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UPDATED: '07's Most-Seen Faces Honored

Newsmaker banquet pays homage to Randy Wicks, raises scholarship funds.

Posted: March 2, 2008 1:37 a.m.
Updated: May 3, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Bella Shaw, former CNN anchor and longtime Santa Clarita Valley resident, delivers her keynote address during the 2007 Newsmaker of the Year award ceremony at the Hyatt Valencia on Friday night. The Santa Clarita Valley Press Club named Mayor Bob Kellar Newsmaker of the Year.

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Editor's note: This is an expanded online-exclusive version of the story appearing in Sunday's Signal newspaper.

Santa Clarita Mayor Bob Kellar was named Newsmaker of the Year, City Councilman TimBen Boydston picked up the Roberta Gillis Most Controversial Newsmaker award, and the non-profit Santa Clarita Valley Disaster Coalition was named Organization of the Year during the 12th annual SCV Press Club Newsmaker Awards Friday night at the Hyatt Valencia.

"I am very honored," Kellar said. "I just can't tell you as I reflect back over the years how much enjoyment I have had, not only for the causes that we come together for, but also, more importantly, from the friendships and camaraderie we enjoy in Santa Clarita. We have a lot of years left and we're going to continue to work hard to make this community better and better."

Boydston, who is also Canyon Theatre Guild's executive and artistic director, said he was somewhat puzzled by his Most Controversial award.

"When I was appointed to the City Council, I did not think it was controversial to ask questions in a public forum," he said of the controversy that has punctuated his stormy term, receiving a burst of applause from the audience. Boydston had also been a Newsmaker of the Year nominee.

Earlier, Boydston had talked with a reporter about the Most Controversial nomination. "I never thought when I got on the City Council that it would be considered controversial to ask questions," Boydston said. "I never thought that it would be controversial to speak up for people who are disenfranchised and have very little power of their own, people who don't have a voice in government.

"I never thought that to question in an open forum the spending of the taxpayers' money would be considered controversial," he added. "And I never thought that asking questions about the structure of local government, or asking questions about things that people were asking ME questions about, to be controversial, just because I asked them in an open forum. And most of all, I did not think that it would be controversial to ask questions on behalf of the citizens who live here in Santa Clarita, and not just take care of the people who are going to be moving here. And If I have a chance to get up there onstage, I'll say the same thing." Which he did.

"I've been in this business for 25 years and to lead a newspaper with such an awesome staff is quite an honor," said Jay Harn, Signal publisher, before introducing the Organization of the Year honoree. "I'm sure you read headlines today that say the news business is in flux. Well, The Signal's going strong, and it's just awesome to be able to be in a community that appreciates its newspaper, and work for a newspaper that appreciates its community."

Carl Goldman, SCV Disaster Coalition chief, accepted the honor on behalf of its membership. "The Coalition is made up of many of you in the room, so many organizations - it's really a who's who of Santa Clarita - and it's just been a pleasure to work with all those folks and to realize we are having a significant impact as we work our way through helping the 27 local families impacted by the wildfires last fall. The Coalition's helping to make sure (those families) get back into their homes."

Jeanna Crawford, also 2007's "Woman of the Year" and active in many Santa Clarita Valley nonprofits organizations, was the top Community Service Newsmaker.

"I was very surprised, I had no expectations whatsoever," she said. "Tim (Whyte) had worked for The Signal a long time and gifted my papa a piece of art by Randy Wicks, and so it's special because growing up, that was hanging on my papa's wall. The First Amendment is so important - daily I speak freely, though most people wish I didn't!" she laughed.

Attorney Michele Mann of Mehta & Mann earned the Behind the Scenes award for her work with organizations such as the Santa Clarita Symphony, the SCV Senior Center and SmartGrowth SCV.

"I was shocked, surprised," Mann said. "I thought it was so cute - how can you be behind the scenes when they out you?" she laughed. "I hope this doesn't change anything! I really do share this award with everybody that's ever said 'yes' to me, on behalf of every cause we've lobbied, every donation we've asked for, people come through. It's true, there are scenes, and people are behind them and they sprinkle a lot of pixie dust, so I'm really just thrilled."

Dan Masnada, Castaic Lake Water Agency general manager, was recognized with the Most Cooperative with the Local Press award.

"My wife told me first-time nominees never get selected," Masnada said. "I recall that the late, great Ruth Newhall (former Signal publisher) used to call this the 'Kiss-Ass Award,' and for once, I'm proud to be a kiss-ass. I appreciate the support of the Castaic Lake Water District board of directors that really helped out in making my job easier in this respect, because to deal responsibly with the press, it's all about communication and transparency, and they were very supportive in my efforts to do so."

On the sports side, Valencia High Softball, the No. 1 high school team in the nation according to USA Today's national rankings, earned Sports Team of the Year.

"We're very, very lucky in this valley we have a newspaper that does such a great job covering local sports," said team coach Donna Lee, accepting the trophy. "I also want to thank all the other teams nominated for Team of the Year - you guys are wonderful, too!"

Hart High graduate and Tampa Bay Devil Rays starting pitcher James Shields was named top Sports Individual, Male. His brother Jeremy Shields accepted on his behalf.

"Jamie couldn't be here tonight, but he wanted me to tell you, '"Big Game" says hello,'" Shields said, citing his brother's nickname. "He thanks The Signal and I want to commend The Signal also for supporting local athletes in the Santa Clarita Valley. It's very important for upcoming youth too be able to look up to these players as role models."

Valencia High grad Jordan Taylor and University of Michigan starting pitcher Jordan Taylor scored the Sports Individual, Female award. Her father, John Taylor, accepted the award on her behalf, inviting members of her team to join him onstage. "These are the people who helped Jordan get where she is, and I thank them very much," Taylor said, choking up a bit.

The ceremony was highlighted a well-produced slideshow of the most outstanding images shot in 2007 by The Signal's dedicated photo team -- Bryan Kneiding, Will Davison and Francisca Rivas -- who earned two well-deserved rounds of applause from the audience.

Newsmaker History
The annual Newsmaker Awards fundraiser is hosted by the non-profit SCV Press Club, and recognizes the movers and shakers who get things done, challenge the status quo, accomplish major team and personal goals, and selflessly give aid and comfort to other people in need in the SCV.

There are nine Newsmaker categories and five nominees each, chosen each year by the SCV Press Club's Newsmaker committee, which for the 2007 awards numbered 18 local journalists and community leaders.

Sponsored by The Signal and featuring a live auction plus a banquet and awards ceremony, the event serves as the yearly fundraiser for the Randy Wicks Memorial First Amendment Scholarship fund.

The fund awards cash grants to graduating local high school seniors and College of the Canyons students who plan to pursue an education related to the First Amendment and the free dissemination of information.

The program is named in memory of Wicks, the celebrated editorial cartoonist for The Signal who died of a heart attack in 1996 at age 41.

The SCV Press Club created the Newsmaker Awards as the annual fundraiser, with the first ceremony held in 1997.

"Randy was a rare talent, so Will Fleet, Signal publisher at the time, came up with the idea to have a scholarship fund in his memory, and the fundraiser for that fund would be a dinner every year where we salute the top newsmakers of the community," said Tim Whyte, former Signal general manager, head of the SCV Press Club, and emcee for Friday's Newsmaker ceremony. "So far, in the life of the program, we have awarded more than $230,000 in scholarships."

Allan Cameron, local strategic planning and master development consultant, was well-acquainted with Wicks. "I was honored to know him -- he was a good friend and a stellar talent," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that Randy would have quickly become a nationally renowned editorial cartoonist if fate hadn't taken him from our midst. I think he could have done it before his passing, but he was so committed to the Santa Clarita Valley and to The Signal newspaper that he chose, frankly, not to do that. He blessed this community, and I'm interested in having this community be blessed by his memory in years to come."

Newsmaker Auction

The 16 items up for auction at the 12th Awards Friday night, hawked by dueling auctioneers Don Fleming of Valencia Acura and Kellar, brought in about $12,000, Whyte confirmed.

Auctioned off were a VIP Cowboy Festival package (Andy Fried, $325); "Editor for a Day" at The Signal (Wayne Crawford, $1,500); radio host on KHTS for half a day (Bob Hudson, $800); the head table at the 13th Newsmaker fundraiser next year (Wayne Crawford, $2,500); and an AutoSpa carwash and detail-for-a-year package (Bob Hudson, $750).

Other auctioned items included a Remo Jimmy Morales model conga drum (Allan Cameron, $1,004); naming rights for a pair of seats and tickets to four productions at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons (Scott Wilk, $700); premium season tickets to the Canyon Theatre Guild plus tickets to special events and opening night of "Man of La Mancha" at the Performing Arts Center (Bob Spierer, $400); and "Touch the Magic Button" privileges to start the presses for an edition of The Signal (Don Fleming, $100).

"The miracle of the night was Allan Cameron, who bid himself from $250 to $1,004 for the conga drum," said Barbara Myler, Summit West Management president and a member of the Newsmaker auction team, which also included Kathy Keysor-Smith, Cheri Fleming and Annemarie Donkin. "Alan just knew he was going to donate $1,000. What a generous contribution!"

"I wasn't just buying a drum -- I actually spent $1,004 on the Randy Wicks Memorial Scholarship Fund," Cameron said. "It's again to make sure that Randy's memory never vanishes and that the next generation who keep us free by writing the truth will get to go to school."

"Free speech is everything," Boydston said of the Newsmaker event's purpose. "The First Amendment is quite possibly the most important thing in our Constitution that has to do with keeping our republic strong. Without the First Amendment, and our freedom of speech - and not just vocal speech on a streetcorner, but in an organized way where you have freedom of the press - tyranny will inevitably slip in, quietly at first, and take over any organization. It's only through the light of education and the light of the knowledge people get from investigation that you have the freedom to say what's really going on."

"This event has been a major factor in the lives of students," said Bruce Fortine, College of the Canyons board member. "The scholarships are really helpful for those who can't afford to go to a major university. It's amazing how some of the graduates and recipients have gone on to do incredible things. Randy Wicks was a good friend, a good man and a fantastic cartoonist, and to have the Newsmakers event named after him is very appropriate."

Raffle and Tables
Tickets for a 50-50 raffle were sold throughout the evening by local beauty pageant winners Karisha Hathaway, Miss Teen Saugus (a senior at Saugus High); Kirsten Garlitos, co-Miss Teen SCV (Saugus senior); Dannay Rodriguez, Miss Teen Canyon Country (Canyon High freshman); and Nicole Ryan, co-Miss Teen SCV (home-schooled senior from Newhall).

Spence Leafdale, recently appointed to the city of Santa Clarita's Open Space Oversight Panel, won the drawing and graciously donated the approximately $400 in cash back to the Randy Wicks Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Proceeds from banquet ticket and table sales were still being tallied at press time.

The Crawford Family was ensconsed at the head Table. Other tables were purchased by or on behalf of Safe Action for the Environment, CDC (Comprehensive Development), The Signal, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, Tim Davis, Gates/Needham Ranch, Providence Holy Cross, American Cancer Society, City of Santa Clarita, Newhall Land and College of the Canyons, the Castaic Lake Water Agency, Heritage Hills, Pacific Heritage, Saugus High, Circle of Hope, SmartGrowth SCV, Valencia High School, Sikand Engineering, and Democratic Voices.

Keynote Speaker Bella Shaw
The event's keynote speaker was noted broadcast journalist and television personality Bella Shaw, former CNN "Newsday" anchor, host of CNN's "Travelguide" and "Showbiz Today." A Santa Clarita Valley resident, Shaw is also a film and television actor who has appeared in episodes of "ER," "Brothers and Sisters" and "Commander in Chief."

She opened humorously, introducing several members of the audience as famous personalities (when she introduced Ted Turner, SCV Sheriff's Lt. Mike Dunkel, who indeed bears a resemblance, stood up, smiled and waved, and got a load of laughs).

Shaw's remarks were more sobering, centered on the importance of reporters and editors fact-checking before publishing, especially now in the ultra-competitive digital age when news reporting is expected to be instantaneous.

"Instant technology poses new challenges for the First Amendment, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and this crazy race to be first," Shaw said.

"The digital age has spawned a new reporting philosophy - never let the facts get in the way of a good story," she continued. "Is this what the father of the First Amendment James Madison had in mind when he penned the Bill of Rights? Being first is more important than being accurate? It's more important to entertain than inform?

"And what would he think about the press's obsession with non-news stories, like the tabloid-ification of celebrity stories like Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton and the Olson twins?" Shaw asked. "With the war in Iraq, a possible recession, does the uneventful 20-minute car chase really qualify as news?"

Shaw also urged all journalists in the room - print, radio, TV, Web - to be vigilant, accurate, and be "noisemakers" for the First Amendment and truth in reporting.

'07 Scholarship Recipient Ricky Courtney
Top 2007 recipient Ricky Courtney of Santa Clarita, who received a $15,000 scholarship, also addressed the audience from the podium onstage midway through the Friday night ceremony. Courtney is a 2005 Valencia High School graduate and former College of the Canyons student now majoring in TV and Broadcast Journalism at Chapman University in Orange.

A two-time Wicks Scholarship winner, Courtney earned his first grant while studying TV as a senior at Valencia. The $15,000 helped fund subsequent studies at College of the Canyons and now at Chapman.

"Each and every one of you is helping to fund these amazing scholarships that mean so much to me and to all the other students who receive them," he said. "It was an honor to receive the largest scholarship ever given by the Press Club. ... I'm here to report tonight that the $15,000 sponsored up to 15 fraternity parties complete with kegs." It was the most laughter-eliciting joke of the evening.

"In conclusion," Courtney said, "I want to thank my very supportive family, my professors, and every single one of you for helping me to make my dreams - and the dreams of other aspiring journalists like me - come true."

Epilog: More Exclusive Interviews
"It's nice to get a look inside at what these stories were made of, and who the movers and shakers were," said SCV Talk's Jeff Wilson about the ceremony.

"In Santa Clarita you can go to wonderful dinners, auctions and fundraisers for amazing different causes every weekend," said Cheri Fleming, Valencia Acura co-owner. "But the difference between what everyone else does and what The Signal does with the Newsmaker dinner is that we actually support community partners and we support the kids with scholarships. It's probably the single most important thing we do in the city of Santa Clarita."

"This is great," said Bruce McFarland, local Democratic activist, of the Newsmaker Awards. "I was a friend of Randy Wicks' and he was a good Democrat and the soul of The Signal when he was here. His cartoons got to the point of the matter in a poignant, clear way. He was just a very genuine and caring human being."

"I was really happy with the crowd we got," Whyte said as the room emptied. "I thought there were some great moments during the event and everybody seemed to have a good time, We had some great speakers -- Bella Shaw was terrific. She gave a very interesting and entertaining talk about the battle among media outlets to be first with news.

"I also thought that Rickey Courtney represented our scholarship winners very well. He's a very bright and talented young man, just the kind of applicant we love to see when we're looking to help local kids go to college and pursue First-Amendment careers," Whyte said.

For more information about the SCV Press Club and the Randy Wicks Memorial First Amendment Scholarship fund, which accepts tax-deductible donations throughout the year, visit www.scvpressclub.org.

For Randy Wicks' bio and a slideshow of his most memorable work, visit www.scvpressclub.org/History%20and%20Wicks.html.


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