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University of Florida Announces $25,000 Collier Prize for State Government Accountability

by | Apr 29, 2019

The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) today announced the creation of The Collier Prize for State Government Accountability, a prize that will be awarded annually at the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner starting in 2020.

The $25,000 prize, one of the largest journalism prizes in the nation, is designed to encourage coverage of state government, focusing on investigative and political reporting.

The award is funded by Nathan S. Collier, founder and chairman of The Collier Companies headquartered in Gainesville, Florida. Collier is a descendant of Peter Fenelon Collier, who in 1888 founded Collier’s, a weekly magazine focused on investigative journalism and publishing stories from renowned journalists such as Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Ida Tarbell and Samuel Hopkins Adams.  One of the magazine’s most famous investigative series was the “The Great American Fraud,” which analyzed the contents of popular patent medicines and led to the first Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.

Collier’s Weekly had a long history of investigative journalism, shining light in the dark recesses of government,” said Collier, great grandnephew of the magazine’s founder. “I am honoring Peter Fenelon Collier’s vision and dedication by supporting a vibrant free press, particularly at the state government level.”

In announcing this award, UFCJC Dean Diane McFarlin cited a diminished investment in statehouse coverage over the last decade.

“The professional news media’s watchdog role in state capitols has declined precipitously over the last decade in the number of journalists employed to cover state governments,” said McFarlin, former publisher of the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune. “The result is that citizens don’t know what they don’t know, and the danger is that corruption and malfeasance can proceed unchecked. We hope this prize will encourage more rigorous coverage of a government body that has a direct impact on citizens’ lives every day.”

A 2014 assessment of state capitol press corps by the Pew Research Center found that the number of newspaper reporters covering state capitols declined by 35 percent between 2003 and 2014. Less than one-third of newspapers today assign even one reporter to the statehouse. Among local TV news stations, it is just 14 percent.  In Florida alone, the number of journalists stationed in Tallahassee and assigned to cover the Legislature and government agencies has dwindled by as much as half in the last decade, by some estimates.

UFCJC will partner with WHCA to promote, administer and present the annual award.

“I’m deeply grateful to the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications for partnering with us to create the Collier Prize for Statehouse Accountability,” said Olivier Knox, chief Washington correspondent for SiriusXm Radio and WHCA president. “Few trends in news worry me more than the widespread hollowing-out of local and regional coverage. The WHCA cannot, by itself or even with a generous partner, reverse this corrosive phenomenon, but we owe it to ourselves and to the public to sound this call to arms.”

Details for submitting nominations for the 2020 award will be available in fall 2019.

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