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Tampa Bay Times investigation into Pinellas schools wins IRE national investigative reporting prize

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Tampa Bay Times “Failure Factories” series of stories investigating how the Pinellas County School District served black students has won a prestigious national IRE Medal for investigative reporting, the international journalism organization Investigative Reporters and Editors announced.

The Times project, published in three parts plus a prologue last August, explored what is described in the project’s opening paragraph as how, “In just eight years, Pinellas County School Board members turned five schools in the county’s black neighborhoods into some of the worst in Florida.”

Investigative Reporters and Editors awarded its IRE Medal to the Times and its reporters on the project, Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner, Michael LaForgia and Nathaniel Lash, in the category of Print/Online Medium-sized publications.

The journalism organization also awarded IRE Medals to the Associated Press, for an investigation into slave labor in Thailand’s seafood export industry, in the Innovative/Large category; to ProPublica and NPR, for an investigation into the decline of American workers’ compensation programs, in the Print/Online Large class. The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La., was recognized for a look at abuses in a Louisiana prison, in the Print/Online Small category.

The IRE Awards are considered precursors and predictors of the Pulitzer Prizes which will be presented later this month; and many top journalists consider the IRE prizes more prestigious within the news industry.

Two other Florida-based journalism efforts, one involving a partnership effort of the Times and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and one involving the Miami Herald, were cited as finalists for the IRE Medal for medium publication.

A Herald-Tribune project was mentioned as a finalist in the Print/Online Small category; a Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and WLRN Miami Herald News partnership report was cited as a finalist in the Radio/Audio Small category.

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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