WTSP reporter Mike Deeson has been named the 2015 Sunshine State Journalist of the Year by the Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Pro Chapter.
Deeson also nabbed several other awards for his work uncovering deception within the ranks of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
Deeson’s series of investigative reports about a Department of Homeland Security grant that was misused by PSTA earned him several other awards as well, including the First Amendment Foundation’s Freedom of Information Award, the Government Coverage Award, Continuing Coverage Award and a second-place finish for the Integrity Florida Award for Public Corruption reporting.
Deeson analyzed numerous internal documents from PSTA after seeing what he described as “feel-good ads” promoting PSTA and directing viewers to the Greenlight Pinellas website supporting a proposed tax increase to fund additional transit services.
Those ads were paid for by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security and were supposed to be used to encourage transit users to report suspicious packages.
The investigation led PSTA to return the $354,000 grant to DHS. Deeson’s reporting later uncovered a series of emails showing the promotion of Greenlight Pinellas was intentional – something officials tried to pass off as unintentional.
The scandal involving PSTA CEO Brad Miller may have been a driving factor in the transit initiative’s ultimate demise at the ballot box and has led to continued scrutiny over Miller’s leadership.
“We found this to be an extraordinary collection of stories that highlight the investigative skills and dogged reporting skills that Mr. Deeson used to uncover and identify the abuses of power in the community,” the judges said. “The results of his efforts continue to prove that the role of journalism is not dead. His work should be applauded as a fine example of what would be expected of your Journalist of the Year.”
The first-place award for public corruption reporting went to the Tampa Bay Times’ Michael Van Sickler and Craig Pittman for their King Ranch report. That story uncovered Florida Republicans, including Gov. Rick Scott, taking lavish trips to the Texas King Ranch that were paid for by Big Sugar.
Top elected officials claimed the trips were professional, but records uncovered by the Times contradicted their claims. The officials got around state laws banning officials from taking gifts from lobbyists or special interest groups by funneling the trips through the Florida Republican Party.
Overall Tampa Bay fared well in the 2015 Sunshine State Awards. Those awards include:
- Carson Cooper, WUSF – Anchor of the Year
- Will Hobson, Tampa Bay Times – Third Place, Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting
- Veronica Cintron, Bay News 9 – Third Place, Anchor of the Year
- Tampa Bay Times – First Place, Breaking News Reporting (Large) for coverage of the Florida State University shooting
- Andrew Meacham, Tampa Bay Times – Second Place, non-deadline reporting (large)
- Ben Montgomery, Tampa Bay Times – Third Place, series reporting for The Lost Bones
- John Romano, Tampa Bay Times – First Place, commentary and criticism (general)
- Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times – Third Place, commentary and criticism (arts)
- Adam Smith and Michael Kruse, Tampa Bay Times – First Place, profile reporting for “Knowing Charlie”
- Paul Guzzo, The Tampa Tribune – Second Place, profile reporting
- Tim Nickens, Tampa Bay Times – First Place, editorial writing for the Tin Man
- Joe Guidry, The Tampa Tribune – Third Place, editorial writing
- Sean Daly, Tampa Bay Times – Second Place, arts beat
- Howard Altman, The Tampa Tribune – Third Place, community beat
- Richard Mullins, The Tampa Tribune – Second Place, consumer issues beat
- Alexandra Zayas, Kris Hundley, Connie Humburg and Letitia Stein, Tampa Bay Times – Second Place, environment, health and science beat
- Laura Reiley, Tampa Bay Times – First Place, food beat
- Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times – Second Place, government and politics beat
- William Levesque, Tampa Bay Times – Third Place, government and politics beat
- Jay Conner, The Tampa Tribune – Second Place, feature photography
- Cameron Cottrill, Tampa Bay Times – First Place, photo illustration
The Miami Herald took away the most awards this year with 24. Among impactful work done by that news organization is the “Innocents Lost” investigative report uncovering shocking oversights and mismanagement within the Florida Department of Children and Families. That report won the James Batten Award for Public Service.
“The Miami Herald’s ‘Innocents Lost,’ an investigation of the state’s chronic failure to protect children from abuse, was simply stunning. It was exhaustively reported and expertly written, with compelling photos and graphics,” the judges noted. “Reporters were relentless, even after the state tried to keep much of the information secret following the Herald’s publication of the findings. The investigation prompted state lawmakers to put the rights of children ahead of their parents — watchdog journalism at its absolute best.”
Another Miami Herald report, “Cruel and Unusual,” chronicled deadly abuse inside Florida’s prisons.