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Tampa Bay Times’ Alexandra Zayas to work for ProPublica

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Tampa Bay Times award-winning investigative reporter Alexandra Zayas is departing the newspaper to work for ProPublica, the investigative non-profit organization based in New York City.

The 34-year-old Miami native has been with the Times since 2005, coming to work for the paper after graduating from the University of Miami.

“It’s a really exciting time to join ProPublica,” she said Monday morning, a few hours after the news of her hiring went live. “Investigative journalism is having a very important moment right now, and it’s going to one of the best places to be there for that. It’s a great opportunity.”

Zayas began at the Times covering a variety of beats before working with the investigative team, where her 2013 three-part series “In God’s Name,” put her into the national spotlight.

The series exposed abuse at unlicensed religious group homes in Florida, and won the 2013 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting that year.

It was at that time that Zayas was offered jobs at competing news organizations but decided to stay put, saying now that she still felt she could learn more under Chris Davis, who spent five years at the Times as the deputy managing editor for investigations and data before leaving last summer to work for USA Today.

Other big stories followed, including the 2015 “Biking While Black” piece regarding the Tampa Police Dept.’s policy of disproportionately citing black bicyclists. The story roiled City Hall for much of that year, ultimately leading to the creation of a police citizen’s review board as well as a Justice Dept. review of the TDP (the DOJ report said the policy was “not discriminatory,” but also not effective).

A homeowner in Seminole Heights with a partner and a child (and another one the way), Zayas calls the decision to leave living Tampa and the Times, “an excruciating choice,” because she’s adopted the Cigar City as her own hometown.

“It was a very painful choice,” she says. “I have decided not to take other opportunites over the past few years, and this one was just too good to pass up.”

She’s not yet out the door, however. Her next major piece, a report on juvenile car theft in Pinellas County, will be published sometime in the next month.

“Alex embodies ProPublica’s commitment to digging deep into pressing and often complex issues, with a sharp mind for making all stories engaging to a general audience,” said Robin Fields, ProPublica’s managing editor, in a story published on ProPublica’s site. “We have long admired her conversation-starting, high-impact work, and are excited to welcome her to our team.”

Zayas begins at ProPublica in June.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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