Michael LaForgia’s dogged pursuit of a massive corruption story earns journalism’s top prize

This past May, we heard great news: Alumnus Michael LaForgia, ’05, and fellow reporter Will Hobson of the Tampa Bay Times had won a prestigious Pulitzer Prize for their “relentless investigation into the squalid conditions that marked housing for the city’s substantial homeless population, leading to swift reform.”

Not only had Michael’s reporting impacted his community in a substantive way, he and Will, 30 and 29, respectively, were also the youngest journalists to win a Pulitzer in the Tampa Bay Time’s history and the first to win in the newspaper’s local reporting category.

Michael is quick to point out that his interest in news reporting began at the University of South Carolina shortly after his freshman year began. An English major with a predilection for the works of American novelists like William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, William Styron and James Dickey, Michael had barely settled into his core classes when he decided to attend an informational session for students interested in working on The Daily Gamecock.

He accepted a staff position on the paper, never thinking it would turn into a journalism career. It was later, during his two terms as editor, and after leading a team into Louisiana to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, that he realized reporting was a natural fit.

At the Tampa Bay Times, Michael and Will worked closely with Carolina alumnus and editor, Chris Davis, ’94, who Michael credits as a “guiding and shaping force” on the Pulitzer Prize-winning series. Together, they revealed that Hillsborough County’s Homeless Recovery Program was funneling millions of public dollars to unsavory slumlords who were, in turn, housing the poor in horrific conditions.

When asked if the tenets of the Carolinian Creed had any play in his writing, Michael says, “Investigative reporting is all about demonstrating concern for others.  I think that, as a newspaper person, one of the most important things a journalist can do is seek justice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

One of the positive outcomes of the Hillsborough series, Michael adds, “It is affirming to see that people were paying attention to the series and took action. You have to load the stories up with as much good material as you possibly can to ensure that decision-makers and policymakers have to make changes.”

I am extremely proud of alumni Michael LaForgia and Chris Davis. Their willingness to expose corruption led to swift changes in Florida, impacting the lives of the less fortunate in a significant way. Even though their work often requires long hours of exhaustive investigation, they are advancing community well-being, one story at a time.