Nogales International reporter Paulina Pineda was named the state’s Community Journalist of the Year by the Arizona Press Club, winning praise from judges for her pursuit of “the stories and the people that define a community quite literally on the edge.”
The recognition, given as part of the APC’s 2016 writing and design awards, was announced Sunday evening.
Contest judge Dennis Joyce, assistant metro editor of the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times, wrote that Pineda’s reporting “is characterized by genuine voices, including rural students who endure long school bus rides and farm workers concerned they might not be allowed back after visiting family in Mexico. She is up to the task of chronicling the unique border region in and around Santa Cruz County.”
Other judges included Autumn Phillips, executive editor of the Iowa-based Quad-City Times, and Dennis Anderson, executive editor of the Peoria, Ill. Journal Star.
Joyce’s comments referred to two of the stories included in Pineda’s nomination packet: “Few students, expansive areas mean high transportation costs for rural districts,” which saw her ride an early morning school bus through the San Rafael Valley while examining the disproportionately high busing costs faced by school districts in Patagonia and Sonoita; and “Where have all the ‘paisanos’ gone?” which sought to explain the decline in north-to-south holiday travelers passing through Nogales last December.
Pineda’s nomination packet also included examples of her watchdog reporting on the Nogales city government, including “Power shift tabled at City Hall – for now,” about ongoing efforts by elected officials to undo the manager-council form of government enshrined in the City Charter; and “Religious fervor encircles Nogales City Hall,” which cast a spotlight on Mayor John Doyle’s efforts to blur the line between government and religion.
The judges also considered her stories on topics including the local economy (“20-to-1 exchange rate is unsavory threshold” and “Women lead in numerous sectors of the Nogales economy“), migration (“Central American women look for clues in search for missing loved ones“), criminal justice (“21 years in prison for doctor who gunned down ex-girlfriend in 1990“) and politics (“Republican outreach in local area falls flat in the year of Trump“).
In his letter nominating her for the award, NI managing editor Jonathan Clark highlighted Pineda’s efforts to hold the city government accountable, as well as her versatility in covering stories that range from hard-hitting investigative pieces like “Patagonia’s profuse ticketing of Mexicans draws scrutiny” to high school cross country races. “She can cover a complicated court case as well as write a first-person feature story on a local food truck,” he wrote, calling her a “tenacious reporter and talented writer whose work both informs and celebrates her community.”
Pineda joined the NI in September 2015 after graduating from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication that spring. She previously interned at the Arizona Republic, Dallas Morning News and the Cronkite News Service’s bureau in Washington, D.C.
This marks the third consecutive year that a reporter from the Nogales International won the APC’s Community Journalist of the Year award. Former NI news staffers Curt Prendergast and Murphy Woodhouse earned the distinction for their reporting in the years of 2014 and 2015, respectively.
The APC is continuing to announce its 2016 journalism awards this week, and NI reporters are in the running for several additional prizes.