Two Florida reporters have won the 2014 Al Nakkula Award for Police Reporting from the University of Colorado Boulder’s Journalism and Mass Communication program and the Denver Press Club.
The $2,000 Nakkula prize goes to reporters Megan O’Matz and database editor John Maines of the South Florida Sun Sentinel for their series, “Cops, Cash, Cocaine.” The piece uncovered a police department’s secret scheme to lure drug dealers to a small town, entangle them in a sting and pocket money from the operation.
The award is named in honor of the late Al Nakkula, a 46-year veteran of the Rocky Mountain News whose tenacity made him a legendary police reporter, according to award organizers. The contest has existed since 1991 and this year drew more than two dozen entries from major publications around the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Seattle Times, the Boston Globe and Newsday.
Five veteran reporters, who worked at the Rocky Mountain News before its closure in 2009, judged the contest. Most of the reporters worked with Nakkula.
“The Sun Sentinel’s report stood out for the sheer doggedness of the reporting and the sheer audacity of the operation the newspaper exposed,” said Nakkula award judge Kevin Vaughan, an investigative reporter for Fox Sports.
Reporters O’Matz and Maines found that the Sunrise, Fla., police department enticed drug buyers to come to town, arrested them, confiscated their cash and cars and kept millions in proceeds. The officers who participated also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay.
“ ‘Cops, Cash, Cocaine,’ was one of those stories that allowed Megan O’Matz and John Maines to deploy the skills they have become known for around here: piecing together bits of information, reviewing documents endlessly, talking to sources and checking things out in person. In other words: old-fashioned tenacity,” said Howard Saltz, Sun Sentinel editor.
“The result of their investigation not only revealed something that still boggles the mind when you read it, but served the community by forcing a highly unusual -- and arguably dangerous -- police operation to shut down,” he said.
O’Matz has received numerous state and national honors for previous work and was a 2006 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting.
Series co-reporter Maines has been a database editor for the Sun Sentinel for 16 years. He and a Sun Sentinel colleague won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
Second place in this year’s competition was awarded to reporters John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for their series, “Backfire.”
The judges also sent a special commendation to the staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the depth and breadth of their work in 2013. The staff entered two major reporting projects in the contest.
For more information about the Al Nakkula award visit http://journalism.colorado.edu/al-nakkula-award/. For more information about CU-Boulder’s Journalism and Mass Communication program visit http://journalism.colorado.edu/.