho. Judges: “There’s more to a first-place story than solid reporting and writing; this one has the other important factor: impact. This is a true need-to-know story handled with expertise by a dedicated environmental journalist.” 3rd Place: “Conservationists Split Over Poseidon Desal Project’s Potential to Help Bolsa Chica Wetlands” by Brandon Pho. Judges: “The residents of Orange County are fortunate to have someone this dedicated to the beat. This is one of those slow-simmer stories that could take years to play out, and the explanatory journalism is important.”

VIDEO | 1st Place: “May 30, 2020, Orange County Protests” by Jose Hernandez. Judges: “Presented a feeling that you were there and shared important voices.” 2nd Place: “Annual High Tide Spurs Concerns About Future Safety of San Onofre Nuclear Waste Stock Near South OC” by Jose Hernandez. Judges: “A good “tease” to catch viewers’ attention and get them to read the article.”

NEWS PHOTO | 1st Place: “Photo of Elsa Hernandez” by Julie Leopo. Judges: “Compelling mood and emotion coupled with the composition made this image a stand out.”

PORTRAIT PHOTO | 1st Place: “Photo of Reyna and Nina Gonzalas” by Omar Sanchez. Judges: “A gut punch of a photo and experience.” 2nd Place: “Photo of Joyce Perry” by Julie Leopo. Judges: “Pride and pain in a picture.”

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT/USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA | 1st Place: “Voice of OC Convenes Local Experts on Coronavirus, Elections to Answer Most Pressing Questions of Readers” by Norberto Santana, Jr., Spencer Custodio and Sonya Quick. Judges: “Really strong copy combines well with images and overall layout, easy and informative to view, read, and listen to.”

INFOGRAPHIC | 1st Place: “Hate Crimes” by Sonya Quick. Judges: “I like the colors and how they match each other and pick up the orange of the publication. The animation puts this one over the top. I really love how it calls attention to the graphics.” 3rd Place: “Live Election Results” by Sonya Quick with James Gordon and Jacob LaGesse. Judges: “Clean and understandable charts. Nice use of color, particularly in the bottom section.”

DAVID MCQUAY AWARD FOR BEST COLUMNIST | 2nd Place:  “County of Orange Auctioned Off 100,000 Expired N95 Protective Masks,” “Why Are Orange County’s Most Vulnerable Veterans Falling Through the Cracks,” “Just One Vote Made the Difference in Brea’s Local School Board Race,” “MLK Holiday A Call to Confront Hate Together” and “Failing to Communicate” by Norberto Santana, Jr. Judges: “Santana dug into the news for depth and understanding.”

INVESTIGATION | 2nd Place: “The Great Park Tax: How Irvine Homeowners are Paying for the City’s Big Dream” by Noah Biesiada. Judges: “Intriguing story and good investigation into the numbers. I loved the conversational lead – it really drew me in. Love the graphics, a smart addition.”

BEAT REPORTING | 2nd Place: “Angel Stadium Sale Series” by Spencer Custodio.

PHOTO ESSAY| 2nd Place: “Photos of a grocery truck” by Julie Leopo. Judges: ““Liked the main shot the best. Tough assignment making a delivery truck look interesting.”

COVID-19 INFOGRAPHICS | 2nd Place: “Orange County CA Coronavirus Tracker and Other Startling Trends” by Sonya Quick, Caitlin Bartusick and Nick Gerda. Judges: “The data was represented clearly and easy for the viewer to interpret and understand.”

SERIES | 3rd Place: “Series on the Unemployed During the Pandemic” by Norberto Santana, Jr. Judges: “This series documents the struggles of Orange County residents facing unemployment, especially the story of a hard working Latina woman.”The Real O.C. Award (Given to the story, review, feature, column, photo or broadcast/video that best captures something special, surprising, telling or essential about Orange County) | 3rd Place: “In Wake of Raucous Protests, Santa Ana Residents Rally Around Clean Up” by Julie Leopo and Brandon Pho.

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