Two newspapers and one TV station are winners of The Florida Bar Media Awards competition. Florida Bar President Gwynne Young presented plaques to journalists from the Daily Business Review, Palm Beach Post and WFLA-TV (NBC Tampa) on September 24 at the Bar’s Reporters’ Workshop dinner in Tallahassee. The event was held on the 22nd floor of the Capitol, with six Florida Supreme Court justices among the attendees.
The 57th annual contest, sponsored by the Media & Communications Law Committee of The Florida Bar, recognizes outstanding journalism highlighting the system of law and justice as it affects Floridians. Any newspaper, blog, radio station, TV station, or wire service located in Florida is eligible to enter.
Liza Park, chair of this year’s Media Awards Committee, is an attorney and a former TV news anchor.
“There were a lot of great entries, but in the print category, two stood out from all the rest,” she said. The formats were different, but in terms of quality, the prize-winning print entries were neck-in-neck in the eyes of the judges. But they finally came to a decision.”
In the print category, the Daily Business Review won for “Evolving Justice: A Century of Law.” One hundred years of Dade County court history are chronicled in a glossy edition of the Daily Business Review. All the articles were published in the months leading up to the official anniversary and compiled into a magazine for special distribution.
Law Editor Cathi Wilson said DBR “generated a compendium of articles tracing the circuit from its pioneer days through eras of segregation and discrimination against Jews and Hispanics. The sensational trials of Al Capone and Ted Bundy, South Florida’s role in the Watergate scandal, and an unsolved murder mystery were highlighted.”
Jose Pagliery and Julie Kay, two of the newspaper’s four law writers, did most of the writing. Creative director John Rindo was responsible for the magazine’s design.
The Palm Beach Post picked up second-place honors in the print category for its coverage of “Eyewitness Identification.” The entry by reporter Susan Spencer-Wendel is an investigation into police practices of eyewitness identification and whether police in Florida were using the Justice Department recommendations a decade ago.
According to The Palm Beach Post, in 2010 the Florida Supreme Court created an Innocence Commission to investigate causes of wrongful convictions. Its first order of business was to look at eyewitness identification, because it causes more than 75 percent of those convictions. “Susan saw an opportunity to affect the issue statewide.”
Spencer-Wendel surveyed 32 police agencies about written policy and procedures on eyewitness ID. Of 28 agencies that responded, only three had separate written policies. The Innocence Commission praised Spencer-Wendel’s work and recommended to the Florida Supreme Court in June 2011 that separate policies be encouraged for all police agencies in the state. Weeks later, the Florida Sheriffs Association and other police groups adopted the standards.
In the broadcast category, WFLA-TV News Channel 8 of Tampa received a first-prize honor for its coverage of “QEEG as Evidence.” A review of court records last fall by WFLA revealed that a controversial “brain mapping” test was being given inside the jail to some defendants awaiting trial in high-profile murder cases.
According to the TV station, “The public defender’s office hoped QEEG or Quantitative Electro Encephalograms would spot brain damage and help their clients to avoid the death penalty.” WFLA photojournalist Kate Caldwell and special projects producer Nancy Ryan wanted to know more about the science behind QEEG, its applications, accuracy, whether it can diagnose mental illness, and the costs involved.
The report aired on October 24, 2011, just days before the trial began for a man charged with the shooting death of a Tampa police corporal. Two days later, the judge in the case ruled that QEEG evidence would not be admissible because the test was not “generally accepted” by scientists. Ryan said: “Our report was the first to introduce this controversial test to the public and opened the discussion about its reliability and feasibility as evidence in a criminal case.”
News anchor Keith Cate accepted the award.
The evening ended with special recognitions for former Palm Beach Post reporter Spencer-Wendel, who now uses a wheelchair. The 12-year veteran of covering the courts resigned from the newspaper last year after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS).
Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente gave Spencer-Wendel an autographed copy of an article written by the reporter years ago — “The Most Intimate Injustice” — when the justice was battling breast cancer and carrying on with her duties on the bench. Pariente then presented a lifetime achievement award to Spencer-Wendel on behalf of the Media & Communications Law Committee. The rosewood plaque gave two thumbs up for the “enterprising reporter who, in her own words, considered it ‘a privilege to go to work each day and grow democracy.’”
The awards judges were media lawyers Karen Kammer of Mitrani, Rynor, Adamsky & Toland in Miami and Judy Mercier of Holland & Knight in Orlando; Teresa Ponte, chair and associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Broadcasting at Florida International University, and a Florida Bar member; Dionne Anglin, a reporter at KDFW-Fox 4 News in Dallas-Fort Worth; and Julian Miller, public affairs administrator for the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department and former publisher of the Savannah Morning News.