Five South Florida reporting teams whose work has changed laws and lives will share $18,000 in awards. Hear their stories at a free, virtual event June 18.
JUNE 10, 2020 (MIAMI) – The Esserman-Knight Journalism Prize, which honors the best accountability reporting in South Florida, will be presented this month to the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown and Emily Michot for their groundbreaking reporting on the case of sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
Brown and Michot are the inaugural winners of the $10,000 prize. They will be celebrated at a public, online event at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 18 that will also honor Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron with the Esserman-Knight Excellence in Journalism prize for his distinguished service in journalism. Baron, a former executive editor of the Miami Herald and Boston Globe, has led newsrooms to win 17 Pulitzer prizes. Since 2013, he has led the transformation of the Washington Post and a newsroom of more than 800 journalists to become one of the world’s most highly respected and powerful journalism institutions.
In Brown and Michot’s investigative series, “Perversion of Justice,” they revived a dormant, 10-year-old case against Epstein by exposing the cover-up of his crimes and the secret plea deal that helped him escape a lifetime in prison. By earning the trust of his survivors, they were able to finally give voice to the dozens of young women who were abused by Epstein and betrayed a broken criminal justice system. As a result of their reporting, Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges; Alexander Acosta, the U.S. Attorney who blessed Epstein’s plea deal, resigned as President Trump’s labor secretary; federal investigations were launched into the case; and Epstein’s victims finally got their day in court.
Four additional projects are being honored for their impact. Runners-up are Megan O’Matz, Brittany Wallman and Aric Chokey of the Sun Sentinel. Honorable Mentions are Erika Carrillo and Maria Alesia Sosa of WLTV Univision Miami; Jessica Bakeman, Alicia Zuckerman and Teresa Frontado of WLRN; and Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald. Descriptions of their work are below.
The prize is part of a $2.5 million investment that Ron and Charlene Esserman – and their children Jim, Susan, Lisa and Laura – made in local journalism in February, in partnership with Knight Foundation, which is supporting the administration of the prize.
“Emily and I are very honored and grateful that our work is being recognized with this prestigious award,” Brown said. “We hope that our work, and those of other journalists across the nation now facing danger while on the front lines of truth, demonstrate how vital journalism is to our democracy.”
“Investigative journalism takes insight and courage, qualities Julie Brown, Emily Michot and Marty Baron have shown, time and again,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. “That kind of journalism also takes time and resources, so we’re thrilled to join the Esserman family in recognizing the contribution of news organizations for the benefit of our community and our democracy.”
The Esserman family’s investment in local journalism, to a fund at The Miami Foundation, supports the prize and an annual fellowship for an early-career investigative reporter at the Miami Herald. The first fellow, the Herald announced today, is Christina Saint Louis, a recent graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. She has reported for City & State New York, a politics and policy magazine, and covered the community of Morningside Heights for campus radio. Saint Louis is a native of Stuart, Fla. and is fluent in Haitian Creole.
“South Florida has a long tradition of excellence in accountability reporting, which is reflected in the winners of this year’s prize,” Charlene Esserman said. “Communities honor what they value most, and we hope by investing in local journalism, we can ensure the tradition lives on, while encouraging other donors to join in with additional support.”
The work of the additional teams being honored include:
Megan O’Matz, Brittany Wallman and Aric Chokey of the Sun Sentinel for “Teenage Time Bombs: A Generation in Danger.” How many other emotionally disturbed students like the Parkland shooter are in Florida schools? The Sun Sentinel reviewed risk protection orders around the state and found more than 100 students, many of whom are “mentally disturbed, armed with guns and inspired by 20 years of school shooters.” The series concluded that well-meaning mainstreaming laws have given school districts little room to remove potentially dangerous children from regular classrooms.
Honorable Mentions ($1,000)
Erika Carrillo and Maria Alesia Sosa of WLTV Univision Miami and USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, for “Paradise of Beauty and Death.” Their investigation exposed the lack of regulations for Florida’s cosmetic surgery centers, where they found 14 women from around the country and the Americas had died during botched surgeries. They also revealed that the state Department of Health kept no records of the deaths associated with cosmetic surgeries. Because of their reporting, the Florida Legislature passed a law that now requires these centers to register with the Department of Health, have a doctor’s license associated with it, have insurance for both the center and the doctor, and more.
Reporter Jessica Bakeman and editors Alicia Zuckerman and Teresa Frontado of WLRN for “Chartered: Florida’s First Private Takeover Of a Public School System.” The hour-long audio documentary and multimedia series examine the potential benefits — and risks — of Florida’s new “schools of hope” policy, which offers millions of dollars to attract charter schools to the state’s poorest communities. The project examines Florida’s first all-charter school district in Jefferson County, before Miami’s first “schools of hope” opened in Liberty City.
Fabiola Santiago of The Miami Herald for “Perspectives on South Florida.” Santiago writes weekly columns for both the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. Through her original reporting, she raises often ignored issues such as racial, ethnic, economic and gender disparity; heavy-handed political processes and people; and unfairness to people with little or no access to those in power.
About Ron and Charlene Esserman
Ron Esserman has been one of the largest and longest-standing auto dealers in South Florida, and Ron and Charlene have launched and supported myriad community programs. They created the Esserman Family Fund for Investigative Journalism at The Miami Foundation as a way for their children — Jim, Susan, Lisa and Laura — to give back to South Florida, together. Finding themselves in a moment when both the local news model is in peril, and the free press is often under attack, the Essermans decided to focus on supporting local investigative and accountability journalism.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy.
About The Miami Foundation
The Miami Foundation partners with donors to champion their causes and improve local quality of life. Since 1967, we’ve done this by taking leadership on civic issues, investing in our community and nurturing philanthropy. Thanks to our more than 1,000 donors, we currently manage more than $365 million in assets and have made over $400 million in grants that create opportunities for residents, make Miami-Dade County more resilient and foster home-grown creativity. Learn more at miamifoundation.org.
Marika Lynch, communications consultant, Knight Foundation, [email protected], 305-908-2677.