Esserman Knight Journalism Awards 2023 – Knight Foundation
Esserman-Knight Journalism Awards animated graphic

Esserman Knight Journalism Awards 2023

The Esserman-Knight Journalism Awards, now in its fourth consecutive year, celebrates and encourages outstanding investigative and public service reporting in South Florida and fosters a community that cares deeply about local news. 


The Awards recognize some of South Florida’s most impactful investigative stories and have become an honored tradition in the local journalism scene. The 2023 Awards included 54 submissions representing stories in Spanish and English that addressed sex trafficking, political corruption, immigration challenges, and more. Thirteen Finalists were selected and celebrated on May 2, 2023, at the first in-person Esserman-Knight Journalism Awards at the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. 

The 2023 Esserman-Knight Journalism Awards featured interviews with 2023 Excellence in Journalism Honoree Kerry Sanders and announced this year’s winners. 

Explore their award-winning investigative stories below:

2023 Excellence in Journalism Honoree

Kerry Sanders

Kerry Sanders is an American broadcast journalist. He was a correspondent for NBC News from 1991-2023. He worked as a general news reporter for a number of Florida television stations including: WTLV in Jacksonville, FL, WINK in Ft. Myers, WTVT, the CB-S Affiliate and later Fox Owned and Operated Station in Tampa and WTVJ (NBC) in Miami. He is a 1982 graduate of the University of South Florida, from which he received his bachelor’s degree and later a Distinguished Alumni Award. In 1996, he became a correspondent for NBC News, based in the network’s Miami bureau. He was regularly seen on NBC Nightly News, the Today show, MSNBC, and Dateline NBC. He retired on January 17, 2023, after 32 years with the network.


Investigation: Innocence Sold

By Brittany Wallman, David Schutz, David Fleshler, and Spencer Norris for South Florida Sun Sentinel

Democrats and Republicans claim to have joined forces to address Florida sex trafficking, particularly involving children. Yet these defenders were afraid to take on powerful institutions that have allowed trafficking to flourish. In a year-long investigation, Sun Sentinel reporters met with sex workers in hotel rooms, fought for databases, reviewed court records, and sat down with victims and family members to paint a portrait of a state that talks big but does little to stop a trade that destroys thousands of lives.


Health For Rent

By Jorge Carrasco, Eulimar Núñez, Ana María Rodríguez, and Ronny Rojas for Noticias Telemundo

Health for Rent was a five-month investigation by Noticias Telemundo that found that clinics that conduct clinical trials in healthy volunteers enroll the same Latino immigrants over and over again, even though the long-term effects of recurring experimentation is not known. Ten volunteers told Telemundo they lied about adverse effects out of fear of being withdrawn from the trials and unpaid. This tarnishes the data the Food and Drug Administration uses to approve or disqualify new treatments.


Ghost District

By Bob Norman for Florida Center for Government Accountability

Through veteran reporter Bob Norman’s investigation into profiteering and cronyism at the taxpayer-financed North Springs Improvement District (NSID), he revealed that the special district’s manager started a company in his home that was awarded $16 million in public contracts — from his own agency. 

Detention by Design

By Daniel Rivero for WLRN

As recently as 1955, virtually no immigrants were held in U.S. detention centers. Today, there are tens of thousands with the ‘border crisis’ never far from the headlines. The story of how we got here did not start at the Mexican border but on Florida’s shores 50 years ago. Detention By Design is a six-part podcast series that takes listeners on a historical journey through the arrival of Haitian and Cuban migrants by boat in the 1970s and 1980s and shows how those waves shaped the immigration and detention system we have in this country. 

Covert Op: Inside Gov. DeSantis’ Migrant Relocation Flights

By Sarah Blaskey, Ana Claudia Chacin, Nicholas Nehamas, Ana Ceballos, Carl Juste, and Mary Ellen Klas for Miami Herald

The sudden appearance of 49 very confused South American migrants on Martha’s Vineyard sent the national media into a frenzy. Who were the asylum seekers? How had they arrived at this island in Massachusetts? And who had sent them? The answer to that last question turned out to be Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Powerbrokers

By Mary Ellen Klas, Nicholas Nehamas, Sarah Blaskey, Doug Hanks, and Ana Claudia Chacin for Miami Herald

It began in the summer of 2022 when an anonymous source leaked documents to Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas. Verified by the Miami Herald i-team as authentic, the team’s goal was to get behind the scenes of the covert operation of Florida Power & Light executives who worked with political operatives to elevate candidates favorable to the utility company.


The Selection of Florida Supreme Court Justice Renatha Francis

By Noreen Marcus for Florida Bulldog

Noreen Marcus outlines Gov. Ron DeSantis’ successful effort to stack and use the Florida Supreme Court by investigating the appointment of former Palm Beach Circuit Judge Renatha Francis. Marcus’ investigation finds that the Judicial Nominating Commission system of vetting candidates for the governor is a sham, and how DeSantis communicated directly with the justices his intention to promote Francis.

Inside the Real Estate Crisis Crushing Miami’s Nightlife

By Douglas Markowitz for Resident Advisor

The same crisis of rising rents and speculation that is pushing low-income Miami residents out of the city is also pricing out nightlife businesses such as clubs and concert halls. Douglas Markowitz sought to identify the root of the problem by interviewing stakeholders in Miami’s electronic music community: musicians, promoters, club owners, and fellow journalists with a historical perspective on the scene. For most, if not all, the problem had to do with real estate. 

Who Holds the Power?: Miami’s Housing Crisis

By Alexandra Martinez for Prism Reports

Delving into the ongoing housing and economic crisis in Miami-Dade County, Alexandra Martinez reported on how the skyrocketing cost of living and an inflated housing market was pushing residents out of their homes. The takeaway from her investigation: Miami is desperately lacking the infrastructure to support working-class individuals and houseless communities.

How Federal Policies Are Failing to Protect A Beloved Florida Animal From Climate Extinction

By Jimmy Tobias for Type Investigations

This months-long investigation found that the Fish and Wildlife Service, in contravention of its scientific findings, was attempting to weaken federal protections for one of Florida’s most iconic and beloved endangered animals: the Key deer. What’s more, the investigation found that over the last two decades, the agency has systematically failed nationwide to adequately protect endangered species from climate change’s impacts. 

Parkland Shooter Trial

By Christina Vazquez for Local 10

The Parkland school shooting was the deadliest U.S. mass shooting to ever go before a jury. As WPLG’s gavel-to-gavel trial courtroom reporter, Christina Vazquez was just one of five journalists the Court authorized to tour the crime scene. She covered all pre-trial hearings, researched related case law, spoke with death penalty experts, and helped unpack the legal procedures for community members.   

Key Biscayne’s Election Coverage

By Tony Winton for Key Biscayne Independent

Unprecedented campaign spending, much of it from dark money. Influence from a Christian nationalist group. A large commercial interest campaign in the closing weeks of an election. This might be common fare in a metropolis – but this was Key Biscayne, population 15,000, where political contests were usually fairly sleepy affairs. What was going on? This and subsequent reporting note how easy it was (and remains) to hide campaign financing in Florida.

Haiti’s Upheaval and Miami: From Immigration to an Assassination

by Jacqueline Charles and team for Miami Herald

Haitian migrants have contributed to the fabric of South Florida and the greater United States, transforming from “boat people” to professionals. Along the way, they challenged and changed U.S. immigration laws. However, many of the challenges the Haitian community faces five decades later still exist, as Jaqueline Charles and her team uncovered.

Below is a full list of news outlets represented by our 2023 nominees.

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