UT graduate school alumnus Michael Braga, class of 1993, became a recipient of journalism’s top honor on April 18, taking home a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.
The winning work exposed an increase in violence across Florida’s mental health system and explored reasons for the increase across a series of five stories. Braga, working for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, shares the prize with Leonora LaPeter Anton and Anthony Cormier of the Tampa Bay Times.
Braga said the team’s reporting found a spike in violence across Florida’s mental health facilities which arose in correlation with extensive budget cuts for the state’s mental health system.
“That meant that staff were laid off, and then there’s less supervision of the inmates or patients at these hospitals so they start beating each other and beating up the guards,” Braga said. “Also, there are instances where [patients] get sick and they aren’t treated right, there just isn’t enough money to hire people to take care of them.”
After the pieces were published, Florida officials took notice and got moving, Braga said.
“Fortunately, the government came up with about $16 million dollars after our story,” Braga said. “They fired 500, but they rehired 160. At least we got a little bit better care.”
In regards to his work on the story, Braga said his master’s degree in economics from UT equipped him with an indispensable understanding of the numbers behind the story.
“I’m a business reporter by trade, so my contributions were my ability to analyze budgets and numbers and finances, and that I got from The University of Texas, really,” Braga said.
Jason Abrevaya, chair of the economics department, said in an email that the department is very proud of Braga’s Pulitzer Prize, and the abilities he used for the winning story were already at work during his time at UT.
“His master’s thesis examined the Cuban sugar economy in the early 20th century, and the investigative historical research and careful analysis of that work have clearly carried over into his career in journalism,” Abrevaya said.
Deanna Govea, journalism and Asian studies junior, said seeing Braga’s success is uplifting for journalism majors, regardless of Braga’s field of study.
“I think it’s just in general inspiring,” Govea said. “You worry about job security when you’re a journalism student, but to see an alum go that far, it’s encouraging.”