Excellence in Journalism 2015 | Orlando, Fla.

Disco maniac on ‘Stayin’ Alive’

By The EIJ News

By Julieta Chiquillo / Photos by Nikki Villoria

Michael Quintanilla, an award-winning journalist of more than 30 years who used to cover the cops beat at the San Antonio Express-News, had to get something off his chest.

Clad in a white suit, black shirt and metallic shoes, Quintanilla leaped on top of an equipment case on stage, bent his knees and pointed to the sky as a disco ball twirled over his head, casting strobe lights on the wall.

“My name is Michael Quintanilla, and I have a confession to make,” Quintanilla said, the BeeGee’s “Stayin’ Alive” playing in the background. “I’m a disco maniac, I live in the ’70s and my two favorite gal pals? Poly and Ester.”

The crowd burst out laughing as Quintanilla, 54, reminisced about his disco nights when he was a young crime reporter at the Express-News.

But after the laughter died down, Quintanilla reminded journalists to remain in touch with their humanity despite the upheaval in the industry.

He said it’s a good thing to move forward and keep up with the technology as the industry evolves, but it’s important to remember why journalists go into that profession in the first place.


“After all, we call them human interest stories, don’t we?”

It’s important for journalists to relate to the people they write about, not just on an intellectual level, but an emotional one, Quintanilla said. Journalists should look for the details that will prompt an emotional response from readers, and the best way to do that is “hanging out,” he said.

“Observe and write with your eyes,” he said.

Quintanilla said he learned to “hang out” from his mother.

When an editor at the Express-News interviewed him fresh out of school, Quintanilla told the editor he had a car and a driver’s license, even though he didn’t, because he wanted the job.

“Without the editors knowing, my mother and I covered the police beat together,” Quintanilla said to roaring laughter.

Quintanilla’s mother would drive him to crime scenes in a baby blue Rambler. While he reported, his mom would just “hang out.”

“During the drive back to the station, she would feed me better information than I had because she snooped around,” he said.

Quintanilla, now senior features writer at the Express-News and former fashion and entertainment writer for the Los Angeles Times, said care for the human condition led him to several human interest stories that struck a chord with his audience.

For the Los Angeles Times, Quintanilla chronicled the last months of Raphael Cordero, a man who had become too sick to raise money to help his elderly friends because he was dying of AIDS.

For months, Quintanilla would go to Cordero’s home after work. Cordero’s mother flew from Puerto Rico to care for him but she didn’t know English. Quintanilla kept a diary for Cordero’s mother, which was published as a story, with her permission.

The caring and passion that comes out of those stories is what readers like about journalists, Quintanilla said.

“When you feel, you reveal,” Quintanilla said, “and that advice comes directly from my mom.”

  • Insaniac99

    Clarification please: With regards to the Judging Category for “Code of Ethics”, Is that referring to within a specific article, the particular journalist, or the reporting organization?

    • Michael Koretzky

      The Code of Ethics applies only to the entry.

      So if the murderous editor of the Islamic State’s newspaper – I’m too lazy to Google to see if there really is one – writes an excellent and ethical gaming story, he might win.

      That’s fine by me, because it might encourage that asshole to recant and reform. And even if it doesn’t, other assholes might be jealous of his success and start doing good work for greedy reasons.

      • Insaniac99

        Thank you for the reply.

  • Eric Kelly

    this is great. Thanks for doing this.

  • Ben Grogan

    Hello Michael, I’ll echo many here and thank you and the SPJ for continuing to support Good, Ethical and responsible journalism. I hope this helps us continue the path to making games journalism an accurate and hopefully consumer focused medium and recover its image in the eyes of it’s detractors.

    I just have 2 or 3 questions I’d like to ask.

    1. Beyond this posting and word of mouth, what are the plans for awareness raising of this?
    In particular I’d suggest a circular to any outlet which receives a nomination at least, though I expect that there are a multitude of possibilities

    2. For the people awarded the laurels, would it be possible (If it’s applicable to them) for the winners to also have their EIC’s name referenced, as good journalism can be made or broken by good editorial work in the back room as much as it is by the authors own passion.

    3. Is there any possibility of a honourable mentions section in the award, essentially to draw attention to outlets that have had particular distinction, for example;

    New startups that have had 1 or more strong articles that have been of a high standard
    The outlet which has had the most separate articles nominated, or some other metric if you find a better one, to essentially give a respectful nod to outlets that publish consistently at a good standard

    And finally 1 possible one

    If any present themselves, a “Diamond in the rough” type mention for a journalist that has shown particular character, even if working at an outlet that has been lambasted for poor journalism, to remind us that even surrounded by s**t a diamond is still valuable.

    I hope none of these come across too much as teaching Grandma to suck eggs, that is not my intent.

    Thank you for this in advance

    • Michael Koretzky

      Teaching Grandma to suck eggs? Never heard that before. Kind of dig it.

      1. I’ve already started contacting EICs directly, but this ain’t a bad idea. Thanks.

      2. Interesting idea. As an editor myself, I like it.

      3.Honorable mentions or second and third places are up to the judges. In fact, if the judges think everything in a category sucks, they have the right to declare no winner.

      “Diamond in the rough” might be something to consider for the Kunkels’ second year (if there is one). I have a feeling we’ll screw up a lot and learn a lot this year.

      • Lost Question

        ever heard of blood bowl? (it is fantasy football)

      • Ben Grogan

        I have also thought of 1 final question.

        What is journalism, in the context of these awards?

        I’ll clarify, I assume you’re familiar with the name John Bain, or as he’s better known TotalBiscuit, Many people have apparently put some of his work forward.

        He has politely requested for people not to do that as he views himself as a critic, not a journalist.
        However much many pieces he does could easily fall into the preview of what could be considered journalism examples of his content:

        Content patch: This was a regular news like show he did on the channel, sharing information from around the games industry, the name “Content patch” itself is referencing a games developer term for a new addition to the game designed to improve or add to the state of the game, as opposed to normal patches which merely tweak details that impact very little on the whole

        WTF is …?: A review series which he phrases as “A stream of consciousnesses and opinion” on a video game.
        This, to me at least, seems like an interesting use of what is basically an evolution OP-ED as a customer review

        Individual videos varying from complete opinion pieces on the state of video games industry to one in particular which I would recommend watching, even if it’s not a nomination.
        “The Ins and Outs of Proper disclosure” is just less than 30 mins long was a primarily informative video aimed to inform Youtubers on the Updated FTC guidelines on disclosure following a major group (Machinima) having been receiving an undisclosed and intentionally obscured sponsorship from Microsoft to speak positively about the XBone (XB1M13)

        The video then goes on to give information on Disclosural best practices, and references both the FTC guidelines and other peoples interviews with people from the FTC to verify that what he is saying is factually accurate

        Moving on from TB, there are numerous people within GG that could theoretically be nominated aswell, but as I believe you mentioned around airplay the consumer was adverse to self branding as journalists.

        What I’m asking longhand here are these questions:
        1. Does the persons opinion of the creator matter to whether the content itself is Journalism?
        2. If the “death of the author” is inforce and the content is journalism regardless of intent, is there any way for the creator to gently refuse the award
        3. I understand that time will probably be an issue, but would it be possible to have articles viewed by the judges for context between the quality of journalism and “Not-Journalism” and hopefully have the judges pass some small comment overall about this.

        • Michael Koretzky

          I’ve long believed – and many SPJ leaders agree – that journalism is something you, rather than someone you are.

          So if Total Biscuit commits a notable and noble act of journalism, he can win a Kunkel Award. If he wishes to “gently refuse” the honor, we won’t send him the trophy. No hard feelngs. But he still won. Can’t unring that bell.

          The judges, meanwhile, are instructed to only consider the journalism. But if they have context questions, we’ll answer them.

  • MRAlias

    Thank you for doing this for gamers and games journalists Mike and SPJ!

  • Ted Perlmutter

    Excellent idea. Any effort to build professional standards in such a contested field cannot hurt.

  • Ted Perlmutter

    Excellent idea to encourage professional in gamer journalism, btw Seidle is a German political foundation connected to the CSU, the conservative wing of the Christian Democratic Party.

  • http://attackongaming.com/ Gaming Admiral

    I like it. Have a few questions though.

    Who will these awards be open to?
    Will the awards be chosen by readers, peers, or members of the SPJ?
    Will it be possible for publications that run shoddy journalism on a regular basis to win an award for the singular good article that they write?

    Will these awards be given to publications or to individual writers?
    What even constitutes good games journalism? Surely rewriting press releases doesn’t count?
    Will there be reviews categories, or will it be news based only?

    If I have more, I’ll tack them on as a reply.

    • SPJ AirPlay

      • Everyone who creates excellent gaming journalism.
      • Judges are pro journalists who are SPJ members.
      • Yes. If you churn out crap 364 days of the year and then produce one journalism jewel, you can win.
      • To the individual who created the excellence. Screw everyone else.
      • Details at http://www.spj.org/kunkel.asp

      • Reviews can be news if they hew to the criteria at the link above.

      More questions? More answers.

      • http://attackongaming.com/ Gaming Admiral

        Ah cool! Thanks for that!

  • Jeronimo

    Hey I nominated HarmfulOpinions on many categories, why isn’t he in that list?

    • SPJ AirPlay

      There’s a very good explanation for that. Which is: I screwed up. Fixed.

      • Jeronimo

        That’s ok. Thanks for the reply!

  • BrokenTinker

    That Fantasy Football/Final Fantasy dig, niiiceeee.

    I think it’s simply the fact that we’ve a generational gap happening on our hand and the old media is having a hard time catching up. Remember when our aunts and uncles were complaining about facebooks+its irk a decade or so ago… and now they are on it more frequently than most of us? Well, this is a similar situation. Let’s get this going so our aunts and uncles is on this thing in a decade’s time. 😀

  • Ben Grogan

    Because there are many people in the games or journalism industry who still don’t want to associate with GG due to all the drama, despite holding very similar views

    Plus this way honors a very professional journalist in the process