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Tampa Bay Times “Failure Factories” series wins Bingham Prize for investigative reporting

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times has won another journalism prize for their expose on how five elementary schools in South St. Petersburg devolved into some of the worst in Florida.

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University announced on Friday that the Times “Failure Factories” reports has been awarded the 2015 Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism.

“In precise, compelling prose, this series exposed how a Florida county school board neglected African-American schools until they become little more than warehouses for children,” said Miami Herald reporter Carol Marbin Miller, one of nine journalists who served as judges for the prize. “Through a sophisticated use of a mountain of data, the reporters showed how the county first resegregated their district, and then failed to act when separate became profoundly unequal. The stories of how this affected Pinellas children and their families were heart-wrenching.”

The five-part series told the story about of what happened after the Pinellas County School Board members ended integration in 2007.

None of it was good. The schools were left overwhelmingly poor and black. Though promises were made to provide money and resources to the schools, the reporting shows that simply didn’t happen. Black children began failing at an alarming rate, veteran teachers walked away from their jobs and middle-class families fled the area.

It was a six-person Times team who produced the report – education reporters Cara Fitzpatrick and Lisa Gartner, investigative reporter Michael LaForgia,  data reporter Nathaniel Lash, photographer Dirk Shadd and editor Chris Davis.

The five-part series began running last August, and had an immediate impact.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor, whose district includes part of southern Pinellas County, wrote to the U.S. Department of Education that the story raised serious questions about the use of federal dollars for poor childre , saying students weren’t receiving an “equal opportunity to a high quality education.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan paid a visit to one of the schools profiled, where he accused the Pinellas School Board of “education malpractice.” And the Florida Department of Education opened an investigation into the district’s use of federal Title I dollars to determine if the money was properly spent.

The Bingham prize is just the latest honor the “Failure Factories” series has received. Last November, the series won the National Press Foundation’s Innovation in Journalism Award. In January, it received the Philip Meyer award.

It was also noted last December by the Columbia Journalism Review as one of the best in 2015.

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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