Norberto Santana, Jr. is honored as the best publisher in the nation amongst small newsrooms in the 2021 Local Journalism Awards.

Independent judges for the contest recognize Santana for Voice of OC’s continued success earned through innovation and iteration with a deliberate dedication to the mission.

“Voice of OC is one of the standard bearers of nonprofit journalism. The clean, sharp site articulates its mission well and documents the impact of their work, which is considerable. Voice of OC has robust and comprehensive content and uses savvy social media outreach and smart refinement of the tech stack to reach their audience.”

Independent judges in recognizing Santana

The LION Local Journalism Awards recognize excellence in journalism and business amongst local independent online news publishers and especially look to honor journalists “who rise above the ordinary.”

In his virtual acceptance speech, Santana thanked LION for work they do in the journalism community and also to Voice of OC’s staff, board of directors, institutional donors and to the thousands of individual donors who have stepped up to support the newsroom.

“Most importantly I want to thank our readers. It’s because of you that our site has grown so much over the years,” Santana said.


This national honor comes on the heels of Santana being recognized for his work as a publisher, editor, columnist and news industry leader.

Santana’s career includes reporting at the Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C., gaining a Political Science degree at USC and a master’s in Latin American Studies at SDSU, working as an elections analyst across Latin America,  helping found in 1995 — a website featuring the work of dissident journalists inside Cuba,  a government reporter in the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Daily News and across Southern California at the San Diego Union Tribune, San Bernardino County Sun and Orange County Register.

Given his extensive political and investigative journalism experience, Santana established Voice of OC to be a trusted voice on local government.

He bet on the notion that the more people see a newsroom working on their behalf, connecting them daily to key quality of life decisions and debates before they are finalized, the more they will donate, invest in the newsroom’s future.

Time has proven him right. 


He has grown Voice of OC into the county’s “paper” of record on civic news, the leading source of real-time local investigative journalism and built a full newsroom complete with a development team and Arts & Culture section.

While at founding it would seem impossible, the digital agency in 2020 was declared as the best in the state (through the California News Publishers Association contest) for investigative (a three-part wildfire series), infographics, political columns – by Santana, writing (local debates about renaming local institutions), video journalism (future safety concerns about the San Onofre Nuclear Waste Stock), local government reporting (the lack of transparency when selling Angel Stadium), and many more for photography, design and reporting.

What once was a small investigative agency has grown into a respected news establishment with stories on par with journalism’s bests.

Under Santana’s leadership the institution has steadily grown revenue sources from readers and foundations while never going off mission or chasing revenue fads. 


He’s also taken the effort to ensure that the nonprofit field of journalism continues to grow.

Santana is currently serving his fourth term on the Institute for Nonprofit News’ board of directors. Through this he has constructed a ladder alongside him and helped to inspire, educate and mentor subsequent waves of new, diverse nonprofit news leaders.

He leads an innovative partnership with the Voice of OC  nonprofit newsroom as a faculty member at Chapman University — integrating the college’s young aspiring journalists with an opportunity to gain experience through shoe leather reporting that causes real impacts and serves the community.

He serves as a mentor officially through his life experience in the leadership of Investigative Reporters and Editors, Orange County Press Club. And unofficially, he always carves out time in his schedule to mentor journalists at the beginning, middle and sunsets of their careers.


Santana also has worked to ensure that journalists and residents in California have the legal representation and knowledge to be able to publish accountability news. 

Now serving as president of CalAware, he is leading the renown, nonpartisan nonprofit in its effort to “foster the improvement of, compliance with and public understanding and use of, public forum law, which deals with people’s rights to find out what citizens need to know to be truly self-governing, and to share what they know and believe without fear or loss.”

Across all aspects of his life Santana is leading by example and pushing forward better futures for American journalism, democracy and community. This latest honor as publisher of the year is just the latest recognition of that work.

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.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.