Stories from the front lines of local journalism: The Esserman-Knight Journalism Prize Celebration, will begin at 7:00 p.m. June 18. Register on Eventbrite.
The Esserman Family Fund for Investigative Journalism is being launched to honor and strengthen accountability reporting in South Florida by supporting the reporters whose work has the power to change laws and lives.
This initiative is a way to herald the importance of a free press and fortify the crucial role that journalism plays in ensuring democratic freedoms. Ron and Charlene Esserman and their family believe that amplifying the voices of journalists and their courageous work will keep the community focused on issues of injustice, suppression and corruption and galvanize all of us to stand up for change.
The fund supports both an annual prize for South Florida’s best accountability reporting and provides the funds to seed more investigative coverage through a year-long fellowship:
Esserman-Knight Journalism Prize
In partnership with Knight Foundation, the prize celebrates a journalist whose accountability reporting highlights issues, for example, of social justice, equality and intellectual freedom — values of critical importance to Ron and Charlene. This year, $18,000 is being awarded to journalists for the best South Florida reporting that holds the powerful to account. Journalists who cover Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties were eligible to apply. The winners are listed below:
Reporter Julie K. Brown and Visual Journalist Emily Michot of the Miami Herald for their groundbreaking reporting on the case of sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, “Perversion of Justice:” Brown and Michot revived a dormant, 10-year-old case against Epstein by exposing the cover-up of his crimes and the secret plea deal that helped him escape a lifetime in prison. By earning the trust of his survivors, they were able to finally give voice to the dozens of young women who were abused by Epstein and betrayed a broken criminal justice system. As a result of their reporting, Epstein was arrested on sex trafficking charges; Alexander Acosta, the prosecutor who blessed Epstein’s plea deal, resigned as President Trump’s labor secretary; federal investigations were launched into the case; and Epstein’s victims finally got their day in court. ($10,000)
Megan O’Matz, Brittany Wallman and Aric Chokey of the Sun Sentinel for “Teenage Time Bombs: A Generation in Danger”: How many other emotionally disturbed kids like the Parkland shooter are in Florida schools? The Sun Sentinel reviewed risk protection orders around the state and found more than 100, many of whom are “mentally disturbed, armed with guns and inspired by 20 years of school shooters.” The series concluded that well-meaning mainstreaming laws have given school districts little room to remove potentially dangerous children from regular classrooms. ($5,000)
Erika Carrillo and Maria Alesia Sosa of WLTV Univision Miami and USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, for “Paradise of Beauty and Death”: Their investigation exposed the lack of regulations for Florida’s cosmetic surgery centers, where they found 14 women from around the country and the Americas had died during botched surgeries. They also revealed that the state department of health kept no records of the deaths associated with cosmetic surgeries. Because of their reporting, the Florida Legislature passed a law that now requires these centers to register with the department of health, have a doctor’s license associated with it, have insurance for both the center and the doctor, and more. ($1,000)
Reporter Jessica Bakeman and editors Alicia Zuckerman and Teresa Frontado of WLRN for “Chartered: Florida’s First Private Takeover Of a Public School System”: The hour-long audio documentary and multimedia series examine the potential benefits — and risks — of Florida’s new “schools of hope” policy, which offers millions to attract charter schools to the state’s poorest communities. The project examines Florida’s first all-charter school district in Jefferson County, before Miami’s first “schools of hope” opened in Liberty City. ($1,000)
Fabiola Santiago of The Miami Herald for “Perspectives on South Florida”: Santiago writes weekly columns for both the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. Through her original reporting, she raises often ignored issues such as racial, ethnic, economic and gender disparity; heavy-handed political processes and people; and unfairness to people with little or no access to those in power. ($1,000)
Esserman Investigative Journalism Fellowship
Offered initially at The Miami Herald, the fellowship provides $50,000 per year for an investigative journalism position for an early-career reporter.
Christina Saint Louis has been selected to receive the Esserman Investigative Journalism Fellowship. is a recent graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. She has reported for City & State New York, a politics and policy magazine, and covered the community of Morningside Heights for campus radio. Saint Louis is a native of Stuart, Fla. and is fluent in Haitian Creole.
“We feel a free press is essential for our democracy and for the community we love – and yet it is in peril. We hope the fund can provide resources to ensure South Florida’s tradition in investigative journalism lives on, while catalyzing other donors to join in with additional support.” – Charlene Esserman
About Ron and Charlene Esserman:
After the couple moved to Miami from Chicago in 1968, Ron built a network of businesses in South Florida in the automotive industry, heralded for his focus on quality and integrity. Ron brought humanism to his workplace and invested in the advancement and well-being of his employees. Ron and Charlene also supported many community causes, establishing organizations that contributed to the cultural health and well-being of Miami-Dade County. They helped establish Zoo Miami and the Deering Estate Foundation, and shaped the Miami City Ballet, the Florida Grand Opera and the Arsht Center. Throughout their lives, they have been engaged in the political process and supported candidates and causes that focused on guaranteeing free speech, equality for all, quality education and access to resources to enable everyone to have a chance to build a better life.