SPJ Florida, NAHJ South Florida awards its community with 2018 Sunshine State Awards

Sunshine Awards logo for 2018

Sunshine Award audience 2018
The crowd applauds the Miami Herald team of Carol Marbin Miller, Audra D.S. Burch and Emily Michot, winners of the 2018 James Batten Award for Public Service. Photo by Brandon T. Ballenger

By Marquis Holmes, SPJ Region 3 Fall Intern and senior from Kennesaw State University

NAHJ south Florida logoMiami, FLORIDA Univision and the Miami Herald brought home a slew of awards, leading the pack of awardees in the SPJ Florida and South Florida National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) chapter collaborated Sunshine State Awards held Saturday, Aug. 4 in Miami, Florida.

The 24th gathering presented over 100 unique awards to several media outlets and journalists serving the state of Florida and were judged by SPJ members from Kansas City, Minnesota, and Fort Worth, Texas.

Arroyo Proveda and Corbella
Some of the winners of the SPJ Florida and South Florida & NAHJ Sunshine State Awards: From the left, Lorena Arroyo, Esther Proveda and Nacho Corbella. Photos supplied

Outlets such as Univision and the Miami Herald proved to be the heavy hitters of the year, securing the majority of awards. Univision, the Spanish language broadcast network, secured the most awards with more than 20, including the Excellence in Disaster Reporting for journalists Lorena Arroyo, Esther Proveda, Nacho Corbella and the Univision Feature Video Team’s “Life in the eye of the hurricane.

“They had to keep coming back up to the front to take more certificates,” said SPJ Florida President Christiana Lilly in response to Univision’s success. “I said ‘just sit up in the front. You’re going to be here for a while.’” 

Miller Burch Michot
Some of the winners of SPJ Florida & NAHJ Sunshine State Awards:  From the left, Carol Marbin Miller, Audra D.S. Burch and Emily Michot. Supplied photos
More award winners
Valezka Gil from WTMO-TV received an award for her story with Axe Figueroa, “Cosecha de sobrevivientes.” Photo by Brandon T. Ballenger

The Miami Herald was also one of the most significant awardees of the ceremony, bringing home over 10 awards, including the highly-honored James Batten Award for Public Service for Carol Marbin Miller, Audra D.S. Burch and Emily Michot’s Fight Club: Dark Secrets of Florida Juvenile Justice.

According to comments from the judges, they “identified hundreds of individuals who’d been ousted by adult facilities for sexual misconduct, contraband smuggling, sleeping on the job, lying, unprovoked beat downs and ‘moral violations’ but were later deemed fit to monitor juvenile delinquents. They also found low pay and poor medical care for teenage inmates.” 

But when asking Miller about being honored, she said that it is “always wonderful when your work is recognized.”

Mark Puente
Mark Puente, Sunshine State Award winner

“Florida is a big state with hundreds of wonderful reporters in every medium,” Miller said. “It’s great to get some burn when you spend as much time as we did doing the journalism.”

Big winning publications also include Sun Sentinel, WUFT, WLRN, and the Tampa Bay Times, whose very own Mark Puente brought home the Gene Miller Award for Investigative Reporting for “The failures of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.” 

When asked about bringing home the award, Puente said that “it feels good.” 

“It feels better that our peers recognized the important work that came to fruition from shoe-leather reporting,” Puente said. “The series wasn’t sexy in the sense of some stories, but it had an impact on every homeowner who was ever wronged by contractors or unlicensed contractors.”

Medina Monroe Stein
Some of the winners of SPJ Florida & NAHJ Sunshine State Awards:  From the left, Brenda Medina, Kate Stein and Nate Monroe. Supplied photos

In top individual awards, Brenda Medina of El Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald took this year’s Diversity Award, Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union was awarded the top prize for Journalist of the Year and Kate Stein from WLRN was awarded Outstanding New Journalist.

“What a tough category as every entry was excellently researched and written. To declare any ‘not a winner’ was painful.” – Sunshine State Award judge

A commentary by the judges said of Monroe’s Journalist of the Year Award: “What a tough category as every entry was excellently researched and written. To declare any ‘not a winner’ was painful.”

“This entry, though, stood out from the beginning as it brought readers to the scenes described and compelled a thorough reading of each story. This writer has the ability to handle a wide range of subjects with talent and commitment. Congratulations.”

cintron huber cornejo
Some of the winners of the SPJ Florida NAHJ Sunshine State Awards: From the left, Veronica Cintron, Red Huber and Andrea Cornejo. Supplied photos

Veronica Cintron of Bay News 9 was awarded Anchor of the Year and Red Huber from the Orlando Sentinel won Photographer of the Year.

Even students were recognized, as the University of Miami’s Miami Hurricane brought in eight awards, including Best News Story for an article based on the 1980 Miami riots and student journalist Andrea Cornejo brought in six individual awards, including Journalist of the Year.

For the fifth year in a row, the NAHJ South Florida chapter has worked with SPJ Florida to represent the Hispanic community by including and awarding the Spanish-language awards to its deserving awardees. 

Pilar Portela
Pilar Portel, Sunshine State Award winner

With the Hispanic community making up 23 percent of Florida’s population according to a 2010 U.S. Census, it is just as important to continue to display diversity in Florida journalism. For Pilar Portela, a representative of the NAHJ, the collaboration “brought more diversity to the annual event,” and doing just that. 

“It is important for us to collaborate with SPJ for we are able to acknowledge and highlight the Spanish-language news stories that serve the US Hispanic and Spanish-language communities,” Portela said. 

For Lily, the collaboration acknowledges the importance of the Hispanic community for their journalistic efforts for not only South Florida but for all of Florida. 

Sunshine State Award reception photo
More than 130 journalists gathered at the 24th annual Sunshine State Awards in Coral Gables, Florida. Photo by Brandon T. Ballenger

“In South Florida, there are so many people that access Spanish language news and especially with the hurricanes last year.” Lily said. “they were able to do a lot of reporting in Puerto Rico and what was going on in Puerto Rico better than what the English channels would have ever been able to do.” 

A complete list of 2018 Sunshine State awardees can be found on the SPJ Florida website. 

2018 - 2019 SPJ Florida board of directors
The newly elected board of SPJ Florida poses following the 2018 Sunshine State Awards. Back, from left: Michele Boyet, Brandon Ballenger, Christiana Lilly, Dori Zinn, Christopher Persaud and Lulu Ramadan. Front, from left: Brendon Lies, Abbi Schorr Perry, Emily Bloch and Carina Mask. Photo by Brandon T. Ballenger



Marquis Holmes mug short
Marquis Holmes

Marquis Holmes  is a senior at Kennesaw State University majoring in journalism and emerging media with a minor in military leadership. He is also editor-in-chief of the Kennesaw State University newspaper, the Sentinel. Holmes is the fall intern for SPJ Region 3. He will be graduating in December 2018. marquisrholmes@gmail.com



SPJ Region 3 logo

Society of Professional Journalists



Twitter  @spj_3

SPJ Florida logo


SPJ Florida Facebook.com

SPJ Florida Twitter