Local GOP leaders to blame for the situations that spark Tampa Bay Times’ Pulitzer-winning investigations

in Peter/Top Headlines by

For the third time in four years, the Tampa Bay Times has won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing and/or illuminating a horrible situation in the community that came to pass, basically, under the leadership of Republican elected officials.

On Monday, the Tampa Bay Times won the award for Best Local Reporting about an investigation, researched and reported by Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Garter, Michael La Forgia, that showed how the Pinellas County school district abandoned integration efforts in 2007 and then failed to follow through with promised resources for elementary schools that became predominantly poor and black.

That’s a Pinellas County school district governed by a school board — supposedly non-partisan — that is controlled by Republicans.

In 2014, reporters Will Hobson and LaForgia were the winners for Best Local Reporting for their investigation into the Hillsborough County Homeless Recovery Program.

That’s a program which is governed by the Hillsborough County Commission, which has been controlled by Republicans.

Editorial writers Tim Nickens and Daniel Ruth were honored in 2013 for their “diligent campaign” as the Pulitzer judges wrote, that helped reverse the decision by the Pinellas County Commission to eliminate fluoride from the county’s water supply.

That was a decision made by a county commission controlled by Republicans.

As difficult as it is to win a Pulitzer Prize, it would appear the Times has perfected the formula: Devote resources to the latest bad decision made by local Republican leaders and report the hell out of it.

One of the main considerations for a local reporting Pulitzer, work must result in an appreciable bearing on both government and public policy. As Times’ editor Neil Brown outlined in the submission letter, few investigative series have had an immediate impact as Failure Factories.

Soon after publication, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor called for investigations into the possible misuse of federal Title I dollars. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, after visiting St. Petersburg to meet with families featured in the series, accused the district of “educational malpractice.”

Among the more direct effects include commitments by the district to further training and recruitment, as well as the Pinellas County School Board hiring a “turnaround specialist” (at a salary of $100,000, Brown notes) and approving an eight-member board for support. Antonio Burt, the newly appointed Director of School Leadership, will oversee improvement and resource allocation. Three of the schools highlighted by the series will also convert to magnet programs to attract a more diverse mix of students, teachers and staff.

Many community members, as well as businesses like the Tampa Bay Rays, have responded to the series with an outpouring of volunteer work and thousands of dollars in investment.

Leading the 2016 Pulitzer jury for the Times’ Failure F?actory award is Carlos Sanchez, executive editor of The Monitor in McAllen, Texas. Also on the panel is Naedine Joy Hazell special projects and publications editor of The Hartford Courant; Jacinthia Jones, who covers police, courts and general assignments for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis; Rebecca Kimitch of the Los Angeles News Group; Gordon Russell, managing editor of The Advocate in Baton Rouge; South Florida Sun Sentinel editor Howard Saltz; and Geordie Wilson, publisher of The Frederick News-Post in Frederick, Maryland. Kimitch is a former Pulitzer winner.

The Times also won a second Pulitzer for its collaboration with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on a series that revealed escalating violence and neglect in Florida mental hospitals. Reporting laid much of the blame on mental health service cuts pushed by Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature. As a result of the series, State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, who chairs the committee that oversees Department of Children and Families spending, demanded a full report on actions to be taken to reduce such violence.

Scott has since ordered audits of state hospitals, staffing reviews and $1.7 million in security camera upgrades and body alarms for staff.

Chair of the jury awarding that honor was Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. Other jury members include Brett J. Blackledge, Investigations and government editor of the Naples Daily News; Deb Anderluh, Sacramento Bee senior editor for investigations and enterprise; New York-based writer and journalist Tim Golden; Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism Executive Director Andy Hall; Jennifer LaFleur, senior editor for data, Center for Investigative Reporting in Emeryville, California; and Ellen Joan Pollock, editor of Bloomberg Businessweek. Both Lipinski and Blackledge are also previous Pulitzer winners.

Kudos to the Times.

 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.