Tobenkin Award: 2015 Winner
Mark Puente spoke at Journalism Day at Columbia University on May 19, 2015. Read his speech here.
Mark Puente, investigative reporter for The Baltimore Sun since March 2014, will win this year’s Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award, which honors outstanding achievement in reporting on racial or religious discrimination. Puente will be honored for a series of articles that revealed how Baltimore police officers had battered dozens of residents while making questionable arrests.
Mark Puente has been nominated three times for a Pulitzer Prize. He covered St. Petersburg City Hall and real estate for the Tampa Bay Times. He previously worked as a crime and investigations reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. His reporting forced a 32-year-sheriff to resign and to later plead guilty to theft in office. Other investigations uncovered widespread corruption and $2 billion in questionable and illegal reductions to property values in Ohio’s largest county. The stories prompted criminal investigations and led to the firing of 13 county workers. He has won numerous journalism awards, including the 2010 Al Nakkula Award for outstanding police reporting.
Puente took a different path to the newsroom. By the age of 19, he and his wife Laura had three sons. Puente then spent 13 years as a local and long-distance truck driver before enrolling at Cleveland State University in 2001. He earned a political science degree from the University of North Carolina in May 2005. He joined The Plain Dealer the next month.
The juror’s citation:
“Reporter Mark Puente uncovered a shocking pattern of abuse in his investigation of the Baltimore Police Department. He showed that dozens of city residents have been beaten in the course of questionable arrests. He also found that since 2011, the city has paid more than $5.7 million in more than a hundred civil suits alleging brutality and police misconduct. His reporting triggered change. Baltimore officials have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate and have released a reform plan.
The power of this series is not just the sheer number of violations uncovered, but the stories behind them -- the faces, voices and detailed accounts in each incident. This called for almost impossible-to-get interviews and meticulous scrutiny of records and video footage. In short, it required a reporter with tremendous persistence and dedication. Puente made these experiences real to readers and to those in power as well.”
The jurors for this year's Tobenkin award were Elena Cabral, Barbara Kantrowitz, and Abi Wright.