St. Petersburg Times staff writers Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin won the Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors for the series "Inside Scientology."
The Times and its websites received 13 first-place prizes and 23 overall in the annual FSNE competition, more than any other large-circulation news organization in the state. The Gold Medal honors the best work of meritorious public service by a newspaper through distinguished reporting, writing and presentation.
Childs, Times managing editor/Tampa Bay, and Tobin also won FSNE's first-place award in Investigative Reporting for their investigation of life inside the Church of Scientology, which has its worldwide spiritual headquarters in Clearwater. In eight installments in 2009, beginning with the three-part "Truth Rundown" last June, the reports presented the accounts of high-ranking church defectors who said they and other church managers were abused mentally and physically by church leader David Miscavige, accusations strenuously denied by the church.
Later reports detailed the restrictive, isolated culture of Scientology's religious order, the Sea Organization. In a two-part series on Sunday and Monday of this week, former Sea Org members described how they and other women were pressed into having abortions in order to stay in their jobs and continue working.
FSNE awarded Times columnist Howard Troxler first place in the Columns category for a collection of work that included "It's only the biggest decision in our history," on oil drilling. Joni James, deputy editor of editorials, won first place in Editorials for her work on the Legislature. Times copy editor Mark Wood received first place in Headline Writing for headlines including "Rattler bites her finger, then it tastes her cane."
Times' online and visual entries also took multiple honors this year. The staff won first place in Page One Design, first place in Online Breaking News for coverage of "Finding the missing boater Nick Schuyler alive," and first place in Blog/Online Commentary for the Florida politics blog the Buzz.
Staff photographer Edmund D. Fountain won first place in the Photo Story category for his photographs in the series "For Their Own Good." Designer Suzette Moyer won first place in Feature Page Design for "Hot and Cool."
The first-place award in Innovation That Drives Digital Audience was captured by Steve Spears and Sean Daly for the Stuck in the '80s blog and podcasts.
In the category Breaking News Online Slideshow, staff photographer Willie J. Allen Jr. won first place for "From St. Petersburg to the inauguration." In Enterprise Online Slideshow, staff photographer Keri Wiginton received first place for "Homeless in High School." In Non-Deadline Video, staff photographer Maurice Rivenbark won first place for "Passing along his treasured LPs."
Second-place honors were awarded to staff writer Antonya English in Sports Writing; staff writer Kris Hundley in Business; staff photographer Will Vragovic in Breaking News Online Slideshow; and staffers Douglas Clifford, Rita Farlow, Mike Moscardini, Joseph Garnett Jr., Maurice Rivenbark, Jack Rowland, Don Morris and Desiree Perry in Multimedia.
Winning third-place awards were staff writer Sean Daly in Feature & Arts Writing; staff writers Rita Farlow and Michael Moscardini in Explanatory Reporting; editor of editorials Tim Nickens in Editorials; designer Holly Braford in Feature Page Design; and Atoyia Deans and Joseph Garnett Jr. in Breaking News Video.
Donna Koehn at the Tampa Tribune won this year's Paul Hansell Distinguished Journalism Award for excellence in reporting and writing. The First Amendment Foundation presented the 2010 Pete Weitzel Friend of the First Amendment Award to Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland in recognition of her leadership on open government issues in Florida.