Sandy Coronilla exercised her freedom of speech rights in an effort to make San Diego business improvement districts more transparent.
The San Diego State University journalism senior recently won the Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award, a national honor given by the Society of Professional Journalists. Coronilla was selected for her outstanding work and service to the First Amendment through the field of journalism.
“I decided to become a journalist because I wanted to help people. I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless,” Coronilla said. “I wanted to help the public be as informed as possible so individuals can make good, sound decisions about their daily lives.”
Responsibility to uncover the truth
Through her story, “They’re Public Agencies, But Many Try Not to Act like It,” Coronilla uncovered failures of compliance with the law in more than half of the San Diego business improvement associations.
As public entities receiving government funds, business associations are required to provide, within ten days of receiving a request:
- an annual report
- an annual audit
- salaries and benefits for employees
Of the 16 San Diego business districts contacted, 11 did not comply with California public policies in some form.
Within a week of the story's publication, the San Diego City Council addressed the violations and voted to reform business districts and increase transparency.
“Journalists have a responsibility to uncover the truth, to write the truth, to bring to light things that were once only in the shadows,” Coronilla said. “As this story showed, things can change.”
Coronilla credits her mentors from Voice of San Diego, the SDSU School of Journalism and Media Studies and the Armenn E. Keteyian scholarship for investigative journalism for giving her the guidance and opportunity to share her voice through writing.
Change through journalism
“It isn't just about pointing out what's wrong with society,” Coronilla said of investigative journalism. “It's about changing society.”
The Society of Professional Journalists will recognize Coronilla during the Excellence in Journalism 2012 conference, Sept. 20 to 22, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.