Gannett’s USA TODAY – Florida properties swept the 2019 Florida Society of News Editors awards, thanks to critical reporting from all corners of the state that exposed corruption, enlightened readers and prompted formative change and discussion on a host of compelling issues.
From gripping breaking news reporting in Palm Beach and Pensacola to serious investigative journalism in Tallahassee and the Treasure Coast, a total of 30 first-place and Gold Medal FSNE awards were dished out to properties under the Gannett banner. More than 50 second- and third-place awards went to Gannett papers as well.
The awards encompassed Gannett properties and the former GateHouse Media, which merged in November 2019 under a $1.13 billion deal.
“This is an incredible list of winners and a credit to our properties and to the reporters and editors serving our readers throughout Florida,” said Matthew Sauer, executive editor and general manager of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Gannett’s Florida regional editor. “I count 30 first-place awards with nearly every Gannett property in Florida represented. Our folks won a total of 85 awards in this year’s contest. This speaks to the incredible reach and gravity that the merger of GateHouse and Gannett has brought to the Sunshine State. We are 400 journalists statewide at more than 20 properties. Our reach is unparalleled for a newspaper company in this state’s history.”
The first-place awards for Divisions B and C are:
- Breaking News Reporting: Annie Blanks, Kevin Robinson, Jim Little, Madison Arnold, Jake Newby, Colin Warren-Hicks, Tony Giberson, John Blackie, Pensacola News Journal, NAS Pensacola shooting
- Enterprise Stories: Jeff Burlew, Karl Etters, Yoonserk Pyun, Tallahassee Democrat, Victim-Centered Reporting under the Constraints of Marsy’s Law
- Investigative Reporting: Cheryl Smith, Miranda Moore, Jon Santucci, TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers, Woodbury Nation
- Community Leadership: Tallahassee Democrat, Hurricane Michael One Year Later
- Features Writing: Jeff Burlew, Tallahassee Democrat, ‘They over-killed my baby’: A Gun Violence Victim’s Story
- Beat Reporting: Cassidy Alexander, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Cassidy Alexander Portfolio
- Sports: Ken Willis, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ken Willis Portfolio
- Business: Jim Abbott, The Daytona Beach News-Journal, Jim Abbott Portfolio
- Columns: Dave Schlenker, Ocala Star-Banner, Dave Schlenker collection
- Editorials: Andy Marlette, Pensacola News Journal, Pensacola News Journal Editorials
- Page Design: Diandra Spicak, Andy Marlette, Pensacola News Journal, ‘We all bleed’
- Spot News Photography: Malcom Denemark, Craig Bailey, Florida Today, Florida Today
- Feature Photography: Alicia Devine, Tallahassee Democrat, Portraits from the Eye of Hurricane Michael
- Sports Photography: Alicia Devine, Tallahassee Democrat, Sadness and Celebration: A Collection of Moments by Alicia Devine
- Photo Story: Bruce Ackerman, Ocala Star-Banner, Muddy Princess
- Breaking News Video: Doug Engle, Ocala Star-Banner, Doug Engle collection
- Features Video: Tim Walters, Florida Today, The People of Apollo
- Multimedia: Britt Kennerly, John Torres, Bobby Block, Emre Kelly, Tom Mardis, Mara Bellaby, Ray Soto, Tim Walters, Florida Today, The People of Apollo
- News Interactive: Mark Woods, The Florida Times-Union, Walk across Jax
- Breaking News Reporting: Staff, The Palm Beach Post, Robert Kraft and the Massage Parlor
- Enterprise Stories: Ryan McKinnon, Josh Salman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Wasted Minds
- Investigative Reporting: Jane Musgrave, John Pacenti, Lulu Ramadan, The Palm Beach Post, Epstein Case: The First Failure
- Features Writing: Annabelle Tometich, Andrea Melendez, The News-Press/Naples Daily News, Rosy Tomorrows redefines farm to table in Florida
- Columns: Carrie Seidman, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Carrie Seidman
- Editorials: Rick Christie, The Palm Beach Post, Rick Christie
- Feature Photography: Andrew West, The News-Press/Naples Daily News, Python hunter
- News Interactive: Janie Haseman, The News-Press/Naples Daily News, JLB BOT
Open Division (regardless of newspaper size)
- Editorial Cartoon: Andy Marlette, Pensacola News Journal, Andy Marlette collection
Dozens of other Gannett properties and journalists took home FSNE awards as well, ranging from cartoons and editorial to sports photography and features writing.
“There are simply too many other winners to cite individually, but they all have the same thing in common: good, strong gumshoe journalism aimed at serving our readers and protecting their interests,” Sauer said. “There are a lot of slings and arrows being hurled at the quote, unquote media these days, but community journalism like ours has continued its Fourth Estate core mission of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”
Tallahassee Democrat, Palm Beach Post take home prestigious Gold Medal awards
FSNE’s Gold Medal for Public Service awards are given each year for “work of meritorious public service by a newspaper through distinguished reporting, writing and presentation,” according to FSNE.
Journalists in Tallahassee and Palm Beach are the recipients of this year’s award for their tireless work covering crime victims and the Jeffrey Epstein case, respectively.
“Obviously big kudos to the Tallahassee Democrat for winning not only five first-place awards, but taking the Gold Medal for its work on victim-related reporting under the constraints of Marsy’s law,” Sauer said. “Gannett won two of the three Gold Medals this year, the other being work by the Palm Beach Post on the sordid history of Jeffrey Epstein that began in Palm Beach and ended with his death in a New York City jail cell.”
At the Tallahassee Democrat, journalists Karl Etters, Yoonserk Pyun and Jeff Burlew snagged the Gold Medal award for their crime and public safety reporting under Marsy’s Law, which went into effect in January 2019 and granted crime victims extended privacy and protection.
Burlew, a 25-year journalism veteran enjoying his third career Gold Medal win, said Marsy’s law changed the way he did journalism — with police departments no longer releasing basic information about victims and crime scenes, he began driving around in the middle of the night looking for police lights, examining crime scenes himself and getting more involved in the story than ever before.
Profile of a Tallahassee crime victim: ‘They over-killed my baby’: 16-year-old Amarion James dreamed of rapper fame
““Marsy’s Law is sort of the latest version of a brick wall or a door slammed in your face, which reporters have to work around all the time. It’s just another obstacle that we have to overcome,” Burlew said in a phone interview from Tallahassee on Wednesday. “Newspapers are the first draft of history, but the stories of crime victims were being lost because of Marsy’s Law.”
At the Palm Beach Post, reporters Jane Musgrave, John Pacenti and Lulu Ramadan won the Division B Gold Medal for their investigative reporting series titled “Epstein Case: The First Failure,” which detailed the multiple systemic failures that allowed disgraced pedophile Jeffrey Epstein to get away with his crimes for years.
In an email, Musgrave said they were “thrilled to be recognized” by the FSNE and outlined how the Post’s dogged reporting of the Epstein case brought a light to how so many of his victims were mistreated by the legal system.
The First Failure: To the first prosecutors, Epstein’s victims were prostitutes
“The Palm Beach Post has covered the sad and ugly saga of Jeffrey Epstein since he was first indicted in 2006. While other news outlets tired of the long-running story, we continued to watch as his victims sought redress through the courts for being abused, first by Epstein, and later by the justice system,” Musgrave wrote. “U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta rightly deserves the criticism he has received for negotiating the non-prosecution agreement that allowed Epstein to escape federal charges.
“However, if Palm Beach County State Attorney Barry Krischer had taken Epstein’s victims seriously and vigorously prosecuted Epstein, Acosta would never have been involved,” she continued. “Epstein would have been sent to prison a decade ago. Our story detailed how Krischer set the stage for years of legal maneuvering that ultimately robbed his accusers of their day in court and undoubtedly gave Epstein license to continue to molest teenage girls.”
‘We serve as a voice for the voiceless’
The awards won throughout Gannett showcased the power of local journalism and its importance in the fabric of everyday life.While staff size has decreased at newspapers across the country in recent years, that has only pushed staff to go all-in on the topics and news events that impact their community
At the Pensacola News Journal, for instance, the newsroom staff took home the award for breaking news reporting in Division C for their coverage of the Naval Air Station Pensacola terrorist attack and shooting Dec. 6, 2019.
The staff worked 18-hour days for three days straight after a lone gunman opened fire on a secure naval base and killed three people and wounded eight more, rocking the small Panhandle town and calling international attention to the Navy’s premiere flight training school.
“We knew immediately this was going to be one of the biggest stories we would ever tell. You never, ever, imagine something as horrific as a terrorist attack would happen in your community,” said PNJ Executive Editor Lisa Nellessen Savage in an email. “The entire nation was watching, but for those of who live in Pensacola, it was personal. You can’t live or work in this community without knowing someone on base or someone in law enforcement.
“Every member of our staff felt an overwhelming need to tell their stories well, and to be sensitive to the anxiety and pain the community was feeling,” she added. “This wasn’t just a story about a terrorist, it was a story about young men who gave up their lives protecting their country. It was a story about courageous men and women who risked their lives to save others in the midst of terrifying chaos. It was a story of a community who pulled together. I think the overall breadth of our work – the stories, the photos, videos and livestream social media – helped the community not just understand what was happening, but to grieve and move forward.”
Frozen in fear hours after the attack: Community shaken, stunned over NAS Pensacola shooting
All in all, journalists do not need recognition or awards, and in fact work mostly in the shadows of society with little or no glory (which, if you ask a journalist, is mostly how they prefer it). But the FSNE awards each year are a way to recognize the dedication of local journalists who believe in the mission of the press and work steadfastly to uphold its values and keep it alive, editors echoed each other.
“Many of us still in Florida journalism are longtime members of our communities and raising families there. We’re not trying to make a splash, we’re just trying to expose wrongdoing and emphasize right-doing, and do what is needed to protect our communities and make them thriving, livable places with a strong business community,” Sauer said. “Most importantly we serve as a voice for the voiceless, the working poor, middle class families struggling to make ends meet in the middle of a pandemic, and people with a vision for a better America who might not be good at tooting their own horns.”
Annie Blanks can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8632.