How the stories of the Tallahassee Democrats are changing lives
While other high school swim teams wear matching branded sweatshirts, Emily Gwin’s team at Godby High School struggled to get swimsuits.
Gwin, who is also a chemistry teacher, didn’t let that hurdle derail the program. The team would have several fundraisers throughout the year to make up for their lack of funding.
The Tallahassee Democrat received one such fundraising email in the fall from team captain Shania Brown.
“A lot of my swimmers come from low income families and really want to participate, but the funds are low,” Shania wrote in September.
The goal was to raise $1,000 for warm-ups, equipment, team meals and out-of-town meetings.
But there was more to this story than just fundraising. Brown and his team highlighted the systemic inequality between black and white swimmers, especially in the American South, where recent Jim Crow history still lingers.
After the Democrat wrote a detailed story about the swim team that overcame those challenges, the team received $10,000 in donations.
When a journalist writes a story, it is usually to inform the public. At the Democrat, our job is to let you know what’s going on in our community, whether it’s a new restaurant opening, a court case, or a fatal shooting.
Tallahassee, however, is a small town with a close-knit community, and more often than not our words impact the people we write about in our stories.
After the Democrat released his latest investigation into the growing number of homeless families in Tallahassee, emails poured into residents’ inboxes asking how they could help the family of six featured in the story.
“I was impressed and moved and so enjoyed your reporting on homeless families in Tallahassee,” one reader emailed. “It was a nuanced, human look at such an important aspect of how Tallahassee fails to care for its people.”
Homeless Families: A Special Report‘Absolute chaos’: A day in the life of a homeless family of six in Tallahassee
Like a bandage on a gunshot wound:Charities overwhelmed and ‘nowhere to go’ for homeless families
Readers offered money, clothes, gift cards; a woman offered the family her Airbnb until she could save enough money to rent on her own.
They were also able to give the children a wonderful Christmas and New Year.
“People from the community showed up with gifts and a nice little tree,” said mother Danica Hively.
Although this story has helped people get back on their feet, we still cling to the truth, and sometimes that truth is hard and has consequences.
The fallout was swift after the Tallahassee Democrat released detailed sexual harassment allegations against the new Democratic leader of the Florida House of Representatives.
The allegations stemmed from a former Florida A&M University employee who shared sexually explicit text messages with Democratic journalist Jeff Burlew and employment complaints he filed against Rep. Ramon Alexander, a rising party star .
When confronted, Alexander apologized for what he described as an adult, consensual relationship – which his accuser denies. The next day, he announced he would not seek re-election, meaning Florida Democrats had to choose a new Minority Leader for the next legislative cycle as a high-stakes election loomed.
Over the years, the Tallahassee Democrat has become the definitive source for the number of serious shootings in Florida’s capital. In our interactive map at data.tallahassee.com/tallahassee-shootings/2022/we keep a real-time tally of the number of gun violence-related deaths and injuries.
As these numbers grew, so did the number of victim stories, even though the Victims’ Rights Amendment to Marsy’s Law often deprives the community of learning the stories of loved ones who claim justice.
An empathetic exploration of youth violence chronicling a group of teenagers navigating Tallahassee, where poverty can put young black men in survival mode, dovetailing with the publication of the study Anatomy of a Homicide, which prompted the city create a task force and distribute $1 million a year to target gun violence.
We don’t just write about the news – we shape community conversation, changing real lives in the process.
The small but dedicated press team is making an outsized impact as they serve the community in a truly difficult job in an industry plagued by layoffs and cost cutting.
In 2022, for the fourth consecutive year, the Tallahassee Democrat won the Florida Society of News Editors’ Best Journalism Award – the Gold Medal – for the project on the intersection of youth poverty and violence and a heartbreaking look inside the COVID ward of a local hospital.
The streak in the Division B category is unprecedented in the more than a century that the Democrat has served the capital.
The Democrat also swept the top five categories in his division with top spots in news reporting, corporate stories, investigative reporting, community leadership and feature writing.
And while $10,000 might not seem like a lot to some people in Tallahassee, it’s enough for Godby High School students’ swimsuits for at least the next five years.
“I don’t have to worry about watching a student struggle,” she said.
It’s a weight on Gwin’s shoulders. Thanks to donations from readers, students also received matching sweatshirts this fall.
“As a team, we try to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Shania, Godby’s swim team captain, wrote in his fundraising email.
At the Tallahassee Democrat, we try too.
Ana Gonoti-Lessan is the K-12 reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat. Email him at [email protected].
Support local journalism:Here’s how you can become a Tallahassee Democrat digital or print subscriber