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Former Noozhawk Reporter Wins Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting

Rob Kuznia receives the coveted award for a series of stories he co-wrote for the Daily Breeze in Torrance dealing with corruption in a local school district

Former Noozhawk reporter Rob Kuznia received a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for a series of stories he wrote for the Daily Breeze in Torrance dealing with corruption in the Centinela Valley Unified School District.
Former Noozhawk reporter Rob Kuznia received a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for a series of stories he wrote for the Daily Breeze in Torrance dealing with corruption in the Centinela Valley Unified School District. (USC Shoah Foundation photo)

A former Noozhawk reporter has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting while working for a Southern California daily newspaper.

Rob Kuznia, who worked for Noozhawk from 2007 to 2009, received the prestigious journalism honor Monday, along with two other journalists at the Daily Breeze in Torrance, for a series of stories that dealt with corruption in a local school district.

Kuznia, Rebecca Kimitch and Frank Suraci were recognized "for their inquiry into widespread corruption in a small, cash-strapped school district, including impressive use of the paper’s website," a statement from the award's website said Monday.

The year-long investigation began after Kuznia discovered Centinela Valley Unified School District Superintendent Jose Fernandez was collecting $663,000 a year in compensation to lead the district, which serves about 6,600 students.

Further investigation revealed how a construction company and major donor of campaign dollars for valley school board members appeared to be benefiting from all of the district's construction projects.

More information was also uncovered on Fernandez in subsequent stories that revealed the superintendent took other benefits, in addition to his exorbitant salary.

Fernandez had purchased a home with a loan from the school district worth $910,000, as well as a $750,000 life insurance policy that he secured before the school board could approve it.

During his tenure at Noozhawk, Kuznia became known for his education stories, including his coverage of the Santa Barbara Unified School District board, in addition to general news assignments he covered as a beat reporter. 

Bill Macfadyen, Noozhawk’s founder and publisher, said he was excited for Kuznia, who was “an original Noozhawk” back in 2007 when the news site launched. 

“I’m thrilled for Rob and for his colleagues at the Daily Breeze, and I’m so glad he got the recognition he deserves,” Macfadyen said. “He is an outstanding, well-rounded journalist, but when it comes to the education beat, he really is without peer.

"His perception, determination, work ethic, research and engagement on the issue are first rate, and I think the way he approaches his job is something younger reporters should strive to emulate."

Kuznia was also reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press from 2004 to 2007, where he reported on education prior to joining Noozhawk.  

Kuznia was one of several reporters at the paper who was illegally fired in retaliation for union activity, for which the National Labor Relations Board ordered News-Press owner Wendy McCaw to offer the reporters reinstatement and back pay.

He also wrote locally for the Hispanic Business Magazine as well as the Pacific Standard, formerly Miller-McCune Magazine. Kuznia joined the Daily Breeze team in 2010 and worked there until 2014.

He currently is a publicist for the USC Shoah Foundation.

In addition to the Pulitzer, his work on the Centinela Valley Unified School District series garnered a 2014 Scripps Howard National award for community journalism as well as a first-place award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association Award for local government reporting.

Kuznia was also a finalist for best investigative/enterprise feature from the 2014 Editor and Publisher EPPY Awards.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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