Sifting stories from sand: Daily Pilot reporter recognized for shining a light on Orange County residents

Sara Cardine.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The stories of Orange County residents brought to life by Daily Pilot reporter Sara Cardine earned top honors from judges weighing a field of entries from across the state in the California Journalism Awards, it was announced this month.

The competition hosted annually by the California News Publisher’s Assn. highlights some of the best reporting in the most populous state in the U.S. This year, they awarded first place to two stories Cardine wrote about locals with deep bonds to their beach communities.

“There is no shortage of Orange County denizens out there pursuing passions, exploring life and doing things that are often highly visible but little discussed,” Cardine said in between legwork for stories on city government and local developments Wednesday. “It is a thrill to be able to lift the lid on someone’s life, observe what’s ticking underneath and describe what I see.”

Her entry into the feature writing category, “Low Tide Aliens inscribe sacred geometry into the sands of Newport Beach,” shared the art and philosophy of Shane Kern of Newport Beach and Drew Davis of Costa Mesa, the creators of intricate, impermanent mandalas etched into the sand near Newport Beach Pier. Judges applauded the author for approaching her subjects with “curiosity and independence” and “helping readers experience and understand the passions of these two sand artists.”

Shane Kern and Drew Davis stand in a warrior pose by their artwork near Newport Beach Pier.
Shane Kern, left, of Newport Beach and Drew Davis of Costa Mesa stand in a warrior pose at their July 2022 Low Tide Aliens large-scale public art piece near Newport Beach Pier.
(File Photo)

Cardine’s other winning submission, “Newport Beach retiree Stan Ross, aka the Metal Detector Man, finds O.C.’s lost riches,” offered readers a deep dive into the life and impact of a longtime fixture along Orange County beaches. One judge said the profile was “a reminder of the importance of community journalism.

“No other outlet would pay attention and write about this man,” the judge wrote. “The writing and storytelling shone in this piece.”

Stan Ross, 79, searches for metal near the Newport Beach Pier.
Stan Ross, 79, searches for metal near the Newport Beach Pier on a day in June 2022. As of that date, he had found 600 rings and pieces of jewelry.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Cardine says her favorite stories bring readers together and strengthen communities around shared experiences. She has been covering community news since 2004 and began writing about coastal Orange County for the Daily Pilot in 2020.

“The biggest compliment is when a reader comments, ‘Oh, that guy on the beach! I’ve always wondered about him,’ Cardine said.

Daily Pilot Executive Editor Carol Cormaci said Cardine delivers both skill and “a certain grace that is her hallmark” in the work she produces. They previously worked together at the La Cañada Valley Sun, and the editor said her longtime colleague “was rightfully recognized by the CNPA judges this year with those two first-place awards.”

“I’ve worked with Sara for more than a dozen years and have observed the great pains she goes to so she can capture for our readers the essence of any given subject that has caught her imagination,” Cormaci said.