From a Central American Bagel Shop to Journalist of the Year

Morgan Cook wins the SPJ prize, Ken Stone follows with best anecdote

The San Diego Journalist of the Year has been announced. Morgan Cook, an investigative reporter with the Union-Tribune, will be feted later this year  at the 2017 banquet of the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) for her dogged work:

Cook’s first story came last April after she found a letter posted by the Federal Election Commission questioning Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, for using campaign funds to pay for video games. Cook then wrote about Hunter’s other questionable self-reported expenses that he claimed were mistakes–items such as oral surgery, private school tuition and a garage door. Then she dug through Hunter’s campaign filings to fact check additional expenses and found other items that didn’t add up, including $229 for “food and beverages” at a Disneyland gift shop where the only food sold is PEZ and a Star Wars-themed Rice Krispies treat.

Boom! Meanwhile, Times of San Diego colleague Ken Stone wins the prize for best follow-on anecdote, about Cook’s path to this moment. It’s not at all what you might expect. During her graduate student days at the University of Missouri, she traveled south and found herself staring at unexpected opportunity:

She crossed paths with Sam Hodgson, then the Voice of San Diego photo editor.

“I met Sam in a bagel shop in Antigua, Guatemala,” Cook says. “Had I not run into him at that bagel shop, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.”

That’s because Hodgson told Cook about an opening at the North County Times — the Oceanside-based daily acquired in 2012 by The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Cook had been working in between school years as a literary agent. She applied, got the North County Times job and moved from New York to the West Coast. Hodgson meanwhile is today a photographer based in New York and he has some great additional memories about the bagel shop meeting.

Stone’s article includes a lot more about Cook’s journalism years, and ends with a Q&A conducted via email. She has worked at the Union-Tribune with previous SPJ Journalist of the Year Jeff McDonald and nimbly dodges one of Stone’s questions, revealing only her “go-to karaoke jam.”