Tampa Bay Times Series Takes Top Prize at Education Writers Association

By Mark Walsh — May 03, 2016 2 min read
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The Tampa Bay Times’ “Failure Factories” series, which has swept many top journalism prizes this spring, won the top award of the Education Writers Association on Monday.

The series, which laid responsibility for the decline of five schools in the Pinellas County, Fla., school district to the district’s 2007 decision to end desegregation efforts, won the Fred M. Hechinger Award for Distinguished Education Reporting, which comes with a $10,000 prize.

“We’re especially gratified to be honored by education reporters,” said Cara Fitzpatrick, who was one of three writers credited for the series, along with Lisa Gartner and Michael LaForgia. In April, the series won the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting and has won other prizes.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., speaking at the EWA conference at Boston University on Monday, lauded the Tampa Bay Times series, noting that it had led to the opening of an investigation by the Education Department’s office for civil rights.

""There’s a new sense of urgency in the country of talking about race and class,” King told the group.

Meanwhile, EWA announced two other major award winners Monday from among its category finalists and winners, which were announced on Sunday night.

Michael Vasquez of the Miami Herald won the Eddie Award, sponsored by the Edwin Gould Foundation for work about the challenges faced by face in completing college, for a series that investigated corruption at for-profit colleges in Florida.

Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat New York won EWA’s first Ronald Moskowitz Prize for outstanding beat reporting, for his coverage of the New York City schools. Scott Widmeyer, a public relations professional and board member of EWA, noted that Moskowitz, who died in 2013, was the first to be called education beat reporter at the San Francisco Examiner in 1961.

Chalkbeat’s Wall had won the small-staff beat reporting award on Sunday night. Eric Hoover of the Chronicle of Higher Education won the same award in the medium-staff division, while Josh Mitchell of The Wall Street Journal won the beat prize for stories on trends in student debt.

Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio won the beat prize for broadcast outlets for a variety of stories.

“I still believe in the craft of telling a good story,” she said in accepting the award.

Among the more memorable moments of the awards ceremony is when Catalyst Chicago, WBEZ Radio and the Better Government Association won an investigative reporting prize for their joint effort examining the dropout program in the Chicago Public Schools.

“I’d also like to thank the public relations person who, by mistake, sent us the unredacted data,” Sarah Karp of WBEZ said in accepting the award.

The full list of award finalists is here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.