Commonwealth’s Sarah Elliott wins Gruner journalism awards


Owning and publishing an independently owned weekly newspaper in an unincorporated community certainly sets The Kaweah Commonwealth apart from all other newspapers in the San Joaquin Valley region. But the Commonwealth held its own at an awards ceremony for journalists held during the evening of Thursday, Feb. 25, at the Fresno Art Museum. 

At the event, Sarah Elliott received awards in the News category (see winning news story here) and the Columns and Editorials (see winning editorial here) category. Both articles have ties to California’s severe drought, as did many of the other First Place and Honorable Mention winners.

Being recognized with these awards was basically an anniversary gift. As of March 1, 2016, the Commonwealth embarked on its 22nd year of publishing.

This is the first time that the Commonwealth has participated in the annual George F. Gruner Awards. The ceremony has been honoring San Joaquin Valley journalists since 1989, but this year, after an invitation from Dr. Gary Rice, Fresno State journalism professor and the evening’s emcee, John and Sarah Elliott, TKC owners, attended the reception and newly expanded presentation. 

There were 79 entries by 19 newspapers from Merced to Bakersfield and into the foothills for works published during 2015. The submissions were judged by professional journalists outside of California.

Originally established to recognize meritorious public service in journalism, the Gruner Awards are in honor of a former executive editor of The Fresno Bee. Because there had been a steady decline in entries in previous years, this year’s event included new categories in addition to the flagship Public Service commendations: Best News Story, Best Feature Story, Best Photo, Best Sports Story, Best Editorial or Column.

In addition, there were three divisions: daily newspapers with more than 35,000 circulation; other newspapers published more than once a week; and weeklies or newspapers published twice a month, which is, of course, where the Commonwealth competed.

A column by Lois Henry in The Bakersfield Californian on Tuesday, March 1, took notice of the small-town newspapers scattered about the Central Valley “working their guts out to cover the day-to-day happenings in their towns…”

“With all the bad news in my industry, it was extremely uplifting to see these papers not only surviving but thriving,” she continued. “That’s not to say they’re rolling in dough. Most of these newsrooms operate with just a few staffers. But they are clearly alive and kickin’ some serious tail.”

During an interview with Lois on Monday, Feb. 29, Sarah explained, “I had to laugh as reporters went to the stage and commented on their newsrooms or thanked their editors. I am my own editor, took the photos, wrote the headlines, and provided the layout and design of my stories and all the other pages in the newspaper. And today I’m doing the billing!”

George Gruner’s career in journalism spanned 46 years, including 33 years with The Fresno Bee. In 1976, he was one of the “Fresno Four” who refused a judge’s order to reveal a confidential source used in the Bee’s news stories about a public official. The journalists, including Gruner, spent 15 days in jail. 

Gruner retired in 1988. He was in attendance at the awards ceremony with family members and took the stage to provide the closing remarks.

The 27th annual Gruner Awards was sponsored by The Fresno Bee and Fresno State’s Department of Mass Communication and Journalism with financial assistance from the Central Valley Foundation and Central Valley Community Foundation.


Gruner Awards: 2016 winners




First Place


Andrea Castillo – Fresno Bee


Joseph Luiz – Hanford Sentinel


Jeanine Fiser – Sanger Herald


Honorable Mention


John Cox – Bakersfield Californian


Linda Renn – Dinuba Sentinel


Amy Wu – Parlier Post




First Place


John Walker – Fresno Bee


Ron Holman – Visalia Times-Delta


Gene Lieb – Los Banos Enterprise


Honorable Mention


Wendy Alexander – Madera Tribune


Valerie Shelton – Clovis Roundup




First Place


Bill McEwen – Fresno Bee


Linda Renn – Dinuba Sentinel


Honorable Mention


Linda Green – Hanford Sentinel


Sarah Elliott – Kaweah Commonwealth (Three Rivers)




First Place


Pablo Lopez / John Ellis – Fresno Bee


David Castellon – Visalia Times-Delta


Morgan Voorhis – Sierra Star (Oakhurst)


Honorable Mention


John Rieping – Madera Tribune


Sarah Elliott – Kaweah Commonwealth (Three Rivers)




First Place


Marek Warszawski – Fresno Bee


Michael Lingberg – Porterville Recorder


Brian Wilkinson – Sierra Star (Oakhurst)


Honorable Mention


Sean Lynch – Merced Sun-Star


Paul Meadors – Clovis Roundup




First Place


Kelly Ardis – Bakersfield Californian


Ana B. Ibarra – Merced Sun-Star


Felicia Cousart Matlosz – Reedley Exponent


Honorable Mention


Dan Kukla – Visalia Times-Delta


Morgan Voorhis – Sierra Star (Oakhurst)

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