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"Voice of OC journalists work as quality of life mechanics, empowered and encouraged to dive daily into the civic trenches of Orange County’s cities and government agencies as well as the region’s arts and cultural institutions, engaging on stories that affect real people and hold powerful interests accountable."
NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.
Publisher & Founder, Voice of OC
Norberto Santana, Jr.
Publisher & Founder
Norberto Santana, Jr. is an award-winning investigative reporter with nearly two decades reporting experience, most recently engaging Orange County government institutions and decision makers as the founding publisher of the nonprofit digital newsroom, Voice of OC.
As publisher, Santana oversees all newsroom, engagement and fundraising operations and also writes a weekly Opinion column about Orange County government.
In 2017 and 2018, the Orange County Press Club recognized Santana as Orange County’s best columnist.
Before founding Voice of OC in 2009, Santana was a lead investigative reporter for the Orange County Register from 2004-2009, focusing on county government. He’s spent nearly two decades just focusing on local governments across Southern California, previously as a staff writer with outlets such as the San Diego Union Tribune and the San Bernardino County Sun.
Santana began his journalistic career in the early 1990s as an apprentice reporter with Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C. covering daily floor action in the U.S. Congress and followed that up with a stint covering the territorial Senate for the U.S. Virgin Islands Daily News.
In addition to his experience as a journalist, the Southern California native has a master’s in Latin American Studies, has worked as an elections analyst on National Endowment for Democracy programs across Latin America and was one of the founders of CubaNet.org, a website featuring the work of dissident journalists inside Cuba that has operated since 1995.
Languages spoken: English and Spanish
Areas of expertise: Orange County, southern California, investigations, politics, elections, government transparency, Congress, Latin America, local government, civic education and reporting education.
Tracy Wood oversees Voice of OC’s civics reporting, including county and city government, the Orange County Transportation Authority, CalOptima, Anaheim, Santa Ana and other community coverage.
Tracy is a former government reporter, foreign correspondent in Asia, and California investigative reporter and editor. She has covered the California legislature and governor’s office for both United Press International and the Los Angeles Times. As a UPI reporter, she was one of the few women combat correspondents during the Vietnam War. She joined the Los Angeles Times in California where she was an investigative reporter for 17 years, covering political and government corruption. Later she became the Orange County Register’s Investigations Editor, leading the paper’s investigations team when it broke the story of former Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona’s ties to Nationwide Auction Systems founder and former Assistant Sheriff Donald G. Haidl.
She has won numerous awards for investigative reporting and in 2001 was named Los Angeles Print Journalist of the Year by Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalism association.
Wood and eight other women reporters from Vietnam co-authored “War Torn, Stories of War from the Women Reporters who Covered Vietnam” (2002 Random House). She was also part of the Los Angeles Times staff team that won the 1993 Pulitzer for coverage of the Rodney King riots. The Pulitzer was for spot news coverage for balanced, comprehensive, penetrating coverage under deadline pressure of the second, most destructive day of the Los Angeles riots.
Sonya Quick is digital editor for Voice of OC overseeing civic engagement (social media, email and civic engagement), digital fundraising, marketing and design (across-device user experience and digital storytelling).
Quick joined Voice of OC in November 2016 and has since managed the first #NewsMatch fundraising drive, re-imagined the Voice of OC logo and visual brand and launched a website redesign. In June 2017, Voice of OC was awarded top news website design by the Los Angeles Press Club.
Prior to Voice of OC, Quick worked for eight years at the Orange County Register in a variety of roles including: the organization's first mobile editor, social media manager, web and blog editor, infographics reporter and reporter. During that time, Quick helped create a mobile strategy for Freedom Communications, launched the first Register mobile apps, helped re-imagine the Register’s disaster plan for the digital age, helped transform community coverage, managed the Register’s 50+ blogs, developed a trial Register community wiki, covered Irvine and launched a mobile apps technology blog a year before the iTunes App Store was unveiled.
Quick has been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists since 2003. She served as region 11 director in 2008 and as national student representative in 2004. Quick graduated from Cal State Long Beach in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in English literature
Languages spoken: English
Areas of expertise: Digital storytelling, social media, infographics, data reporting, mobile and web design, news marketing, non-profit fundraising.
Meg McCarthy Waters is development director for the Voice of OC and works to develop multiple funding streams to support the news agency’s continued growth.
During her lengthy career, she has earned the reputation as one of the top Orange County-based public relations and outreach strategists having served many of the region’s most prominent corporations, public agencies and non-profit organizations. She has a deep commitment to open government, quality journalism, free speech and civic involvement.
She is best known for her work as a spokesperson for the 10 south county cities concerning the reuse of the former MCAS/El Toro. Over the years, she has worked with nearly all of the cities in Orange County, the County Auditor-Controller and the Transportation Corridor Agencies. In the private sector, she has represented several the county’s largest corporations.
She also has considerable expertise working with nonprofits and education including the Orangewood Children’s Foundation, UCI, Concordia University, Santa Ana Unified School District, Catholic Charities, the Alzheimer’s Association and many others.
She holds a bachelor's degree in comparative literature from UC Riverside. She has taught public relations at the community college level and is a frequent guest speaker.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 949-584-4977
Theresa Sears is Involvement Editor for Voice of OC and works with active residents throughout Orange County helping to lift their voices by facilitating the publication of daily Op-eds from a broad array of perspectives.
Theresa also handles office administration and works to help organize Voice of OC civic training programs and policy events.
With an intimate knowledge of Orange County civic issues, Theresa has worked as an active grassroots community leader on a host of public land use and regional public-benefit issues across the region for the past three decades.
As a solutions oriented activist, she has taken a leadership role in grass roots efforts supporting the public's right to know and petition their government, community engagement, legal remedies and direct democracy.
Her efforts have preserved Orange County’s fairgrounds, Barham Ranch which is now part of Santiago Oak Regional Park, as well critical open space in East Orange. She’s also led efforts to protect Orange County’s regional park system as a leader with the Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks
Languages spoken: English and some Spanish
Areas of expertise: Community organizing, direct democracy, open government – public oversight, land use, civic engagement and protecting public assets.
Community Health Editor
Amy DePaul is community health editor at Voice of OC with a focus on lower-income neighborhoods since 2011. Many of her stories unfold in the county’s growing immigrant communities, including Santa Ana, such as this series revealing that city’s high rate of domestic violence or coverage of trauma in Vietnamese-American communities.
Her reporting on public health issues at Voice has won numerous awards from the Orange County and Los Angeles press clubs in recent years for multimedia projects on the “immigrant health paradox” and unhealthy and unstable apartment living.
DePaul recently told the story of a homeless man who was reunited with his family after 18 years; his family found him because DePaul had featured him in an earlier story about policy innovations for housing the chronically homeless. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her reporting, as well as a health journalism fellowship from the California Endowment and the University of Southern California. Her work has been published in a variety of digital and print publications including NBC.com, the Washington Post and ESPN’s The Undefeated. She teaches reporting in UC Irvine’s Literary Journalism program
Languages spoken: English, conversational Spanish
Areas of expertise: Irvine, Orange County, public health, occupational health, poverty and homelessness.
Nick covers the city of Santa Ana, as well as the County of Orange, often reporting on issues like homelessness, public safety, mental health, and the role of money in politics.
Since joining Voice of OC in 2011, Nick has regularly shed light on topics that are often kept in the shadows. He's reported on systemic problems in the county's mental health system. He also led a reporting team that produced sophisticated looks at how the Disney corporation campaign contributions influenced recent elections in Anaheim.
Nick also revealed evidenceof elected leaders using their official powers to apparently pressure government contractors into donating to their election campaigns, in an article that was awarded best news story of the year by the Orange County Press Club. He firmly believes journalism should inform the public and help hold the powerful accountable.
An Orange County native, Nick first started covering local government in his mid-teens, before attending Santa Ana College, the American University in Cairo, and UC Irvine, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science.
Languages spoken:English, elementary Spanish, minimal Arabic and minimal Japanese
Areas of expertise: Local government, local politics, homelessness, mental health policy, campaign finance, California Public Records Act, Ralph M. Brown Act, County of Orange government, Santa Ana city government and municipal finance.
Spencer Custodio joined Voice of OC as a full-time reporter covering south Orange County and Fullerton in August 2017. Previously, he worked as one of Voice of OC’s first interns starting in 2010, covering Fullerton and general assignment stories.
During his time with Voice of OC, Custodio covered the Joe Felz election night car crashthat lead to him being charged with a DUI (the case is ongoing). He also has been covering the Irvine Veteran's Cemetery, a first for Orange County, that led to a land swap with a developer that divided many veterans and residents. Recently, he covered the sudden resignationof former Laguna Niguel Mayor Jerry Slusiewicz over claims of bullying and intimidation that started when Slusiewicz found a tree trimming contract that was overpaid by $410,000.
Custodio graduated from Cal State Fullerton in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism with extensive education in Constitutional law, public policy, economics and international law. He worked as the news editor at the student newspaper, The Daily Titan, during his last semester.
Areas of expertise: Voter registration and turnout, data analysis, homelessness, Irvine and Fullerton.
Arts & Culture Senior Editor
Paul Hodgins was born in Canada, where he studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music and became a professional accompanist by the age of 20. Hodgins worked widely in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. as an accompanist and music professor at Simon Fraser University, the Banff Centre for the Arts, Nonington College (Kent), Eastern Michigan University, and many festivals. He moved to the U.S. to pursue graduate studies in the 1980s and has lived here ever since, completing his doctorate in musical composition at the University of Southern California.
Hodgins was a professor of music at the University of California Irvine from 1985 to 1992, where he served as music director of the dance department and founding director of the Gassman Electronic Music Studio. After freelancing as a classical music critic at the San Diego Union-Tribune, he became an arts journalist and critic for The Orange County Register, where he wrote principally about theater and later about dance and classical music.
In addition to his expertise in the performing arts, Hodgins has written extensively about jazz, architecture, interior design and urban planning. For the last decade he has written a regular column about wine, beer and spirits for the Register.
Hodgins has written two books. Music, Movement and Metaphor, a study of dance-music relationships in 20th-century choreography, was published in 1992. The Winemakers of Paso Robles came out in 2017.
Hodgins remains active as an educator. He has been on the journalism faculty at California State University, Fullerton since 2001. He has also taught journalism at Cal State Long Beach and UCLA Extension.
Hodgins and his wife have lived in downtown Huntington Beach for 20 years. Some day he will learn how to surf.
Languages spoken: English
Areas of expertise: Orange County, theater, dance, music and arts issues.
Arts & Culture Managing Editor
Heide Janssen most recently worked for almost five years at the Orange County Register where she was recruited to develop and curate their Varsity Arts section. Varsity Arts was dedicated to weekly stories and news about high school arts programs and students, giving arts students the same recognition that student athletes long enjoyed. The Varsity Arts section was the first of its kind in the nation and has since inspired similar sections in other regional newspapers. She also developed and continues to produce the Artist of the Year program which honors the top theater, dance, instrumental and vocal music, 2D and 3D visual arts, and film/animation students in Orange County.
Prior to joining the Register, she worked in administrative and producing capacities at major regional theater companies including South Coast Repertory, Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Stage in Los Angeles, The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Court Theater in Chicago, and Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven. She has also produced smaller independent projects with Snehal Desai (artistic director at East West Players in Los Angeles) and Adam O’Byrne (producer with New Neighborhood, a multi-media production company) among others. In the world of education, she helped to establish the Orange County Cappies and created the RoleAbout Theatre Festival, programs for high school theater students which she ran for over 10 years. She also taught theater and English at Mission Viejo High School early in her career.
She has been honored by the California Educational Theatre Association for Outstanding Contributions to Educational Theatre for her work with Varsity Arts and The Orange County Register, and by the Orange County Department of Education for Outstanding Contributions to Education for her work with the Orange County Cappies.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in English, summa cum laude, from the University of Minnesota and a master of fine arts in theater management from the Yale School of Drama, Yale University.
Areas of expertise: Orange County, arts and culture, and arts education.
Julie Leopo is an award-winning photojournalist. Her first photo essay was published with Voice of OC in 2015 and she has been working as a photographer with the publication ever since.
Julie has freelanced for OC Weekly, KCET, Mitú, The California Endowment, Ed Source and Vice. She has won awards for her photo essays featured in Voice of OC, and recognition for her Santa Ana photo essay, “ Lost in the City,” in Berlin, Germany. This particular photo essay also won awards for best photo essay in the 2016 OC Press Awards.
Leopo went to the Orange Coast College Community college where she was enrolled in their photo program. During her studies, she was awarded two scholarships to continue her photo work with a concentration on Social Justice. Her work has been shown on USC's website and exhibited in a Yale photo-program show.
Languages spoken: Fluent in English and Spanish.
Areas of expertise: For three years Julie has covered all areas surrounding social issues in Orange County, Mexico, and other counties in California.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC news intern covering local government, most frequently the City of Santa Ana and other cities in north Orange County.
Since becoming an intern in 2018, Brandon's written about hunger strikes in the county jail, city officials facing turmoil in Santa Ana, public clashes between embattled Westminster City Council members, public land disputes, and law enforcement as it pertains to public safety.
Before Voice of OC, Brandon worked as a reporter and editor at Cal State Fullerton's independent student newspaper, the Daily Titan, where in his sophomore year he was one of the lead reporters uncovering an alleged power struggle inside the university administration that culminated in the controversial firing of a well-liked dean. He won a number of accolades for his reporting in 2018, including a 1st and 2nd place Los Angeles Press Club award and 1st place national College Media Association award.
Brandon is currently a junior at CSUF. He's also an at-large member of the Asian-American Journalists Association (AAJA), as well as the Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. (IRE).
Languages spoken: English, intermediate French and minimal Vietnamese.
Areas of expertise: North Orange County, public lands, law enforcement and public safety.
Susan Valot came to Voice of OC as its podcast producer after spending nearly two decades as an award-winning radio journalist in the greater Los Angeles and Orange County area.
Valot still regularly reports for various public radio outlets, including “The California Report,” KCRW and NPR’s “Only A Game.” She spent from 2006 to 2011 as the solo Orange County bureau for KPCC Radio, the NPR affiliate in Pasadena. Valot left the station to do a reporting fellowship in Europe.
She also works in the podcast world. In addition to working on "On OC," Valot hosts and produces Quanta magazine’s science podcast.
During Valot’s time in L.A. radio, she has won numerous awards, including being named in 2011 as the Los Angeles Press Club’s Radio Journalist of the Year. The judges called Valot’s work “some of the best we’ve heard.” They described her reporting as “well-rounded reports with authoritative, informed tone. Great use of sound.” She was the only freelancer to be a finalist for the same organization’s Radio Journalist of the Year, handed out in 2016. She was named a finalist for the same award again in 2018.
Valot also has experience covering international issues, having done several reporting fellowships in Germany and Austria. She was honored for her work in Germany in 2012 with the 2nd place international radio prize in the RIAS Berlin Commission’s annual awards ceremony, honoring broadcast work that fosters understanding between the U.S. and Germany.
Valot also teaches in the cinema-TV-radio department at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. She received her BA in Communications from Cal State University Fullerton and her MA in Specialized Journalism (focusing on science reporting) from USC.
In her spare time, you're most likely to find Valot playing ice hockey or traveling and hiking.
Open Government & Public Records Consultant
Terry Francke has a 30-year history of helping journalists, citizens, public officials and ordinary government workers understand and use their First Amendment and public information rights.
Most recently, Francke founded Californians Aware, which is dedicated to the idea that journalists working with both the public and public officials at the same time could effect a change in the overall transparency landscape.
Francke previously served 14 years as general counsel to the California First Amendment Coalition, after a 10-year post as legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
Ms. Aviles, daughter of the late renowned open government activist Richard P. McKee, is an attorney who specializes in the California Public Records Act, the Ralph M. Brown Act, and the Bagley-Keene Act, and serves as litigation counsel for Californians Aware. She attended the University of La Verne College of Law, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2006. She has successfully assisted numerous clients in obtaining legal orders interpreting California’s open government laws and securing the release of important government records.
In 2012, she successfully represented Californians Aware when it teamed up with the Los Angeles Times to force the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission to comply with the Brown Act and turn over wrongfully withheld public records. In 2010, she won a case against California State University Stanislaus, obtaining an order requiring the University to disclose its foundation’s speaking appearance contract with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Ms. Aviles has also served as outside counsel for the San Diego County Water Authority, successfully litigating two high profile public records cases against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Eastern Municipal Water District.