The I team’s glee over this arrangement is palpable—and not just because of the Pulitzer. “I think there’s never been a better time to be an investigative reporter,” said Kestin. Their investigation got dozens of officers reprimanded and rules changed at several municipal departments. The newspaper, she said, “is really the only medium left that is pumping that kind of impact” into local governance.

Is it a replicable model? Perhaps—but it requires a unique blend of talent and experience, which is rare and pricey. Kestin has 26 years in Florida newspapers, including 14 in investigations; Maines has been a CAR specialist at the Sentinel for 15 years and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2006. “Sally and John weren’t content just to present a numbers story,” Dahlburg said. “They found people who had really been impacted, they wrote about police culture.”

In other words, it’s the sort of comprehensive work that blue-chip reporters can deliver in any size newsroom—if publishers have the means and the will to host that sort of talent. And that’s still a key question at the Sun Sentinel. While Saltz is generally sanguine about the future, he permits that continued reporting success may depend less on newsroom accolades than on who ultimately takes the ownership reins: “For somebody who’s going to buy the Tribune papers for X amount of dollars,” he said, “that X didn’t change” last Monday.

Correction: The original version of this post gave an incorrect figure for the number of local reporters on the Sun Sentinel’s Metro desk. CJR regrets the error.

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Adam Weinstein is CJR's correspondent for Florida and Georgia. He spent the past three years as an investigative reporter and editor for Mother Jones. Before that, he worked at The Wall Street Journal, the Village Voice and the Tallahassee Democrat. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, GQ and Newsweek. Now based in the Miami area, he can be found on Twitter @AdamWeinstein.