Sunshine State Awards Logo - newHOLLYWOOD, FL, June 5, 2010 – A team of Miami Herald reporters won top honors Saturday in the 2010 Sunshine State Awards, a statewide competition recognizing Florida’s best journalism of 2009. The awards were presented in a ceremony at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel.

(Download the complete winners list here.)

In their series “Public Piggy Banks,” The Herald’s Matthew Haggman, Charles Rabin, Jack Dolan, Larry Lebowitz and other staffers traced every dollar flowing through the county’s two most significant agencies—Miami-Dade county hall and the city of Miami. The investigation revealed how county politicians used personal chauffeurs and took first-class junkets across the globe and exposed how city leaders concealed critical financial breakdowns. The stories prompted citizen protests, a recall campaign of the county’s strong mayor, pay cuts and other reforms—including a federal securities investigation that could impact Miami’s public works projects for years to come.

The Miami Herald team was honored by the contest presenter, the South Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, with both the James K. Batten Award for Distinguished Public Service and the Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting. The Batten Award, named for the late Knight Ridder chairman, recognizes reporting that corrects a wrong, brings an issue to light or adds significantly to the public debate. One of the Batten Award judges, XM/Sirius Radio host Bob Edwards, said of the work: “This is journalism with consequences. Holding public officials to account is exactly what readers expect of a newspaper. It’s the kind of investigative reporting only a large daily with good resources can perform.”

Among smaller publications, the Gene Miller Award was also awarded to Ron Hurtibise of The Daytona Beach News-Journal for “Beating the DUI Rap,” an analysis revealing that nearly half of all DUI cases in Volusia County are dropped or reduced to reckless driving, and two-thirds of defendants who hire private attorneys are given this second chance.

In this year’s competition, 700 entries – from print, television, radio and online –were evaluated by news professionals in other states. The Orlando Sentinel and the Miami Herald tied for the most first-place honors, each claiming nine of the 73 awards. The Naples Daily News (seven first-place awards), Miami New Times (six) and The Daytona Beach News-Journal (five) rounded out the top five finishers. The complete list of competition results is available at www.spjsofla.net.

“This has been a challenging year for our profession, but in spite of that, Florida journalists rose above it to deliver the kind of top-notch journalism our communities need,” said Darcie Lunsford, president of SPJ South Florida. “The kind of stories that the Sunshine State Awards recognize exemplify the important role that the news media play in our democracy.”

The event sponsors of the 2010 Sunshine State Awards are Shutts & Bowen LLP and the Palm Beach Post.

The Society of Professional Journalists, the oldest and largest professional journalism organization in the country, celebrated its 100th anniversary last year. SPJ’s South Florida Pro Chapter serves journalists in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties.

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