Berkeley Journalism Emeritus Professor, current student and alumni nominated for Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

March 20, 2021

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From left to right: Lydia Chavez, Abbie VanSickle, Stephen Hobbs, Molly Oleson and Michelle Pitcher.

Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy has announced the nominees of both finalists and semi-finalists for the 2021 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.

The work of lecturer Abbie VanSickle and researcher Michelle Pitcher (’21) was one of six finalists for “Mauled,” a year-long collaboration between The Marshall Project,, IndyStar and the Invisible Institute. They exposed the widespread use and abuse of police dogs across the U.S. The nomination is VanSickle’s second. She was also named a finalist in 2019 for Trafficked in America, which was produced for PBS Frontline by the School’s Investigative Reporting Program. Read here about these reporters, their response to the nomination, and thoughts shared by Prof. David Barstow.

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Illustration by Ross Sneddon

Among those honored as semi-finalists are Emeritus Professor Lydia Chávez as well as alums Molly Oleson (’13) and Stephen Hobbs (’14). 

The annual Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting honors reporting that best promotes more effective and ethical conduct of government, the making of public policy, or the practice of politics.

Both Chávez and Oleson were honored for “Testing the Limits,” a series reported for Mission Local over the course of eight months on San Francisco’s COVID testing strategy that exposed inequities in distribution of resources to communities of color. 

Originally operated out of Berkeley Journalism, Mission Local focuses on high impact, enterprise reporting on everything from police reform to corruption at City Hall, housing and education in the Mission District in San Francisco. It became an independent news site in 2014.

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Illustration by Molly Oleson

“It’s wonderful to have the work recognized,” said Founder and Executive Editor Lydia Chavez. “I have an excellent team at Mission Local and we were way out front on the story of the failure of the city’s Covid testing strategy.” 

Chavez points out it’s the first year the Shorenstein Center has listed the semifinalists and says that alone is a great boost for a small site. “Covid has underscored the importance of local journalism and the impact that a small site can have. Our bread and butter is on the ground reporting so we have been out in the neighborhood reporting on Covid from Day 1. We witnessed on a daily basis the impact on the Latinx community; we collected bits and pieces of data on our own and over time we developed sources who gave us more testing data.”

Stephen Hobbs, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina was recognized for “Rising Waters,” a series on the crippling effects of sea rise and flooding on people’s lives and the greater Charleston economy. 

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“I’m so fortunate to be able to work on stories like these, with the people on this team and at this paper,” said Hobbs. “We wanted to bring urgency, and depth, to our coverage of climate change, which is already impacting all of us who live in and around Charleston. At times, that meant responding on the fly, as storms hit and water inundated the area. Even as the pandemic raged in our state, we saw the importance of devoting the time and resources needed to tell these stories. We’re grateful for the sources who helped us make them happen. Hopefully, our work has given South Carolinians a better understanding of this critical issue.”

The School is honored to see its community recognized. “Investigative reporting is such a critical part of our curriculum,” Geeta Anand, dean of Berkeley Journalism, said. “Each of these stories has, at its core, the ability to change existing public policies, confront governmental blind spots and directly alter the lives of citizens. I couldn’t be happier that these beloved members of our community are being honored, especially long-time former faculty member Lydia Chavez. We are all inspired by her steadfast commitment to local reporting in the public interest in the community where she lives.”

The winner will be announced at a virtual ceremony on April 13th and receives $25,000. Five finalists receive $10,000. The prize money is paid directly to the journalists. 


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