Florida Journalist Wins Pulitzer for Property Insurance Report

April 20, 2011

In the thick of her two-year investigation into Florida’s insurance industry, Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter Paige St. John would wake up in the middle of the night, shaking and sweating, fearful that she’d taken on too much.

“I’ve been in investigative reporting forever,” Paige said. “I’ve never had that, ‘Oh my God. I can’t do it,’ feeling.”

On Monday, Paige learned her exhaustive efforts tracking down public records, building a database, confronting reluctant corporate leaders and writing in a small newsroom office with no windows had earned her the coveted Pulitzer for investigative reporting.

“It’s fabulous recognition for a remarkable newspaper and a remarkable community,” said Paige, a journalist for more than three decades.

In the citation for St. John’s award, the Pulitzer jury noted the investigation provided “handy data to assess insurer reliability” and stirred regulatory action.

Since her stories were published, St. John said legislation has gone through addressing parts of the state’s insurance troubles and public discussion has been reinvigorated.

“The most heartening thing is much greater awareness of what the reality of Florida’s situation with insurance is,” she said. “People have been told the problem was hurricanes and they need to pay more. But never were they told how much was enough.”

St. John’s series, “Florida’s Insurance Nightmare,” reported that the property insurance system is on shaky financial ground that might not withstand a major storm.

The series already had won awards from Scripps Howard, National Headliner and Investigative Reporters and Editors, or IRE.

The Pulitzer is the first for the Sarasota newspaper, which has been a finalist two other times in the last four years.

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