Tampa Bay Times reporter Alexandra Zayas wins USC Annenberg’s 2013 Selden Ring Award

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

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 USC Annenberg, 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. The series documents Florida's utter abdication of regulation of these homes, and shows how families were misled in entrusting their sons and daughters to religious-based camps with no accountability to anyone. The story was well-organized and its multimedia presentation compelling and powerful."

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

The New Yorker's 'Throwaways' by Sarah Stillman 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 Selden Ring Award judges.

The New York Times series, 'Unlocked,' by Sam Dolnick 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.

The judging panel included Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss; The New York Times managing editor Dean Baquet; Los Angeles Times reporter Anh Do; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter/assistant editor Ellen Gabler; Negrete; The Washington Post reporter and former Selden Ring Award recipient Dana Priest; and The Center for Public Integrity executive editor Ellen Weiss.

“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,” USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism Director Geneva Overholser said. “It was especially heartening this year to see three young talents receive this fine recognition.”

Selden Ring Award
2013 winner: In God’s Name
2013 Runner-Up: Throwaways
2013 Runner-Up: Unlocked
Previous Selden Ring Award winners