Florida Times-Union, ProPublica series wins 2018 Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award

12.04.2018 John Crouch Awards

Columbia Journalism School recently announced that reporters from the Florida Times-Union and ProPublica won the 2018 Paul Tobenkin Award for the joint series “Walking While Black,” which examined the practice of police officers in Jacksonville, Florida, issuing a large number of jaywalking tickets, mostly to African-American males.

The award, named in honor of late New York Herald Tribune reporter Paul Tobenkin, recognizes outstanding achievements in reporting on racial or religious hatred, intolerance or discrimination in the United States.

Jurors Daniel Alarcon, Elena Cabral and Lonnie Isabel said:

Jaywalking is a minor infraction that occurs with regularity in many urban areas. In Jacksonville, Florida, African Americans, particularly males, have been ticketed disproportionately. The investigative project “Walking While Black” chronicled the discriminatory practice of ticketing in mostly black neighborhoods and the detrimental effect it has on the lives of those who are ticketed. A citation for such offenses as walking on the wrong side of the street, or in the street, or crossing at less than a right angle at a corner could lead to the loss of a driver’s license, a job or a good credit rating.

Topher Sanders of ProPublica and Ben Conarck of the Florida Times-Union used savvy street reporting and painstakingly pieced together data from several local and state agencies to show stark racial disparities across every category of tickets given to pedestrians. They showed that police inaccurately told pedestrians they had to carry ID by law, and they captured video of police officers themselves casually jaywalking with some frequency.

“Walking While Black” had an immediate impact. Reporters were able to show that police issued thousands of erroneous tickets. Government officials confirmed the interpretation of the law that led to that conclusion, but police have taken no action to rectify the citations given in error. Sanders and Conarck’s video, done in collaboration with Vox, got 2.2 million views on Facebook and another 1.2 million on YouTube.

The project points out that this discriminatory practice has existed in many U.S. cities, including Ferguson, Missouri and New York City, where a judge ruled that “stop and frisk” was unconstitutional.

For their far-sighted, meticulously reported investigation that raises critical questions about how the criminal justice system treats one population versus others, we are proud to award the journalists behind “Walking While Black” the Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award.

Contributors included Ranjani Chakraborty, Vox-ProPublica Video Fellow; Ben Conarck, Reporter, Florida Times-Union (M.S. ‘06); Hilary Fung, News Application Developer, ProPublica; Kate Rabinowitz, Data Fellow, ProPublica; Topher Sanders, Reporter, ProPublica; and Lucas Waldron, Social Visuals and Graphics Producer, ProPublica.

The journalism school also announced that The Washington Post enterprise reporter John Woodrow Cox won the 2018 Meyer “Mike” Berger Award for his series on children affected by gun violence.

For more information, visit the Columbia Journalism School.

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