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Cerise Castle Wins Prestigious Journalism Award for ‘A Tradition of Violence’

After receiving two awards for the groundbreaking series in 2022, Castle has received further recognition.

A young Black woman (Cerise Castle) looks confidently at the camera. She is standing in front of a blank wall, wearing a floral blazer.
Reporter Cerise Castle, author of “A Tradition of Violence,” an investigative journalism series and podcast. (Source: Cerise Castle)

Knock LA is excited to share that reporter Cerise Castle has been awarded the American Mosaic Journalism Prize, presented by the Heising-Simons Foundation. The prize is “awarded for excellence in long-form, narrative, or deep reporting on stories about underrepresented and/or misrepresented groups in the present American landscape.” Foundation board chair Liz Simons said, “Journalism, at its best, tells stories that linger, that simmer, that gently or forcefully pose questions we feel compelled to answer,” which certainly applies to Castle’s reporting on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

This is the third prize Castle has won for “A Tradition of Violence,” Knock LA’s groundbreaking 15-part series on LASD deputy gangs, preceded by the Courage in Journalism award and the American Journalism Online award for best use of public records. The series, originally published in 2021, was the first of its kind, setting the tone for future reporting on this hidden-in-plain-sight topic. Just two days ago, the Los Angeles Times assigned a reporter to cover LASD deputy gangs.

“A Tradition of Violence” has directly influenced the California Department of Justice, the LA Democratic Party, Representative Maxine Waters, the Civilian Oversight Commission, and others to investigate deputy gangs in the LASD. It has affected elected officials inside and outside of the sheriff’s department, and it has changed the way Angelenos vote, as demonstrated by the passing of Measure A this past fall. It’s rare for reporting to have such an immediate and dramatic impact.

Since publishing the series in March 2021, Castle has published the first-ever searchable database of deputy gang members, assembled from information pulled from tens of thousands of pages of court documentation. She has continued her vital reporting on LASD, ranging from stories on shooting victims and intergang violence to continued violence perpetrated on public streets and in private homes. She has also developed the series for a podcast of the same title, which has been nominated for Best Investigative Podcast by the Publisher Podcast Awards.

While Castle is enjoying this well-deserved success, she remembers a time when she wasn’t sure whether the story would ever be published. Major news outlets and outlets she had a history with did not want to publish the story, saying it was for a readership outside of their paying audience. “That was devastating to hear,” Castle said. “Knock LA was the only outlet that said yes.”

Adding to that sentiment, Castle said, “Knock is a place that cares about story, not who’s paying. That’s why I’m so proud to be part of Knock.”

Being an independent nonprofit journalism site meant that Knock LA didn’t (and doesn’t) answer to advertisers, corporations, or even subscribers, as there is no paywall on our site. “Knock provided research assistance to go over the many, many pages of documents [and] provided legal assistance, which was very important to me as a freelancer,” Castle added.

“A Tradition of Violence” had a far-reaching effect on elected officials, media, and Angelenos in general, but we feel the strongest effect here at Knock LA. The series doubled our viewership and donations. Castle shares the sentiment: “Working with Knock LA and doing ‘A Tradition of Violence’ completely altered the course of my life and career. I’m thankful for the opportunity to create a piece of reporting that has had such a huge impact countywide.”

The Knock LA team is elated to celebrate Cerise and her work, and we are proud to have her on the team as our managing editor. We are even prouder to offer groundbreaking coverage like hers on our site.

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