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Florida reporter wins Selden Ring Award

Alexandra Zayas uncovered abuse at unlicensed religious children's homes.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Alexandra Zayas has won the 2013 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting for her three-part series uncovering abuse at unlicensed religious children’s homes in Florida.

The series, “In God’s Name,” was part of a year-long investigation in which Zayas sifted through thousands of pages of public records, interviewed dozens of people who attended unlicensed group homes and created a searchable list of homes that included instances of substantiated abuse cases.

The $35,000 annual award, which has been presented for the past 24 years by the School of Journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, honors the year’s outstanding work in investigative journalism that led to direct results.

The judging panel, composed of seven reporters and editors from around the country and chaired by The Sacramento Bee Managing Editor Tom Negrete, said in a statement:

“ ‘In God’s Name’ is a remarkable mix of live interviews and reporting from public records that exposed a serious lack of oversight and regulation together with shocking cases of abuse at religious children’s homes in Florida. The judges were impressed by the doggedness of a single reporter, Alexandra Zayas, in the face of countless obstacles, including the challenge of earning the trust of dozens of sensitive sources.”

This year’s runners-up were “Throwaways” by Sarah Stillman of The New Yorker and “Unlocked” by Sam Dolnick of The New York Times.

“Throwaways” is a “beautifully written examination of a little-noticed injustice emerging from the war on drugs, the idea of law enforcement putting minors at risk to do dangerous undercover work with drug dealers, in some cases ending in death for the teens, with no repercussions for law enforcement,” according to the competition’s judges.

“Unlocked” examines “the impact of New Jersey’s privatization of halfway houses, exposing political shenanigans and bringing the reader inside the facilities through descriptive language and multimedia storytelling,” the judges said.

“We at USC Annenberg are honored to be able to recognize the extraordinary work that continues to be done in investigative reporting, despite the cost pressures these news outlets are facing,” School of Journalism Director Geneva Overholser said. “It was especially heartening this year to see three young talents receive this fine recognition.”

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