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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The investigation that earned me an Alfred I. duPont award.

The following is a newspaper article published by the Saint Petersburg Times regarding my series of reports on a shoddy expressway project in Tampa. The series of reports earned me several awards including an Emmy, Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists and the prestigious Alfred I. duPont Award.

To view a clip of the report and to watch a panel discussion about the investigation visit Columbia University's website: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/media/06/404_dupontAwardsWinnersCircle/














Lane Ranger
T.V. reporter leads charge in Crosstown crusade
By JAY CRIDLIN
Published October 8, 2004

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There are plenty of reasons to watch the nightly ABC newscast on WFTS-Ch. 28.

There's man-on-the-scene Don Germaise, who may still be sopping wet after chasing Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne across the state. And there's anchor Wendy Ryan, whose "Dirty Dining" segments are a stone cold hoot. (Is there a guiltier - and more stomach-churning - pleasure than watching Ryan mercilessly rip into one of your favorite restaurants?)

But a lot of Brandon commuters may watch Channel 28 for investigative reporter Mike Mason's relentless coverage of the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway fiasco.

He's certainly not the only media outlet to have covered the issues that have arisen during construction of the Crosstown's $350-million elevated bridge between Brandon and Tampa. Just about every television station, radio outlet and print news organization from Plant City to Pass-a-Grille has had something to say about the road's collapsed piers. Heck, even your trusty Lane Ranger has gotten in on the action.


But each of Mason's segments are lengthy, full of "uncovered documents" and ambitious source-digging, and usually given a prime-time slot near the top of the newscast.

He has been at the front of the pack on the story for more than a year, first reporting last September on construction flaws inside the concrete foundations supporting the elevated road's piers that could cause the road to become unstable. He has made bold claims - bolstered by engineering reports and field notes - that Crosstown officials knew in advance of a sinkhole near a pier that collapsed in April.

"I think that our station has clearly led the charge on this story," said Mason, who has done at least 12 Crosstown stories since July 12, around the time Expressway Authority officials confirmed another unstable second pier for the elevated bridge.

Last week, Crosstown officials announced that up to 31 of 35 analyzed support piers may have been built on unstable soil; when all is said and done, repairs could cost an additional $70-million. The elevated road was supposed to open in summer 2005, but all repairs have been suspended indefinitely.

Mason has clearly managed to get under the skin of those in charge of the project.

If you've watched any ABC newscast in the past two months, you've probably seen the shot of Mason cornering Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority executive director Pat McCue outside his car, asking why his business cards read "Pat McCue, P.E.," even though McCue allowed his professional engineer's license to expire several years ago.

"That's not a true statement," McCue says flatly, without looking into the camera. "Excuse me." McCue later sent Mason an e-mail stating he'd never claimed to perform actual engineering functions for the Expressway Authority.

Mason says his relationship with Crosstown officials isn't as chilly as it appears onscreen. Still, he says, "I think you can see from the first story to the latest story that we have had a couple of issues."

So why has Mason, who lives in South Tampa, been so dogged in his coverage of the Crosstown?

"This particular story has resonated with viewers more than any story I've recently done," he says. "Everybody has to drive, obviously. A lot of people drive on the Crosstown, and they see what's being built, and it's affecting them on the roadway as well."

Mason, like most good newsfolk, is quick to tease his future reports.

"We have some exclusive reports coming up that everybody's going to want to pay attention to," he says. "We have some inside information that will be exposed in our coming stories."

As they say in the business: Stay tuned.

- The Lane Ranger is currently stuck in traffic. But he can be reached at cridlin@sptimes.com

Alfred I. duPont Award winning Investigative Television Reporter Mike Mason seeks full time position from Mike Mason on Vimeo.

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