Graphic for NBC 7 "Stolen" series
Graphic for NBC 7 “Stolen” series

KNSD-TV NBC 7 San Diego has been awarded its first-ever national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigative documentary series that never aired on one of its newscasts.

Instead of a newscast, the station’s documentary about child sex trafficking and exploitation was first launched on its website.

The Murrow award from the Radio Television Digital News Association was presented in the “Excellence in Innovation” category. The series was a winner at a regional Murrow competition before it was entered against other regional winners in the national competition.

“I’m very proud to have contributed to the station’s first national Murrow award,” said anchor-reporter Monica Dean, who has worked at the station since June 2004.

The documentary, called “Stolen,” consists of seven video episodes, ranging from 12 to 22 minutes in length, plus a 78-minute compilation video, 15 articles and seven podcasts. The episodes include interviews with young women and men who were sexually exploited in San Diego County.

The 78-minute video is currently available on Peacock, the NBC streaming app, and NBC’x Lx network.

“This series is a digital-first investigation, helping our consumers understand a difficult but important topic for our community,” Greg Dawson, NBC 7 VP of news, said in a statement. “This award highlights our newsroom’s dedication to delivering the stories that impact our viewers on the platforms and in the way they consume news.”

Monica Dean

Dean told Times of San Diego that she began researching the child sex trafficking problem in March 2019. She was joined by investigative producer Tom Jones, who is now working at WMAQ-TV, an NBC affiliate in Chicago.

“I went to our news director (Dawson) with the idea of allowing me to gather content, investigate the story and then we would decide how to showcase the content,” Dean said. “The more we dug, the deeper the pit went and we continued to discover evidence proving just how vulnerable children are to potential exploitation.

“As it turned out, the content was more effectively presented online in thematic episodes rather than within the confines of a traditional newscast. And, actually, opting to go digital has resulted in reaching a greater audience than a once-and-done newscast. For distributing this content, digital was a better way. It has allowed more people to share the content with others around the world.”

“Stolen” was first posted online on Aug. 20, 2020.

“I’m a journalist but also a mother of three children and I wanted people to understand the implications of this horrible, complex issue,” Dean said. “It was our mission to help people understand these young victims could be your child, sister, neighbor or friend. The desire for love, validation and acceptance is often what makes someone vulnerable to exploitation. But, there is hope and there are solutions.”

Told from the perspective of survivors, advocates, even pimps and sex buyers, “Stolen” also celebrates the strength of survivors and their families as they struggle to break the bonds of sex trafficking, the station said.

In one of the episodes, Dean and Jones uncovered previously sealed jailhouse recordings of a trafficker manipulating two teen girls into selling themselves online. The recordings led to an investigation of how a wealthy San Diego businessman received immunity from San Diego County prosecutors, despite his admission that he had paid teenage girls for sex.

The case highlights gaps in the state justice system, including the reality that sex buyers are rarely arrested and charged for their crimes. “When they are, they typically receive only a misdemeanor citation that can be disposed of by paying a small fine,” said Dean. “The way the law works in California, a person can buy sex with a minor, say they didn’t realize they were under the age of 18, and walk away with little punishment.”

Another episode provides evidence of child sex trafficking occurring at nearly every school district in San Diego County and how thousands of teenagers are vulnerable to exploiters through their social media profiles.

“It’s a very difficult and uncomfortable topic, but a must-see for parents, educators, youth groups and community leaders,” said Dean. “In the #MeToo era, there’s an opportunity for a real conversation about the dangers of these kinds of exploitative relationships that often draw teen girls and boys into sex trafficking. Young people’s lives are at stake. In this digital age, they are more vulnerable than ever.”

In addition to the regional and national Murrow awards, the series has been honored with five Emmy awards from the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Golden Mike award from the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California and a Telly silver and bronze award.

“I am overwhelmingly grateful that the journalism community is acknowledging this body of work as groundbreaking within our industry,” said Dean. “It is my hope that the recognition will increase the exposure of the series and will impact how future journalists approach this issue and continue to report difficult stories.  

“The courageous voices of the survivors and lived-experience experts who shared their stories with us through this series continue to resonate with people around the globe. They are the heroes of Stolen. We are so grateful to the survivors who trusted us to share their stories through this project. They deserve credit because they lived this story. The feedback we have received has given us a window into how the series is helping educate, inform, inspire and even save lives.”

Dean has been making public speaking appearances about “Stolen.” She spoke last week at Journey Community Church in La Mesa. She can be reached at

Havas Edge Hires Luke Slota as VP of Influencer Marketing

Havas Edge, a marketing agency in Carlsbad, has added Luke Slota as senior VP of influencer marketing.

Luke Slota

Previously, Slota helped create and lead the influencer program at Veritone One and served as head of media at Performance Bridge. During his 10 years in media and advertising, Slota has scaled dozens of small test campaigns into evergreen acquisition channels, the company said.

“I am truly excited to join a performance marketing agency that puts so much emphasis on innovation and being a champion for the growth of their clients,” said Slota. “They also have great understanding and put care in their internal teams and culture, and I am thrilled to be a part of the team.”

Abed Abusaleh, CEO of Havas Edge, said in a statement, “Havas Edge is known as the industry experts, so having a pro like Luke champion our new influencer marketing group will make the full-service offering we have available to clients even more powerful. Luke also possesses a depth of knowledge in the influencer market that is unmatched in the advertising industry. He will help us marry great work and cutting-edge attribution with an expanded opportunity for clients to reach new audiences. He has a lot to offer Havas Edge and our clients as a member of our Executive Team.” 

Mission Fed Wins Two Marketing Awards

Mission Federal Credit Union has announced it recently won two awards from the Marketing Association of Credit Unions, a trade association for credit union marketers.

Mission Fed, along with its marketing partners CSBimpact and Simpler & Simpler, received a Gold award in the rebrand-brand evolution category. Mission Fed said its rebranding campaign accounted for 23,000 new members, which was 83 percent of all new member growth in 2020 among major San Diego-area credit union competitors.

In addition, Mission Fed received a Silver Award in the broadcast category for its community-based commercial titled “Good for you. Good for all.”

“We’re fortunate to have creative, strategic and high-caliber partners like CSBimpact and Simpler & Simpler on our team” said Sanya DeVore, VP, director of marketing, Mission Fed. “Their media strategy and creative execution have been instrumental in helping us achieve our business goals. They have helped us harness media and messaging to influence target audience behavior.”

Mission Fed said its MAC awards were presented in its first year as a MAC member.

PRSA Accepting Entries for 2021 Bernays Awards

The Public Relations Society of America’s San Diego-Imperial Counties chapter has begun accepting entries for its 2021 Edward R. Bernays Mark of Excellence Awards program. Categories include community relations, integrated communications, issues management, public affairs, media relations and research and evaluation.

The submission period runs from Aug. 17 to Sept. 17. Entry fees begin at $80 per entry for members, $90 for nonmembers. Some entry fees vary depending on categories and entry submission date, including first deadline on Sept. 3, second deadline with a $30 late fee per entry on Sept. 10 and final deadline with a $40 late fee per entry on Sept. 17.  Entries will be judged by members of a partner PSAR chapter.

Award winners will be announced this fall. Silver and Bronze awards will be presented. The Silver award recognizes complete public relations programs incorporating research, planning, implementation and evaluation. The Bronze award recognizes public relations tactics, consisting of individual items or components of campaigns.

The chapter will host a free informational webinar over Zoom from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 31. Webinar content will include entry submission tips from previous winners, answers to questions and insight to the awards’ career value. More information about the awards and webinar is available at

This year’s awards program theme is “Bolder, Brighter, Better.” Bernays Awards co-chairs include: Giovanna Castro, Republic Services; Amanda Nelson, San Diego Housing Federation; Emily Roethle, Crowe PR; Amber Winans, Bhava Communications.

The awards are named after Edward L. Bernays, the man who launched the field of public relations in the 1920s. Often called the “father of public relations,” Bernays’ history-making campaigns explain why people eat bacon with eggs, women smoke cigarettes and bank managers join civic groups. He died in 1995 at age 103.

Rick Griffin is a San Diego-based public relations and marketing consultant. His MarketInk column appears weekly on Mondays in Times of San Diego.