Reporters at the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald took home several prizes at the 2016 Florida Society of News Editors awards Friday.
Carol Marbin Miller was honored with the prestigious Paul Hansell Award for Distinguished Achievement in Florida Journalism for a body of work that included “Bitter Pill.” The series examined how frail and medically complex children were purged from a taxpayer funded healthcare program to save money.
Julie K. Brown got second place in community leadership for her “Beyond Punishment” series, which cataloged allegations of abuse, corruption and neglect at the nation’s largest women’s prison, Lowell Correctional in Ocala.
Michael Vasquez won first place in beat reporting for “Higher-Ed Hustle.” His series revealed corruption in the for-profit college industry and led to the closing of Dade Medical College, Miami’s most politically connected for-profit college.
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El Nuevo Herald won a series of awards in the Spanish-language division, including first place in news reporting to Brenda Medina and Enrique Flor for their coverage of domestic violence.
When she accepted her award, Marbin Miller took the opportunity to call attention to the weakening of Florida’s public records laws. The “Sunshine” laws allow reporters to prove allegations of government misconduct and waste, Marbin Miller said. Since 1995, the Florida Legislature passed 240 bills limiting open government laws, and half of those bills had bipartisan support, she added.
“A 2001 exemption forbids the release of autopsy photos, a provision that has throttled government oversight of untold institutions,” she said. “Even as lawmakers were deliberating the exemption, an inmate at Florida State Prison died. The medical examiner reported he died of heart failure. Autopsy photos showed boot prints on his chest. A reasonable person might conclude that his heart stopped while he was being stomped to death.”
“For too long, we have placed too little faith in the good citizens of Florida — and too much faith in the lawmakers who, quite often, benefit the most from our silence.
“The people of Florida, our readers, have demonstrated again and again that they do not want to be governed in darkness. Given the opportunity, they would absolutely support strong medicine for that Achilles heel of ours.
“As leaders of the only profession explicitly protected by the U.S. Constitution, you — all of you — are uniquely qualified to lead this charge. We are the heirs to the First Amendment. And we buy ink by the barrel.”