Joel Engardio

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Joel Engardio
Joel Engardio.jpg
Born (1972-09-17) September 17, 1972 (age 45)
Occupation Journalist, documentary filmmaker, writer

Joel P. Engardio (born September 17, 1972) is a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner.[1] He is an award-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker and civil liberties advocate.[2] Engardio served as a member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. Engardio's PBS documentary Knocking[3] won the jury award for Best Documentary at the USA Film Festival.[4] At the American Civil Liberties Union, Engardio combined reporting and multimedia storytelling skills to pioneer more effective ways to mount lawsuits and communicate public education efforts. He was the ACLU’s first “story finder” and implemented a process that applied journalism methods to plaintiff-finding.[5] Engardio found plaintiffs who had narratives that played well in both the court of law and public opinion. He also started a video department that produced shorts for online audiences, which prompted mainstream media to cover the same stories.[6]


Joel Engardio has been a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner since 2013 [7] and has written for the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor and P.O.V. magazine. He has written essays broadcast on NPR’s This I Believe series [8] and KQED-San Francisco’s Perspectives.[9] Engardio wrote, narrated and directed Knocking, a documentary on Jehovah’s Witnesses that was nationally broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens.[10] It was named Best Documentary at the USA Film Festival.[11]


Engardio's San Francisco Examiner column won the 2016 Excellence in Journalism Award for Commentary by the Society of Professional Journalists of Northern California. Engardio also won the First Place award for feature columns in 2016 and 2015 by the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club. He won First Place in Columns/Criticism at the 2014 Freelance Journalism Awards sponsored by the Pacific Media Workers Guild.[12] Engardio won a national opinion writing award at the 2010 American Academy of Religion Journalism Awards. His short film "Voices from Guantanamo" received the Global Justice Award at the 2010 Media That Matters Film Festival, with screenings in New York and London.[13] His film Knocking was named Best Documentary at the 2006 USA Film Festival. Engardio was the recipient of the 2000 National Press Foundation award for science writing. In 2003, his opinion writing was recognized with a first place award by the Society of Professional Journalists in Northern California. He was a finalist for the Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Writing Award in 2000.


Engardio graduated from the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government in 2011 with a Master in Public Administration. He attended Harvard on a full-tuition scholarship from the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. His undergraduate degree is from Michigan State University, where he majored in journalism and history. He was born and raised in Saginaw, Michigan. Engardio currently lives in San Francisco with his husband Lionel Hsu.

Political career[edit]

Engardio was appointed to the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee in July 2015 and served until July 2016.[14] The DCCC is the governing body for the local Democratic Party. In 2016, Engardio was the only candidate endorsed by both the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner in his race for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.[15] Engardio finished second in a field of five candidates. He was the first openly gay supervisor candidate to run in San Francisco’s conservative District 7, where half the voters in some precincts supported a 2008 ban on gay marriage. Engardio serves on the board of directors of San Francisco's Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club [16] and the political action committee San Francisco Moderates.

Knocking Documentary[edit]

Engardio's documentary film Knocking explored how the unpopular religion of Jehovah's Witnesses played a major role in First Amendment history, setting Supreme Court precedents that expanded individual liberties for all Americans. In interviews, Engardio said Knocking is not about the theology of Jehovah's Witnesses but instead uses the religion as a case study to examine how disparate and disagreeable groups can hold their unique beliefs without marginalizing or limiting the freedom of others. "We may not be each others' cup of tea," Engardio said on NPR, "but tolerance allows a variety of kettles to peacefully share the stove." Knocking won several film festival awards including Best Documentary at the USA Film Festival and was covered in Newsweek, USA Today and newspapers across the United States. Entertainment Weekly named it "What to Watch." Knocking was broadcast in the United States on PBS. It was also broadcast in Australia, Canada, Greece and Israel. Knocking was released on DVD in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian and Korean. Critics of Jehovah's Witnesses said the film did not deal harshly enough with controversies surrounding the religion, like the practice of shunning. Engardio told film festival audiences that "Knocking" contained criticism organic to the film's story. Engardio has written Washington Post essays critical of Jehovah's Witness practices, including shunning [17] and refusal of blood transfusions.[18] Engardio has also written essays for the Washington Post and USA Today about civil rights issues involving Jehovah's Witnesses outside the scope of his film. Most notable was the 2010 ruling by a federal judge that overturned California's ban on gay marriage, in which the key legal precedent cited by the judge was a 1943 Supreme Court case won by Jehovah's Witnesses.[19] Another Washington Post essay by Engardio warns that a ban on Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia is a dangerous precedent that could lead to the loss of freedoms for other unpopular groups in the emerging democracy.[20]


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