Sarasota Herald-Tribune walks away with 22 SPJ Florida Sunshine State Awards in 2017

SPJ Florida Sunshine Award logoThe Sarasota Herald-Tribune took home 22 Florida Sunshine State Awards — including eight first-place spots — on Saturday, July 22 at the 23rd Annual Sunshine State Awards, held at the Newman Alumni Center at the University of Miami. Other big winners include the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, and Miami Herald. See the full list of winners.

SPJ FL Sunshine photo 1
The SPJ Florida Sunshine Awards was held at the Newman Alumni Center at the University of Miami on July 22. 

SPJ Florida partnered with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ South Florida chapter to include Spanish-language awards for the fourth year in a row. In those awards, el Nuevo Herald and WLTV-Univision 23 led the pack with four awards each.

Among the highest honors awarded was The James Batten Award for Public Service, given to the staff at for their work on Project: Blue Either — an interactive story detailing water issues in the state of Florida.

WUFT logo“Excellent work on an issue that is of critical importance: The safety of the water,” the judges said. “It is difficult to get through to the people who are polluting — inadvertently or not — and this piece is a step in the direction of greater understanding.”

The Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting was given to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Josh Salman — who won Journalist of the Year in 2016 — Emily Le Coz, and

Elizabeth Johnson Sarasota
Elizabeth Johnson

Elizabeth Johnson all won for Bias on the bench — an in-depth investigation into Florida’s broken judicial system.

Josh Salman Sarasota Herald Tribune photo
Josh Salman

“Racial bias in court sentencing in Florida was breathtaking for its findings, probing interviews and clear no-pulled-punches writing,” judges said. Most reporters who have ever visited a small-town Southern courtroom have wondered. But this series brings home why so many black men are in prison.

Emily Le Coz
Emily Le Coz

Bias on the bench also won the First Amendment Foundation Freedom of Information Award and took home first place in Newspaper Series.

Pat Beall photo at SPJ FL Sunshine
Dori Zinn, SPJ Florida president, presents Pat Beall the Journalist of the Year Award. 

Pat Beall from The Palm Beach Post won the coveted Journalist of the Year. The judges said: “Over the course of 2016, this journalist examined a public health epidemic through powerful reporting, driven by both personal anecdote and an impressive amount of data. More than just shedding light on the opioid crisis in Florida, Beall was instrumental in creating and analyzing comprehensive databases, with information never before compiled and easily accessible to the public, concerning both the toll and economic impact of the abuse. She put a human face on opioid-related deaths – literally, 216 of them – accounting for myriad difficult phone calls, no doubt, handled with compassion and empathy. She also shed a light on companies looking to gain from the nation’s opioid abuse epidemic – and the public officials possibly susceptible to complicity in this profit-mongering.”

“She (Beall) put a human face on opioid-related deaths – literally, 216 of them – accounting for myriad difficult phone calls, no doubt, handled with compassion and empathy.” – Sunshine judges


Lisa Peakes photo
Lisa Peakes, Anchor of the Year,  LinkedIn Photo

Lisa Peakes of WUSF won for Anchor of the Year. Judges had this to say about her: “One of the finest voices and delivery I have ever heard. Authoritative, commanding, pleasant. Perfect variety kept me engaged throughout. Model of excellence.”

“Model of excellence.” – Sunshine judges about Lisa Peakes

See the full list of winners.


The Sunshine State Awards, now in its 23rd year, recognizes the best in Florida journalism. The Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is the three-time winner of SPJ’s Chapter of the Year award — the Society’s most coveted group award. Join SPJ now and make sure to put SPJ Florida as your chapter. It’s no extra cost to you: the chapter doesn’t charge chapter dues.