Pulitzer, finalists are source of pride for Poynter

My usual pride in the Poynter Institute derives from its benign influence on journalists across the globe. Such influence may flow from a seminar or conference, an online course, or work published on this website. We teach journalism in the public interest, and we celebrate it.

But today that pride derives from another, lesser-known role played by Poynter as the owner of the Tampa Bay Times. That newspaper, formerly the St. Petersburg Times, just won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing and produced two finalists — one for investigative reporting and another for feature writing.

Tim Nickens and Dan Ruth earned the big prize for their editorials denouncing local county commissioners who, embracing paranoid ideology over medical science, took fluoride out of the water supply. Thanks to editorials in the Times, those responsible were voted out of office and the fluoride restored.

Alexandra Zayas, who has taught at Poynter, was honored for investigative work calling attention to abusive practices in unlicensed religious homes for children.

Kelley Benham French, who studied at Poynter as a high-school student and now serves as an adjunct faculty member, caught the attention of Pulitzer jurors with a stunning personal narrative of the survival of her daughter Juniper, born prematurely at only 23 weeks, at a weight of one pound, one ounce.

All three projects share a concern with the health and well-being of children, which should be part of the raison d’être of any news organization.

Newspaper owners deserve to celebrate Pulitzer achievements, even when those honors are earned in spite of the cost-cutting efforts of the bean counters who run media companies.

We have bean counters at the Poynter Institute and the Tampa Bay Times, too, and I wish we could find more beans, or maybe plant some magic ones, grow a beanstalk and steal a giant’s gold. The decrease in profitability at the Times since 2008 has meant a serious loss of revenue for Poynter.

To change the metaphor, all boats sink on a low tide, and both Poynter and its paper have seen resources shrink in the swamp of Florida’s deep recession. Millions of dollars in yearly stock dividends have disappeared, forcing Poynter to look for new revenue resources and to be more inventive in executing its mission. And so we have.

In hard times, a normal owner would squeeze the newspaper for more profits, which means cutting costs to the bone marrow. Cut staff, cut newshole, cut sections, cut bureaus, cut the size of the paper – and now, for companies such as Newhouse, cut the number of days you publish a print version. Cut, cut, cut.

There comes a tipping point at such companies, of course, a time when the news resources have been cut so severely that the paper can no longer commit serious journalism in the public interest. The product becomes less compelling. It attracts fewer readers. Losses cycle down.

That has not happened at the Tampa Bay Times, and this year’s Pulitzer recognition proves that something is different here. In spite of economic problems that continue to plague all of us, we can say with confidence that Nelson Poynter’s visionary and ingenious plan is still working.

That plan, which went into effect upon his death in 1978, did not envision what kind of school the Poynter Institute would become. Nor could it have predicted the disruptive technologies of the 21st century. But it did have certain enduring benefits, and they flowed from Nelson Poynter’s decision to give his newspaper away to a school he established.

This is what the estate lawyers describe as Mr. Poynter’s testamentary intent:

* That the stock of his company would not scatter across generations among family members he did not know and might not even have liked.

* As a result, those family members could not cash out by selling their stock, as was the case with the owners of the Louisville Courier-Journal, to chains such as Gannett.

* As a result, his newspaper would remain locally owned and privately held, run by top journalists committed to the specific community served by their paper.

* As a result, those trusted leaders could offer their primary loyalties not to shareholders or advertisers, but to readers.

The entire Poynter project was predicated on trust. Trust in democracy and self-government. Trust in the continuing value of journalism to that enterprise. And trust in people. Nelson Poynter trusted Eugene Patterson to run the show, who trusted Andy Barnes, who trusted Paul Tash, who as CEO must adapt a once highly profitable business to the tumultuous changes that continue to shake the news media world.

But, for today, Tash – a member of the Pulitzer Board – can share the spotlight with the winners and finalists, with the entire staff that gathered in the newsroom at 3:00 pm to hear the official announcements and with all of us at the Poynter Institute who continue to outperform our resources. In doing so, we want to maintain our status not just as an influential school but as a newspaper owner that all who care about journalism can take pride in.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.knilands Robert Knilands

    The myth that the Times has not participated in cutting news resources is another in the stream of mistruths (some might call them lies) at the site.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004450777999 Johnny Johnson

    Go Tim Nickens and Daniel Ruth!! You guys and TBT in general were just AWESOME in telling the complete and accurate truth about what was going on with the fluoridation issue in Pinellas.

    Our present and future generations will thank you for the part that you all played in helping to bring fluoridation back to Pinellas County. On behalf of the dental and medical community, I thank you both from the bottom of my heart.


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004450777999 Johnny Johnson

    Perfectly said Roy. Mr. Nickens and Ruth were phenomenal in their scientific research and editorials. I’ve never been involved in anything like this issue on a pubic scale in my life. I have been so extremely impressed by the ability of those not in dentistry to grasp the science and assimilate the facts so expertly and be 100% accurate in this fluoridation issue. I’ve gained a whole new level of respect for other’s investigative abilities. But, why should I be surprised? These folks do this work every day and are the best at what they do.

    The Pulitzer shows their prowess. God Bless them.

    Johnny Johnson, Jr., DMD, MS
    Palm Harbor, FL

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004450777999 Johnny Johnson

    Ms. Carol Kopf,

    As a media director of the Fluoride Action Network (FAN) and the New York State Coalition Opposed to Fluoridation (NYSCOF), I would think that you of all people would have agreed with Roy Peter Clark’s comment below. You are in “the field”, and you report that you have done your due diligence of scientific research.

    Clearly, Carol, your sources of scientific research lack any credibility whatsoever. Any journalist worth their salt would turn to the most credible sources in the world, the WHO, AMA, AAP, ADA, CDC, and Mayo Clinic to derive at least their starting points for their investigations. Instead, you spread the word of the conspiracy theorists, Paul Connett, Bill Osmunson, and the others that are not researchers, nor credible. Paul Connett holds a PhD in Chemistry, not in biological sciences or physiological sciences. Yet he claims to hold the truth to fluoridation in his “book” that he published a year or two ago. He reveals his “opinion” that fluoridation has been the biggest conspiracy ever to cover-up fluoridation’s harm.

    Rubbish. Paul, Bill, you, nor any other of your conspiracy group have the support or endorsement for a single claim that you make regarding optimally fluoridated water from a credible scientific group of the caliber of the WHO, AMA, AAP, ADA, CDC, or Mayo Clinic, just to name a few. Not a single one Carol.

    Seriously, if the internet had not given you a medium to spread your terroristic and fear-mongering tactics, you’d have no audience at all, except the folks who sit in circles and thrive on this stuff.

    As I’ve said before in your postings here of the same stuff you have above during our fluoridation efforts here in Pinellas, leave my families alone. Go troll elsewhere. Try New York since you live there.

    If this response isn’t too upsetting, please do me the favor of a reply to one question:

    Name one credible scientific organization in the entire world that supports or endorses a SINGLE claim that you make against OPTIMALLY fluoridated water.

    You’ve reported that you’ve got the background training to me to do this. Now go win a Pulitzer and give me just one reference.


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Roy-Peter-Clark/100000896693218 Roy Peter Clark

    Journalists are not scientists, but they are capable, given the time and resources, to help the public make distinctions between responsible science and propaganda and misinformation. That’s what the Tampa Bay Times accomplished. That’s why it earned a Pulitzer Prize.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Billy-Budd/100003992472444 Billy Budd

    The Tampa Bay Times’ service to their community in clearing the fog of anti-fluoridation disinformation will be reflected in lifetimes of better oral health, in fewer operations necessary for preschool children, fewer cavities in adult teeth and fewer cavities on the exposed root surfaces of elderly people. Congratulations for receiving the Pulitzer but more kudos for the public service accomplished.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.slott Steve Slott

    Ok, Nyscof. Sooo, Pulitzer has it wrong while fluoridealert.org, the antifluoridationist site packed full of misinformation, out-of-context quotes, and misleading “conclusions” of study results, has it right? C’mon, that’s a real stretch even for you guys. Let’s see, below you have 2 cites to fluoridealert.org, two to YouTube, and one snapshot of NY statistics …and this is supposed to “support” your position here? Oh, and Yolanda Whyte……I don’t really think she requires a comment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/virginia.feldman.58 Virginia Feldman

    Nickens & Ruth deserve our thanks for good journalistm–and a ‘benign influence’ resulted from that good journalism: the safe and protective effects of fluoride were returned to water in that part of Florida. THANK YOU. Dr Ginny Feldman MD

  • http://www.facebook.com/nyscof Nys Cof

    Pulitzer really screwed up when they awarded the Tampa Bay Times editorialists who clearly don’t understand fluoridation and that modern science shows that ingesting fluoride, neither a nutrient nor essential for healthy teeth, is ineffective at reducing tooth decay and harmful to health Fluoridation Opposition is Scientific, Respectable & Growing

    More than 4,400 professionals (including 343 dentists and 538 MD’s) urge that fluoridation be stopped See statement:http://www.fluoridealert.org/researchers/professionals-statement/text/

    Dr. Yolanda Whyte, a primary care pediatrician, explains why she no longer supports water fluoridation.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iu9HzaVbWQ

    Thirty-six human studies now link fluoride to lowered IQ, some at levels considered safe in the US. See:http://www.fluoridealert.org/articles/iq-facts/

    43,000 Portland, Oregon residents stopped an ill-advised fluoridation mandate

    Wichita, KS, residents voted 60 to 40% against fluoridation last year

    Hundreds of communities have stopped or rejected fluoridation already.

    Windsor, Ontario, and Cairns, Australia stopped fluoridation this year. Windsor’s Mayor, who has a chemistry background, explains why he voted with the majority to stop 51 years of water fluoridation in this radio interview.https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gJcjYl_2MQY

    Most of Western Europe and major world cities do not fluoridate the water. Yet tooth decay rates are similar.

    According to NYS Department of Health studies, highly fluoridated NYS counties do not have less tooth decay than more fluoridated NYS counties. See chart: http://www.freewebs.com/fluoridation/chart.htm