MIAMI GARDENS — For the second year in a row, South Florida Times investigative reporter Elgin Jones walked away with three honors from the South Florida Black Journalists Association.
The 2009 awards program, which took place Sunday, Sept. 13 in the lobby of the Lou Rawls Theater at Florida Memorial University, honored outstanding media coverage of South Florida's black community.
This year's theme was the very apropos "Reinvention and Renewal in Changing Times."
Jones, head of the newspaper's investigative team, won for his work in the business, commentary and Community Impact categories.
He won more awards on Sunday than any other reporter, including those from The Miami Herald, the Sun Sentinel and the Miami New Times.
In a modesty-cloaked statement, Jones said, "No way could Elgin Jones win those awards by himself. These are the newspaper's awards; this is a team effort."
South Florida Times Publisher Robert Beatty, Esq., agreed.
"Elgin has consistently been fearless in telling, with integrity, the true story of the inner workings of our community," Beatty said. "Buttressed by the superior journalistic skills of his editor, Brad Bennett, Elgin's journalism is simply phenomenal. I am proud of them both."
Jones' Business category win came for his story about a nonprofit director's misuse of a government housing program, which resulted in the construction of her home in a development that was intended for low and moderate-income, first-time home buyers.
The judges said that Jones' work on the story "showed solid investigative and newsgathering skills. The use of public records data also helped the reader through all facts of the investigation."
His win in the Commentary category was for a column on Republican Sen. John McCain titled "McCain is a Magician, not a Maverick," which ran during McCain's 2008 run for the presidency.
"Jones' column was an interesting and provocative read that offered keen perspectives on John McCain's political platform a few weeks before the 2008 presidential elections," the judges wrote of Jones' winning column.
Jones' Community Impact award resulted from a story on the Broward County Community Action Agency's misuse of more than $2 million that was to have been distributed to the needy following Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
"The ease with which the story is written allows the facts to easily be interpreted by the reader," the judges wrote of that story.
When asked which of his three awards was most significant this year, Jones singled out the Community Impact award.
"All of the stories had to do with issues that impacted the people. With the Community Action Agency's misuse of $2 million, can you imagine the amount of people that could have helped?" Jones asked.
Although pleased to be recognized for his work, Jones said he is most thrilled that the newspaper is getting the exposure it deserves.
"If it was not for the South Florida Times reporting that story, people would not have known about it. No other media outlet covered it," said Jones, who was also a triple winner at last year's SFBJA awards.
Last year, Jones won awards in the Breaking News category for his scoop on the fact that a 20-year-old murder had been solved in Deerfield Beach, thanks to DNA evidence; in the Enterprise category for his coverage of the Broward Black Elected Officials, Inc., which collected money in the name of college scholarships but spent most of it on lavish parties; and in the Community Impact category for his coverage of the "Sickness in the Soil" series on soil contamination in the Durrs neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale.
Jones, a South Carolina native has been with the South Florida Times, formerly the Broward Times, since 1991.
Jones' foray into the world of journalism – specifically investigative reporting – was a natural progression from his advocacy work as president of the non-sworn officers' branch of the Fraternal Order of Police in Fort Lauderdale in the late 1990s, when Jones was an engineering inspector for the city of Fort Lauderdale.
"The city had an internal newspaper and the union had a monthly newsletter and they would be writing about me and the other black employees. I needed a way to get my own information out so we created our own newsletter. Initially it was Oh Hell! and it eventually became Ah Heck!" Jones explained.
Jones' newsletter articles caught the eye of mainstream publications and then-Broward Times publisher Keith Clayborne, who Jones said approached him about writing for the newspaper. After initially ignoring the requests, Jones agreed to join the staff, "and the rest is history," Jones said with a chuckle.
Other journalists honored at Saturday's event were the Sun Sentinel's Alexia Campbell in the community impact category for a story on the health risks posed by an incinerator in a low-income community. The Miami Herald's Robert Samuels was a double winner; in the enterprise category for his story on military funerals, and in the features category for his story on a fallen soldier's grieving mother. Gus Garcia-Roberts of the Miami New Times won in the profile category for his story about a Barack Obama impersonator.
Bennett, executive editor of the South Florida Times, was a finalist in the commentary category this year for a column about President Barack Obama, and South Florida Times columnist Richard McCulloch was a finalist in the community impact category for a story about a noose found in a Pembroke Pines charter school.
The South Florida Black Journalists Association is a chapter of the 33 year-old, 3,300 member National Association of Black Journalists, an organization of journalists, students and media-related professionals that provides quality programs and services and advocates on behalf of black journalists worldwide.
Photo: Elgin Jones