Story Behind St. Petersburg Times Narrative about Florida School for Boys

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

I wrote a story for Poynter Online this week about the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times‘ recent narrative, “For Their Own Good.” The story details the lives of several men who were severely beaten as children while at the Florida School for Boys, now the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, in Marianna, Fla.

One of the things that struck me while I read the story was the idea of reporting on a story that happened when you were young, or decades before you were born. Lots of stories are rooted in the past and told from generation to generation, or kept hidden in the recesses of the mind. How as a reporter do you dig deep enough to accurately capture memories that may be fuzzy? How do you tell a story from the past in the present and still make it relevant? How do you help people remember?

I asked some of these questions to the people behind the “For Their Own Good” project — reporters Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore and photographer Edmund Fountain. You can read my story here:

Troubled youth who were sent to the Florida School for Boys in Marianna, Fla., decades ago say they remember being beaten by a one-armed man with a leather strap. The boys, now men, all share similar memories and scars — emotional and physical markings that remind them of a time in their lives that is painful to remember, but too difficult to forget.

Several news organizations have reported on the abuse at the state reform school, but a recent St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times project takes a more rigorous look at the history of the school and at the boys whose lives were forever changed by going there.Poynter’s St. Petersburg Times reporters Ben Montgomery and Waveney Ann Moore, and photographer Edmund Fountain, spent six months working on the project, which culminated in a 6,300-word narrative that ran as a six-page, ad-free spread in the paper’s April 22 Sunday features section. The online presentation of the story features a video and a gallery of 23 portraits of the men.