New journalism prize, reporting fellowship will be big boon to investigative journalism in South Florida

Esserman family partners with Knight Foundation for new initiative

MIAMI – Feb. 24, 2020 – Civic and business leaders Ron and Charlene Esserman and their family announced today a new $2.5 million fund to strengthen journalism in South Florida by supporting the reporters whose work has the power to change laws and lives.

The Esserman Family Fund for Investigative Journalism at The Miami Foundation honors the work of local journalists by supporting an annual prize for South Florida’s best accountability reporting, launched in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. In addition, the fund will support an annual investigative reporting fellowship for early-career reporters at the Miami Herald. Additional fellowships will eventually be offered to other news organizations in South Florida. 

Ron and Charlene Esserman

“A free press is essential for our democracy and for the community we love. Yet the future of local journalism, here and nationally, is in peril. We hope the fund can provide resources to ensure South Florida’s tradition in investigative journalism lives on, while encouraging other donors to join in with additional support,” Charlene Esserman said.

“For all the many years I’ve known them, Ron and Charlene Esserman have been community leaders, passionately committed to the American ideal of a free press. They’ve also known that, to work effectively, communities in a democracy have to have reliable information,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “Their decision to support and celebrate local, investigative journalism is a natural expression of deeply held values.”

Knight Foundation is providing $250,000 to administer the Esserman-Knight prize.

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 fund as a way for their children to give back to South Florida, together. As a family, they discussed using their foundation to support one of the many causes they’ve championed over the years, including the arts, civil rights and medical research. The common thread among these topics, they decided, was that strong, independent reporting that holds the powerful to account would strengthen each.  

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.

The Esserman-Knight Journalism Prize is now accepting applications for accountability journalism produced in 2019. In partnership with Knight Foundation, a $10,000 top prize and two, $1,000 honorable mentions will be given annually to the best reporting that has had a major impact and improved the lives of the people in South Florida. Journalists from all news outlets producing work in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe are eligible to apply. Applicants can learn more and submit work at essermanjournalism.org.

Soon, the Miami Herald will begin recruiting applicants for the Esserman Investigative Journalism Fellowship. The fund is providing $50,000 per year toward the fellowship, which will go to an early-career reporter for investigations of the Herald’s choosing. The position will be the first for the Miami Herald Investigative Journalism Lab, which is seeking to raise $1.5 million to double its efforts in local accountability journalism.

“From Seattle to Denver, Salt Lake City and Philadelphia, we are seeing a growing awareness about the important role that local philanthropic support can play to ensure that communities are informed and engaged about important issues of civic concern,” said Jennifer Preston, VP/Journalism at Knight Foundation. “Our hope is that the Esserman family’s commitment will inspire more individuals, families and local foundations here in South Florida and around the country to support the vital role that journalism plays in keeping our democracy strong.”

For more information, visit essermanjournalism.org.

About Ron and Charlene Esserman
After the couple moved to Miami from Chicago in 1968, Ron built a network of businesses in South Florida in the automotive industry, heralded for his focus on quality and integrity. Ron brought humanism to his workplace and invested in the advancement and well-being of his employees. Ron and Charlene also supported many community causes, establishing community organizations that contributed to the cultural health and well-being of the community. They helped establish Zoo Miami and the Deering Estate Foundation, and shaped the Miami City Ballet, the Florida Grand Opera and the Arsht Center. Throughout their lives, they were engaged in the political process and supported candidates and causes that focused on guaranteeing free speech, equality for all, quality education and access to resources to enable everyone to have a chance to build a better life.

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.

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Contact: Marika Lynch, [email protected], 305-898-3595


Image (top) by Sam McGhee on Unsplash.