There was no shortage of important news coming from Florida in 2021. In our usual fashion, we have put a list together for you that highlights the most thoughtful and important reporting from Florida this year. We salute these hard-working journalists who endeavor to tell the critical stories of our beloved state.
1. Poisoned: A Tampa Bay Times Investigation
By Corey G. Johnson, Rebecca Woolington, and Eli Murray
Why we recommend it: Florida journalists investigate dangerous working conditions and illegal polluting by the Gopher Resource plant, delving into mounting violations and records that show the company pumped lead into the air and mishandled hazardous waste. This three-part series combines in-depth reporting with vivid images, video and interactive graphics to recreate a story of environmental wrongdoing.
“Gopher touts green manufacturing that helps keep 13 million batteries out of landfills each year. But over the last decade, the plant has been a key reason why Hillsborough has had more adult lead poisoning cases than any other county in Florida, according to health department reports.”
2. The collapse reconstructed: Ten witnesses describe what they saw and heard
By Sarah Blaskey, Ben Conarck, Aaron Leibowitz, and Ana Claudia Chacin
Why we recommend it: Chilling and deeply reported by the Miami Herald, this timeline of the catastrophic collapse of Champlain Towers in Miami—a disaster that killed 98 people in June—includes detailed but easy to follow graphics and personal accounts that you won’t read anywhere else. Prepare to feel everything as you dive into Florida’s most startling and heartbreaking story of the year.
“In the six or seven seconds that we went up in the elevator, the elevator moved, stopping in the lobby as usual and a really strong cloud of dust, a loud thunder began, as if a — we didn’t know what happened. We didn’t understand if it was a tornado, an attack. Something similar to a movie.”
3. New Urbanism sells faux sustainability as a luxury on Florida’s 30A
By Ashira Morris
Why we recommend it: Come for the old-Florida illustrations, stay for the smart, no-nonsense writing and deep reporting. The community of Alys Beach on Florida’s 30A sells luxury on the front lines of climate change. The development is “selling environmentalism as a commodified luxury good—and making a declaration about who can and can’t thrive in the face of climate change,” Ashira reports for Scalawag. This story manages to be cool, entertaining and an informative read, all at the same time.
“As the climate crisis warms the Gulf of Mexico, fueling more intense hurricanes, these picture-perfect planned communities show that with enough money, the wealthy can pay to keep their palm trees, boutiques, and beach cruisers—while everyone else worries about surviving the next big storm.”
4. Op-Ed: Will Shell’s oil future outlast its ocean namesakes?
By Cynthia Barnett
Why we recommend it: Because only Cynthia Barnett, our favorite water writer, could take the origin story of Shell Global and make it this ironic. In this op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Barnett reveals one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world got its start in a seashell shop in London’s East End. Now, climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels is threatening the very shelled marine animals that inspired the company’s name.
“What concerns Albano most is to see such common animals dying long before the world reaches the 1.5-degree Celsius planetary limit commonly cited as the goal to avert catastrophic warming. ‘What we are seeing hasn’t happened with 1.5 degrees,’ Albano told me. ‘It has happened with a lot less.’”
5. Inside a KKK murder plot: Grab him up, take him to the river
By Jason Dearen
Why we recommend it: A north Florida writer reveals the dark underbelly of law enforcement across the nation with a rural Florida example. In this deep dive by Jason Dearan, the Associated Press describes how Ku Klux Klan members working in law enforcement plot to murder a black man in rural north Florida. With captivating images and video assisting the storytelling, Dearan highlights the need for new surveillance strategies to identify white supremacists before they’re hired into state law enforcement jobs.
“Today, researchers believe that tens of thousands of Americans belong to groups identified with white supremacist extremism, the klan being just one. These groups’ efforts to infiltrate law enforcement have been documented repeatedly in recent years and called an ‘epidemic’ by legal scholars.”
6. Red tide is expected to intensify, and scientists point the finger at Piney Point
By Mark Young
Why we recommend it: The Bradenton Herald fact-checks Florida Governor Ron DeSantis by looking at the science behind the intensity of Tampa Bay’s red tide disaster. While Desantis blamed Hurricane Elsa, scientists say a leak at a phosphate plant that led to 200 million gallons entering Tampa Bay is to blame for the worst bouts of red tide seen in years.
“Dave Tomasko, director of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, said the governor is likely being advised by scientists ‘we don’t necessarily agree with. Elsa didn’t kill those fish. They were already dead as of the July Fourth weekend and Elsa blew those dead fish toward the shore.’”
7. Offshore oil and gas worker fatalities are underreported by federal safety agency
By Sara Sneath
Why we recommend it: Sara Sneath reports that an investigation by Drilled News and Southerly found the number of offshore worker deaths is being undercounted by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, a federal agency created after the 2010 BP oil disaster to improve safety and enforce environmental regulations in the offshore oil and gas industry. It’s clearly written and easy to follow, yet packed with new information.
“Of the 83 known offshore worker fatalities that occurred between 2005 and 2019, about 30% — or 24 deaths — were classified as ‘non-occupational.’ The non-work related fatalities during this period occurred an average of 60 miles away from shore, according to our analysis.”