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The Waldo Proffitt Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism in Florida

The Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications at the University of South Florida invites entries for the 2019 Waldo Proffitt Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism in Florida.

The award recognizes distinguished examples of daily and weekly newspaper reporting and commentary about environmental issues in Florida. The Waldo Proffitt Award was established in 1998 by the friends of Waldo Proffitt, a former editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, to honor his legacy. The award is made possible by the Waldo Proffitt Scholarship Fund of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Inc.

The $1,000 award will be given for outstanding achievement in a published story or series of stories, commentary or editorials published in a Florida daily or weekly newspaper during 2018. The winner will receive the award at the annual summer meeting of the Florida Press Association and Florida Society of News Editors. The rules are:

  1. Work must have been published in a Florida daily or weekly newspaper. Entries by an individual or team may include distinguished local reporting of breaking news, distinguished investigative reporting presented as a single article or series, distinguished explanatory reporting that illuminates a significant and complex subject presented as a single article or series, distinguished commentary or editorial writing, or a combination of these forms.
  2. Journalists employed by daily and weekly newspapers are eligible for the award, as are their news organizations.
  3. Only one entry per newspaper organization may be submitted each year, but the entry may have as many as 10 items.
  4. Entries may be PDFs, tearsheets or photocopies of tearsheets. An explanatory letter not to exceed one page may accompany the entry. To facilitate judging, entrants must submit two copies of the entry. Each entry should have the entrant's name, address, phone number and the name of the newspaper that employed the entrant. Responsible challenges to the accuracy or fairness of the entry also should be included.

Entries cannot be returned and are judged by professionals from the fields of journalism, journalism education and environmental science. Submissions should be postmarked by April 5 and sent to:

Waldo Proffitt Award for Environmental Journalism
University of South Florida
Mass Communications
4202 E. Fowler Ave., CIS 1040
Tampa, FL 33620

The Waldo Proffitt Award for Excellence in Environmental Journalism in Florida is administered by The Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications at the University of South Florida. Questions may be addressed to Wendy Whitt, The Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications, at


Previous Winners

2018: Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times for a series of articles about the sewage crisis in St. Petersburg and its ramifications for the mayor race, as well as the residents. The judges said: "The series is an excellent example of the watchdog purpose of journalism. These stories are well-reported and well-written."

2017: Dinah Voyles Pulver of The Daytona Beach News-Journal for a series of articles about a land deal that highlighted the impact of politics on a community and the environment. The judges said: "Pulver showed skill in covering diverse environmental stories of importance to the audience. This package combines politics, corruption and public affairs with the environmental impact and consequences, and highlights just how complex those issues are."

2016: Tristram Korten of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting for a series of articles about the ban in state government on the use of the terms "climate change" and "global warming." The judges said this about Korten's work published in March and April of 2015: "It is a clear, direct, 'old-fashioned' journalistic focus on an issue." The judges added: Korten "makes the case well, building up the facts and points in the same way a good lawyer would make a case before a judge. And, like a good lawyer, it hits the point again and again, but with a sense of balance and restraint, not attacking so much as presenting."

2015: Jim Waymer of Florida Today for a series of articles about the environmental threats to the Indian River Lagoon, a 156-mile estuary that is a $3.7 billion economic engine for Florida’s Space Coast. The judges said this about Waymer’s articles: “Mr. Waymer goes beyond the narrative confines of environmental reporting by focusing on not just numbers and sources (even as they remain part of his report), but through creating an accessible account of ecological issues. His story on ‘Just what caused this mess’ is one of the better narratives of the complex nature of environmental ‘crisis events’ – which often have multiple causes and theories. Similarly, his reporting covers different elements of the crises, using clear, lucid language, excellent sidebars, ample visual material and the all-important connection to the lives of everyday citizens.”

2014:  Dinah Voyles Pulver of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, for "Troubled Water: The Indian River Lagoon in Peril,” a five-day series published during 2013. In citing Pulver's articles, researched during much of 2013 and published on Dec. 18, 19, 20, 21 and 21, the judges commended her by writing this: “The most difficult environmental problems build slowly from multiple complex sources that prevent a clear understanding of what actions need to be taken. Perhaps nowhere is this debate over the future better illustrated than in Dinah Voyles Pulver’s five-part series on the decades-long decline of the Indian River Lagoon system, published by The Daytona Beach News-Journal in December 2013. Her work illustrates how skillful, accurate journalism can inform citizens on issues vital to their health and well-being. Pulver’s detailed research, drawn from a wide spectrum of sources, documents multiple perils to the functioning of the Indian River Lagoon system, one of the world’s most diverse estuaries. In 10 stories, plus informative side-bars and superb graphics, Pulver and the News-Journal depict how it has taken decades of neglect for the estuary to reach the crisis stage, which began in 2011. She makes it clear that unless costly, well-designed steps are taken soon, the 156-mile ecosystem will collapse, resulting in significant social, economic and environmental costs to the public.”

2013: Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel, for "Florida Rivers in Crisis," a three-day series published during 2012. In citing Spear's articles, researched during much of 2012 and published on Dec. 16, 18 and 19, the judges commended him by writing this: “Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel kayaked 22 of Florida’s rivers, the kind of primary reporting allowing him the authority to describe one as a cathedral and another as an aquatic zombie. Spear takes the pulse of a broad selection of the state's rivers and springs, guided by a water quality expert and numerous interviews with those with a stake in their protection. Diverse reporting techniques and excellent writing that gracefully stitches together data and narrative has a produced a compelling report meriting recognition by this year’s Waldo Proffitt Award.”

2012: Kate Spinner of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, for a body of work, published during 2011. The 10 articles, published April 17, June 19, June 28, July 7, Aug. 13, Sept. 27, Oct. 8, Oct. 17, Oct. 23, and Nov. 14, included stories ranging from the latest developments in hurricane forecasting to the conflict between fishing interests and the growing population of some species to the potentially economically devastating disconnect between federal flood and hurricane evacuation zones. In citing the work, the judges said this: “Kate Spinner’s reporting on atmospheric science, threatened resources and the inadequacies of government flood insurance programs shows mastery of a complex beat. Her compelling writing captivates readers of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune who might not otherwise care to grapple with climate change science, emerging pollution threats and new resource conflicts stemming from conservation programs.”

2011: Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel, for a body of work, published during 2010. In citing the articles, published on March 28, April 26, May 2, May 23, May 30, June 23, June 27, June 28, Aug. 1, Nov. 14 and Dec. 26, 2010, the judges wrote this: "The Waldo Proffitt Award goes to Kevin Spear of the Orlando Sentinel for coverage of the BP oil spill. Spear's thoroughly reported and well-written stories describe an arc anticipating events yet to unfold, extend through story-breaking coverage in a crowded field and delve into the ecological and safety issues in the spill's aftermath. The restrained use of first-person narrative and the dogged passion of a roughneck-turned-writer contribute to a creatively diverse report."

2010: Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times, for a body of work, published during 2009. The nine articles included stories about a newly built $146 million reservoir requiring a $125 million repair, a new breakwater that could endanger sea turtles, toxic pythons in south Florida, dangers surrounding proposed drilling near the Florida coast, battles between turf groups and scientists about summer lawn fertilizer, and controversy surrounding sea grass beds. The judges said this: "This entry is noteworthy for individual excellence and collective diversity. It includes traditional environmental stories such as those about mercury contamination and wildlife conflicts with development. But it also stretches into gubernatorial politics, the concentration of resource decisions among a few bureaucrats, public dollars poorly spent on water infrastructure and the source of support for studies affecting key environmental decisions. A story on a secretive group trying to overturn an offshore oil drilling ban sets the stage nicely for reporting yet to come on this year’s Gulf oil spill. The breadth of this body of work indicates an aggressive and thoughtful journalist who deeply understands the complexities of his beat." The articles were published on May 16, June 14, June 29, July 26, Sept. 8, Sept. 18, Oct. 24, Nov. 28 and Dec. 28, 2009.

2009: Dinah Voyles Pulver of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, for "Got Water?" The five-part series, published Dec. 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 in 2008, examined a potential natural resources disaster by using both print and multimedia to tell the story. Stories ranged from explanations about how much water Floridians use compared to others around the world to how readers could save water and money. The judges said this: "The series steps back from daily water battle stories to provide historic and global context for a looming water crisis, explain causes, describe solutions, tell readers how to help. If Volusia and Flagler counties dry up, readers of the News-Journal can't say they weren't warned. And if a crisis is averted, the News-Journal can rightfully claim credit for bringing needed attention to the fate of a basic resource."

2008: Dinah Voyles Pulver of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, for "Our Natural Treasures," a seven-part series published Jan. 7, Feb. 25, May 20, July 29, Oct. 14-15, Nov. 25 and Dec. 23, 2007. Photojournalist Jessica Webb Sibley, graphic artist Scott Hiestand, designer Scott Turick and webmaster Chris Bridges contributed to the project. The articles examined the threats to multiple and diverse natural resources, offered solutions, and helped readers understand what is at stake. Each part of the series focused on a separate natural community: the ocean, the coast, scrub, freshwater springs, longleaf pine, the Indian River Lagoon, and wetlands. Each installment also was presented online with interactive graphics and a photo gallery. The judges said this: "This investigation was gracefully written, thoroughly reported, creatively illustrated, and compellingly produced online and in print."

2007: Jane Healy of the Orlando Sentinel, for "Florida's Shame," a five-part series published on April 2-5 with additional stories published on June 11 and Dec. 3-4, 2006. The editorials described Central Florida's inability to protect land from development—even when voters overwhelmingly approved such protection. With original reporting, the editorials scolded, shamed and challenged public officials to protect the environment.

2007: Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite of the St. Petersburg Times, for "When Dry is Wet," published on Dec. 17-18, 2006. The stories about wetlands mitigation banking illuminated a multi-million dollar industry that frequently failed to deliver on a promise to preserve and reclaim wetlands. The investigation uncovered a poorly regulated environmental program that abused taxpayer dollars and was vulnerable to political deals.

2006: Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite of the St. Petersburg Times, for "Vanishing Wetlands," a two-part special report published on May 22 and May 23, 2005, with additional stories published on July 31 and Dec. 26, 2005. The articles, which used satellite images for documentation, examined how 84,000 acres of wetlands in Florida disappeared to development between 1990 and 2006 despite a long-standing federal policy of "no net loss" of these natural areas.

2005: Virginia Smith of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, for a body of work, published during 2004. The articles included stories about the sex lives of sea turtles, the bond between a woman and a whale, the poaching of gopher tortoises, efforts to protect seagrass, a profile of a snake poacher, and a two-part series on the impact of sand dredging.

2004: Craig Pittman of the St. Petersburg Times, for "Florida Water: North Has It, South Wants It," published Aug. 10, 2003, and for five subsequent stories published through Nov. 21, 2003. Reporters Amy Wimmer Schwarb and Julie Hauserman also contributed to the project. The articles described how some of Florida's most influential business leaders met behind closed doors to recommend the creation of a statewide water commission that could reroute water from one part of Florida to another. The articles alerted environmental opponents, and Florida officials scrapped the plan.

2003: Anton Caputo, Betsy Clayton, Chris Kridler, Alisa LaPolt, Kevin Lollar, Wayne T. Price, Paige St. John, Larry Wheeler and Jim Waymer, for "Paradise at Risk," a 16-page investigative project about the cost of beach erosion in Florida, published July 28, 2002. This statewide report involved journalists working at numerous Gannett-owned media outlets, including Florida Today in Melbourne, The News-Press in Fort Myers and the Pensacola News Journal, as well as at the Gannett News Service in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. The judges commended the news organizations involved in this project for the "unusual level of cooperation and commitment of resources that were used to explain the cost of beach erosion on Florida's environment and economy. The project team members reviewed more than 2,000 documents and interviewed more than 100 sources, including people in each of Florida's 35 coastal counties. This project explained and illuminated an important Florida issue in a clearly written package that contained excellent photographs and strong graphics. It explored the controversial issue of beach renourishment, which is used to attract tourists to Florida's beaches but also harms wildlife and rewards individuals who are politically well connected. This project is in the best traditions of public-service journalism."

2002: Scott Streater of the Pensacola News Journal, for a body of work, published during 2001. The articles included stories about toxic pollution and related health issues in Escambia County, the effects of a coal-burning power plant on air quality in Pensacola, permit violations by a Pensacola wastewater treatment facility and the subsequent pollution of Pensacola Bay, and issues surrounding a $500 million lawsuit against an oil company for its failure to properly restore a former plant site to safe standards.

2001: Tom Bayles and Andy Crain of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, for "The Beach Builders," published July 2, 3 and 4 and Dec. 31, 2000. Staff members who contributed to the project include reporter Rod Thomson, photographers Michael Barrientos, Scott Martin, Armando Solares, Amy Sharpe and Mike Lang, and graphic artist Scott Walker. The articles documented the impact on people and the environment of the beach building industry, which dredges up sand from the ocean floor to create and restore beaches in Florida and around the nation. As a result of these articles, the dredging industry created a task force to work with the federal government to improve the safety of this little-known business.

2000: Jan Hollingsworth of The Tampa Tribune, for a body of work, published during 1999. The articles included stories about an altered Florida Department of Health report about illnesses linked to malathion spraying, problems facing the Everglades and the sudden, unexplained firing of Department of Environmental Protection directors.

1999: Robert P. King, Joel Engelhardt and Mary McLachlin of The Palm Beach Post, for "Restoring the Flow in the Everglades," published June 25-26, 1998. The series of articles explained the impact of a $7.5 billion water supply and drainage overhaul proposed for south Florida.