How often do we ask “What’s new?” when meeting friends or family? That question epitomizes our intrinsic human need to understand what is happening around us, a need enabled and ratified in our Constitution’s protection for freedom of the press. We may not always like the answers to our questions. We may even debate the validity of those answers. But without knowing, how can we make wise decisions that affect our lives and the lives of our children? The profession of journalism serves that need, and its practitioners epitomize the importance of truth.

“Journalism can never be silent: That is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.”
Henry Anatole Grunwald — journalist, diplomat, editor in chief of Time, Inc.

Award-winning series saves elderly woman from losing her home

At the beginning of my journalism career, I received a top national reporting award from the National Newspaper Association: “Only one person was the beneficiary of a series of stories and editorials, and she was an elderly woman unable to write or to read the Evening Independent. The woman had been unfairly tricked out of her home and, in eliciting the services that helped her to regain her home, we agreed with Editor Robert M. Stiff that ‘in helping one helpless woman, we think we could perform no finer public service in our community.'”

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While working as a full-time Enterprise Reporter at the Evening Independent, I specialized in covering education issues affecting Pinellas County, one of the largest school systems in Florida. Many of the events I covered occurred during a particularly fraught time for all involved in the local schools: students, parents, teachers, and administrators. It was a time characterized by legal and emotional battles as court rulings finally forced the school system to fully integrate its schools. I was incredibly proud to receive the top award from the Florida FTP-NEA professional organization for that writing. I was cited for “distinguished coverage of the field” of education and my “overall perception of issues facing the profession, quality of writing, and fairness.”

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As an investigative reporter, I reveled in the excitement of writing that big story that would make the paper’s front page. I would groan when asked to write a feature story but then find myself transfixed by the courage and relentless purpose that burned within many seemingly ordinary people’s lives.

Today, it is those stories that touch me the most as they reveal the uniqueness of individual lives: a renowned artist coming home to paint a mural on the side of a building, a 15-year-old girl competing in a world-level rowing contest, a five-foot-tall female Navy officer taking command of a destroyer, and small photographs of a sailor and a young woman hanging from a miniature Christmas Tree abandoned on the side of a road.

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Issues and causes that galvanize people to debate, protest, and act are fascinating. When writing about such matters, I seek to understand not only how they developed but also to explore the factors that influence both proponents and opponents. Reaching that understanding becomes a process much like tending a garden: tilling the rich soil of information, eliminating the weeds of distraction, planting seeds of ideas, and finally harvesting knowledge gained. I have written many stories involving legal issues that initially appear relatively straightforward but become quite complicated upon reflection. One of today’s most provocative issues involves ongoing battles pitting former President Donald Trump against President Joe Biden.

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How can I help you?

Sheila Mullane Estrada
Phone: 727-480-6748

Sheila Mullane Estrada’s journalism career began as a reporter for the Holyoke (Massachusetts) Transcript, and continued   and as an investigative reporter for the Sarasota Herald Tribune,  the Lakeland Ledger, and the Evening Independent in Florida. She has earned a number of journalism awards, including the National Newspaper Association’s National Award for a Community Service Investigative Series, the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors for a Public Service Investigative Series, and an Award of Excellence from the FTP-NEA of Florida. Sheila is now a freelance journalist, graphic designer, and web developer, with her journalism work appearing in the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Bay Newspapers, The Legal Examiner, The Bull & Bear Financial Report, The Monetary Digest, The Resource Investor, and Gold Stock News. Her public relations and creative services clients include Save The Children, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Lumos, the Hepatitis Foundation International, Springfield College, and St. Petersburg College.

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