WLRN Wins 9 Sunshine State Awards, WFTS/ABC Action News Wins James Batten Award for Public Service
SPJ Florida partnered with NAHJ South Florida to host the 26th Annual Sunshine State Awards, hosted by NBC 6 Anchor Roxy Vargas and Telemundo host Carlos Adyan, during a first-ever virtual ceremony to announce the winners of the annual contest to recognize the best of Florida journalism.
The contest offered a Spanish-language section for the seventh year, thanks to an ongoing partnership with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ South Florida. The event was sponsored by BusinessWire, Jungle Island, DJ Zaga, and Havana Club Rum.
WLRN in Miami swept the awards with nine first-place Sunshine State Awards while WFTS/ABC Action News in Tampa won the coveted James Batten Award for Public Service for its coverage of Florida’s flawed guardianship program.
“This was a tough year for journalists in our market and across the country. As we covered our communities under quarantine, we bore witness to a massive industry shift. But the work has prevailed and that’s clear when you look at the winners showcased,” said SPJ Florida President Emily Bloch. “The work highlighted in tonight’s ceremony is a true embodiment of what we do as journalists: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, seeking truth and reporting it.”
WFTS/ABC Action News won the the highest honor of the night, The James Batten Award for Public Service, for “The Price of Protection.”
“The station found guardians making life-or-death decisions, such as obtaining do-not-resuscitate orders, without consulting family members or judges. A state office that investigates complaints against the state’s 550 registered guardians kept cases open for years, and even after confirming allegations, did little to hold the guardians accountable,” the judge commented. “The station fought for public records and reviewed court records in 10 counties for more than six years, culminating with the 2019 series.”
Also a big honor for the evening is the Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting, won by the Sun Sentinel for “Teenage Time Bombs: A Generation in Danger.”
“This is a critically important story that impacts, or potentially threatens most people,” the judge wrote. “This was an invaluable service to the state of Florida and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel should be proud of its work.”
The Journalist of the Year award for English went to Jessica Bakeman of WLRN News. The judge said of Bakeman, “She clearly is a skilled and sensitive interviewer, a dogged reporter and an eloquent writer, someone who isn’t sidetracked by obstacles like government officials who tried to charge her and her news organizations tens of thousands of dollars for what ended up costing a couple of hundred dollars.”
In Spanish media, Journalist of the Year went to Leila Macor of Agence France-Presse. This year’s newly named NABJ South Florida Diversity Award went to Emon Reiser of the South Florida Business Journal; Allison Kropff of 10news WTSP won Anchor of the Year; and Jock Fistick of the South Florida Business Journal won Photojournalist of the Year. Cassidy Alexander from the Daytona Beach News-Journal won Outstanding New Journalist.
The Sunshine State Awards, now in its 26th year, recognizes the best in Florida journalism. Out-of-state journalists chose first, second, and third place honors in each category. The Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is the five-time winner of SPJ’s Chapter of the Year award — the Society’s most coveted group award. Join SPJ now and make sure to put SPJ Florida as your chapter. It’s no extra cost to you: the chapter doesn’t charge chapter dues.