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Tampa Bay Times nets Pulitzer for editorials urging return to fluoridation

New York—Confirming the adage that "the pen is mightier than the sword," the editorials of two staffers at the Tampa Bay Times that helped educate voters in a fight to restore community water fluoridation to Pinellas County, Fla., have netted a Pulitzer Prize.

Editor of editorials Tim Nickens and columnist Daniel Ruth were honored April 15 for a series of 10 editorials over a nearly 14-month period that decried the Pinellas County Commission's decision to stop fluoridating its water.

The series delved into the campaign of misinformation that antifluoride activists and county commissioners used as the basis of the Oct. 4, 2011, decision to halt fluoridation to some 700,000 residents. It educated readers with the facts and scientific evidence of the safety and efficacy of fluoridation. It examined the effects that discontinuing fluoridation had on the county, including health and financial consequences the decision had on local families as well as on the health department. It also advocated for voters to support county commissioner candidates in favor of fluoridation rather than two incumbents who were instrumental in the decision to stop fluoridating.

"With original reporting and persuasive arguments, Tim Nickens and Dan Ruth educated readers and delivered a clarion call for action on behalf of those who need fluoridated water the most: the poor families and the children of Pinellas County," said Tampa Bay Times Editor Neil Brown in his letter of nomination. "These editorials produced profound results. In a rare occurrence, voters in November ousted two incumbent commissioners who had voted to stop adding fluoride in the water and replaced them with two candidates who pledged to add it back. In their first meetings after the election, the new commissioners fulfilled their pledge. Another incumbent who was not on the ballot also switched his vote and supported fluoride. A County Commission that had voted 4-3 a year ago to stop adding fluoride voted 6-1 to resume adding it to the drinking water in March 2013.

"Without the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, hundreds of thousands of Pinellas residents still would be deprived of the most effective method of preventing tooth decay," Mr. Brown said. "The best editorials educate, call for action and achieve results. These editorials achieved all of those goals."

Mr. Brown's letter and links to the editorials can be found on the Tampa Bay Times website.

According to the Pulitzer website Mr. Nickens and Mr. Ruth were honored "For distinguished editorial writing, the test of excellence being clearness of style, moral purpose, sound reasoning, and power to influence public opinion in what the writer conceives to be the right direction, using any available journalistic tool."

The announcement noted that the duo will receive a certificate and $10,000 cash award "for their diligent campaign that helped reverse a decision to end fluoridation of the water supply for the 700,000 residents of the newspaper's home county."

Past ADA News stories also chronicled the actions in Pinellas County: "Two Florida cities take two different fluoridation paths," Nov. 7, 2011 ADA News, and "After one year, the tide turns on fluoridation," Dec. 10, 2012 ADA News.