Jun. 1, 2008  

Inspiration at the 2008 Sunshine State Awards

Lance WilliamsMark Fainaru-WadaDANIA BEACH — Journalists in search of inspiration found it at last night’s 2008 Sunshine State Awards. They heard it in the words of keynote speakers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. And, they saw it on the faces of colleagues honored for their outstanding contribution to journalism in the state of Florida. (Click here for the complete winners list.)

Fainaru-Wada and Williams, the San Francisco Chronicle investigative team that exposed the explosive BALCO steroid scandal in 2003, took turns talking about the investigation that made them famous…and infamous. As Fainaru-Wada reminded the Sunshine State Awards audience, the stories he and Williams wrote met much public resistance, particularly in San Francisco. Yet, he and Williams continued to investigate and to write because they felt “athletes were getting a free pass.”

Williams talked about the resistance they faced from another corner – the government. When the government subpoenaed the duo to reveal a key source, both men refused. Williams said the decision was easy to make because “if you promise a source that you won’t give them up, you have to mean it.” Williams wrapped up the speech by expressing support for a Federal Shield Law. The law, which would protect journalists who refuse to testify about their sources, is only one vote shy of approval in the Senate. President Bush has threatened to veto it, but Williams is hopeful and urged journalists in the audience to start writing about the need for the law.

After Williams and Fainaru-Wada took some questions from the audience, Master of Ceremonies Phil Latzman of WLRN-Miami Herald News revealed the many winners of the 2008 Sunshine State Awards. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigative team of Megan O’Matz and John Maines took home the top prize — the James Batten Award for Public Service — for their “Florida Gun Law” series. The series also captured the Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting in the Large Papers division.

John Maines Accepts Award“Thanks to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, we know that burglars, child molesters and even murderers are allowed to carry concealed weapons,” said Bob Edwards of XM Satellite Radio, one of a trio of nationally recognized journalists who judged the Batten Award entries. “We also know that this news doesn’t bother the legislature nearly as much as the publication of the gun toters’ names. This is why we must continue to have newspapers — to warn us of threats to public safety and the foolishness of public officials. The Sun-Sentinel sounded the alarm — and just in the nick of time.”

The Miami Herald, with 10 first-place awards, took home the most wins of the evening. The Tampa Tribune, with seven first-place awards, finished second. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel and The Florida Times Union tied for third, with six first-place awards apiece.

In the Deadline News Reporting category, the staff of The Palm Beach Post took first place in the Large Papers division for its story of the community’s grief over two sheriff’s deputies who died in the line of duty. The Villages Daily Sun won the award in the Small Papers division for coverage of the tornadoes that ripped through The Villages in February 2007.

First place in the Serious Feature Reporting category, Large Papers, was won by Konrad Marshall, of The Florida Times-Union, for his story about a mentally ill, homeless man in Jacksonville. In the Small Papers division, Tamara Lush won for her Miami New Times story “Rapture of the Deep,” about the death of three divers near Key Largo.

The Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting, Small Papers, went to Isaiah Thompson, of Miami New Times, for his “Under the Bridge” series about convicted sex offenders living under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.

Orlando’s WKMG-TV took home three first-place awards, the most of any broadcaster. Channel 9 Eyewitness News, also of Orlando, won for Best TV Newscast. WUFT/Mid-Florida Public Radio won the Radio Deadline News Reporting award for coverage of a wildfire in North Florida’s Columbia County.

John W. Cox, a student at the University of Florida, was named College Journalist of the Year.

*Professional photographer Carlos Miller took photos of most of the award winners who attended the 2008 Sunshine State Awards. To inquire about getting copies of photos, please go to Carlos Miller’s website: www.magiccitymedia.com

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