April 19, 2019

ProPublica Wins John Bartlow Martin Award for MS-13 Coverage...

ProPublica reporter Hannah Dreier is the winner of the 2019 John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism for her series “Trapped in Gangland” on MS-13. The series was co-published with New York magazine, Newsday and the New York Times. Sponsored by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, the award recognizes work that illuminates the causes, consequences and remedies of problems in American society.

Dreier’s powerful narratives showed how the government’s bungled crackdown on MS-13 has torn apart the lives of Latino immigrants on Long Island — deporting innocent teenagers, burning law enforcement sources and failing to prevent further violence. Dreier spent months gaining the trust of a teenage informant who helped the FBI catch fellow MS-13 members, believing authorities would offer him a new life. Instead, they betrayed him by turning him over to ICE. Dreier’s next story depicted a mother searching for her missing son, whom police had dismissed as a runaway until his macheted body was found in the gang’s “killing fields.” The series’ final article featured an asylum-seeker accused of gang membership and deported for drawing a devil, his school mascot but also an MS-13 symbol. A school-based police officer reported the doodle, circumventing privacy protections.

In response to the series, Long Island police began investigating the mishandling of MS-13 murders and the officers who belittled the distraught mother. Homeland Security opened a civil rights investigation, and ICE changed a practice that jeopardizes informants. Several Long Island school districts have sought a formal agreement with the police liming officers’ roles in schools.

“This year’s competition generated an amazing array of stories from sexual harassment to immigration to prison abuse and more,” contest chair Patti Wolter said. “Dreier’s investigation delivers searing portraits of the real people caught in the horrific crosshairs of policy, police and gang culture.”

Judges also awarded honorable mention to “Trashed,” a collaboration with the Investigative Fund by reporter Kiera Feldman. The series exposed dangerous practices and conditions in the world of private commercial garbage collection in New York City, including fatal accidents, mob unions, checkered oversight and wholesale impunity.

Learn more about the John Bartlow Martin Award here.

April 15, 2019

ProPublica and Partners Win Pulitzer Prize for MS-13 Coverage...

The Pulitzer Prize Board announced Monday that three articles in ProPublica’s “Trapped in Gangland” series on MS-13 by reporter Hannah Dreier won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. The winning stories were jointly published with New York magazine, Newsday and he New York Times Magazine. The award is the fifth Pulitzer Prize for ProPublica.

The ProPublica series “Zero Tolerance” was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Gold Medal for public service. The designation is ProPublica’s 11th Pulitzer finalist in 11 years.

For “Trapped in Gangland,” Dreier followed immigrants on Long Island whose lives were shattered by a botched crackdown on MS-13. After President Donald Trump took office and seized on MS-13’s violence to promote tougher immigration policies, Dreier soon realized that anti-immigrant rhetoric and police bias were undermining efforts to combat a brutal gang that preyed on Latino teenagers. She examined the impact of the gang and law enforcement on the region’s growing Latino community.

Dreier’s first piece, “A Betrayal,” co-published with New York magazine, chronicled the life of Henry, a Long Island high school student and MS-13 member desperate to escape the gang. He worked with law enforcement for about a year to help police and the FBI arrest fellow members, believing authorities would help him start a new life. Instead, they betrayed him by turning him over to immigration authorities.

Marked for deportation to his native El Salvador, and then for almost certain death as an informant, Henry and his lawyer decided that a news story might be a last remaining option to save his life. Henry arranged for Dreier to be given his cellphone, and she combed through years of text and WhatsApp conversations, as well as exchanges he had with his FBI handler. He helped her make a glossary of Spanish gang slang so that she could understand coded messages. He also agreed to let ProPublica use a video and photos of him.

As Dreier started reporting, she began thinking about how to balance Henry’s desire to tell his story with the threat to his life. She consulted with gang and law enforcement experts and adopted some restrictions that Henry did not ask for. She left out details about where he might go if he were released from jail. ProPublica and New York magazine didn’t publish his last name or run photos that might reveal his identity.

Hundreds reached out after the story’s publication, donating to a fundraiser that brought in $35,000 to help him find a safe place to live once he was released or deported. The Department of Homeland Security opened a civil rights investigation. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it would stop creating detailed gang memos, which jeopardize informants, and offered to move Henry into protective custody.

In the end, “A Betrayal” didn’t stop Henry’s deportation to El Salvador, but, with the money that readers donated and the extra time allowed by a delay in his hearing, he was able to ultimately go into hiding in a safe third country.

A second piece, “The Disappeared,” published in partnership with Newsday and also featured on “This American Life” (whose story is separately a finalist for a Peabody Award), followed a mother, brushed off by police, searching for her missing son in woods called the “killing fields.” The story exposed the indifference of the Suffolk County Police Department when confronted with nearly a dozen Latino teenagers who went missing in 2016 and 2017. Even though parents begged police to investigate the disappearances, the department ignored families’ concerns — failing to provide Spanish-speaking interpreters, not pursuing leads, brushing off witnesses and labeling the teens runaways. It turned out that many of the missing children had been murdered by MS-13 members. Within a week of publication, the Police Department announced that it would investigate the mishandling of the MS-13 murders, and both of the detectives featured in ProPublica’s investigation are now under internal affairs review. The department also hired a civilian liaison to work with Latino residents and bolstered efforts to recruit Spanish-speaking officers.

The series’ final article, co-published with the New York Times Magazine, told the story of Alex, a high school student deported in an ICE roundup of suspected gang members with no criminal histories. In Alex’s case, he was accused of gang membership and deported to Honduras for drawing a devil, his school mascot but also an MS-13 symbol. A school-based police officer reported the doodle, circumventing privacy protections. In response to the story, the Huntington school district, where Alex had attended, removed police from school buildings, and, along with other districts, it sought a formal agreement with the police limiting officers’ roles in schools.

ProPublica senior editors Daniel Golden and Alexandra Zayas, as well as Nadia Sussman, Adriana Gallardo, Anna Vignet, Lucas Waldron and Terry Parris Jr. also contributed to the series. Photos for the series were taken by Natalie Keyssar and Demetrius Freeman, and it was designed and produced by Jillian Kumagai, Agnes Chang and Rob Weychert.

“Hannah interviewed dozens of immigrant families, teachers and FBI and police officials — many of whom initially refused to talk because they were afraid for their jobs, and sometimes even their lives,” Robin Fields, ProPublica’s managing editor, said. “Much of her reporting was conducted in gang-controlled neighborhoods, often late at night after sources returned from work. Despite continual warnings from lawyers, police and gang contacts that she was at risk, Hannah kept on reporting. Through her instinct, tenacity and earned trust, the stories amplified the experiences of Latino immigrants who have seldom been heard from in the debate about border security and MS-13.”

Read the winning entries:

A Betrayal
The teenager told police all about his gang, MS-13. In return, he was slated for deportation and marked for death.

He Drew His School Mascot — and ICE Labeled Him a Gang Member
How high schools have embraced the Trump administration’s crackdown on MS-13, and destroyed immigrant students’ American dreams.

The Disappeared
Police on Long Island wrote off missing immigrant teens as runaways. One mother knew better — and searched MS-13’s killing fields for answers.

The “Zero Tolerance” series honored as a Pulitzer finalist for public service uncovered conditions at Border Patrol detention centers where thousands of children separated from their parents and unaccompanied minors have been sent. The series began with a source who had an explosive tip: nearly eight minutes of heart-wrenching audio from inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility.

Published in a story by senior reporter Ginger Thompson in June 2018, the recording of children sobbing and begging for their parents set off a political firestorm and spurred an immediate change in the immigration debate. Lawmakers cited ProPublica’s audio as they condemned the administration’s policy. The children’s cries were played on the floors of the House and Senate. Protesters blared the recording at demonstrations around the country.

Faced with this uproar, and despite his previous insistence that he would stand by the policy, Trump within 48 hours of ProPublica’s story signed an executive order to end it and keep migrant families together. A federal judge in California ordered that parents and children be reunited within 30 days. By July, the child heard in the recording pleading to call her aunt, a 6-year-old girl from El Salvador named Jimena, was reunited with her mother.

ProPublica mobilized to look deeper into how children had been affected. Dozens of journalists in our newsrooms in New York and Chicago pitched in and filed public records requests for police reports and call logs concerning more than 100 shelters for immigrant children nationwide. Several stories based on this data brought to light for the first time hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse, fights, missing children, contemplations of suicide (published by ProPublica Illinois in partnership with Mother Jones) and a lack of oversight. One child psychiatrist called the situation a “gold mine” for predators.

Read more from our series, Zero Tolerance: Trump’s Immigration Policy at the Border.

The stories quickly upended assertions that the shelters were havens akin to summer camps and boarding schools. In Arizona, where reporters Topher Sanders and Michael Grabell tracked down the case of a shelter worker accused of molesting eight children, the governor ordered a statewide inspection. This led to the shutdown of two centers run by Southwest Key after the nonprofit failed to provide proof that its employees had completed background checks. Senators demanded an investigation, and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general is now reviewing employee background checks and the treatment of children in the nation’s shelter system.

Tracy Weber, Alexandra Zayas, Claudia Milne, Louise Kiernan, Steve Mills, Adriana Gallardo, Melissa Sanchez, Duaa Eldeib, Jodi S. Cohen, Kavitha Surana, Robert Faturechi, Alex Mierjeski, Claire Perlman, Ken Schwencke, Decca Muldowney, Derek Kravitz, Jess Ramirez, Rachel Glickhouse, María Sánchez Díez and Lilia Chang also contributed to the series.

“Zero Tolerance was first and foremost a policy aimed at children, and ProPublica focused its reporting on the experiences and voices of children,” Fields said. “Even when we didn’t have direct access to the children, or when they were too young to make sense of what they were going through, our reporters followed them through the system by tracking down their parents, as well as the lawyers, social workers and foster parents who were with them along their journeys. These efforts allowed us to present powerful, in-depth accounts of their time in the United States immigration system.”

ProPublica has now been honored with the Pulitzer Prize in five different categories. The newsroom received Pulitzer Prizes for public service in 2017, explanatory reporting in 2016, national reporting in 2011 and investigative reporting in 2010, in addition to being a finalist for both explanatory reporting and local reporting in 2018, a finalist for explanatory reporting in 2017, a finalist for national reporting in 2016 and a finalist for public service in 2010.

April 15, 2019

Ida B. Wells Society and ProPublica Announce the 2019 Data Institute...

The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica announced Monday that applications are open for The Data Institute, a 12-day intensive workshop on how to use data, design and code for journalism. The free program will take place July 22 to Aug. 2 at the New School in New York City.

Now in its fourth year, the Data Institute welcomes 12 reporters at various stages of their careers — both students and working journalists — who are passionate about learning to tell stories with data. Taught by members of ProPublica’s award-winning News Applications team and the Ida B. Wells Society, the Data Institute takes a hands-on approach to teaching. Participants will work on an interactive data journalism project, with real data, from beginning to end.

The Ida B. Wells Society, which is dedicated to increasing the number of reporters and editors of color in investigative journalism, will administer the workshop, providing lodging and covering round-trip costs to New York City. ProPublica will lead the curriculum, which covers the basics of brainstorming, reporting, analyzing data, designing and building interactive graphics and data-driven news applications. Participants will also have breakfast and lunch provided at the workshop.

The Data Institute is open exclusively to members of the Ida B. Wells Society. Membership is free. Interested participants can sign up for membership here.

Over 12 days, Data Institute participants will learn how to:

  • Conduct data research and evaluate the reliability of their data.
  • Create clear and clean visualizations to help readers understand complex information.
  • Understand basic programming concepts.
  • Create their own website from scratch using HTML/CSS and Javascript.
  • Continue learning on their own.

Applications for the Data Institute are due on May 5 at 11:59 p.m. EDT. Apply! Here are details for those interested in applying.

The Data Institute is sponsored by the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting with support from the Ford Foundation.

April 11, 2019

ProPublica’s “Zero Tolerance” Series Wins Paul Tobenkin Award...

ProPublica reporters Ginger Thompson, Michael Grabell and Topher Sanders are the recipients of this year’s Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award for their stories in the “Zero Tolerance” series examining the Trump administration’s immigration policy at the border. Administered by Columbia Journalism School, the Tobenkin Award recognizes outstanding achievements in reporting on racial or religious hatred, intolerance or discrimination in the United States. ProPublica also won last year’s Tobenkin Award.

“Their reporting demonstrated just how vulnerable arriving asylum seekers and migrants are, and how children in particular face the gravest dangers, whether it be physical, sexual or simply emotional violence,” contest jurors said. “ProPublica’s brave and dogged reporting on this issue sparked moral outrage and a much-needed national conversation about migration and family separations. It’s precisely this kind of urgent, rigorous journalism that represents the best of our profession.”

The investigation began in June 2018, when ProPublica published a story by Thompson featuring a secret audio recording that captured the unmistakable sounds of children, recently separated from their families at the Mexican border, sobbing and begging for their parents. Within 48 hours of ProPublica’s publication, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to end the policy and keep immigrant families together. A federal judge in California ordered that parents and children be reunited within 30 days. By July, the child in the recording, a 6-year-old girl from El Salvador named Jimena, heard pleading to call her aunt was reunited with her mother.

ProPublica pressed on with a newsroom-wide investigation into detention facilities for immigrant children. Reporters on many beats pitched in and filed public records requests for police reports and call logs concerning more than 100 shelters for immigrant children nationwide. Based on this data, Grabell and Sanders published stories that brought to light for the first time hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse, fights, missing children and a lack of oversight, a situation one child psychiatrist called a “gold mine” for predators. The stories upended the Trump administration’s assertions that the shelters were havens. Arizona’s governor ordered a statewide inspection, leading to the shutdown of two centers run by Southwest Key after the nonprofit failed to provide proof that its employees had completed background checks. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general is now investigating employee background checks and the treatment of children in the nation’s shelter system.

In December, months after “zero tolerance” was reversed, Thompson reported that border agents had resumed the removal of some children from their parents by claiming that the parents were criminals and thus a danger to their children. Her story focused on a case in which the Department of Homeland Security claimed, without evidence, that a Salvadoran man was a gang member and separated him from his 4-year-old son. Two weeks after the investigation published, and 11 weeks after they had been separated, the child was returned to his father.

Learn more about Tobenkin Award here.

April 11, 2019

ProPublica Names Marilyn Thompson Senior Editor for Washington Coverag...

ProPublica announced Thursday that Marilyn Thompson has been selected to lead its Washington coverage, where she will oversee ProPublica’s expanding reporting on the federal government.

The federal government is a critical force in the lives of U.S. residents, and ProPublica is doubling down on its investigative reporting on crucial policy decisions and their impact on people’s lives. A new team of reporters will work from our Washington office, with Thompson managing it and directing its editorial vision.

Thompson is currently the senior editor overseeing the state government-focused group in ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, which she will continue to manage until a permanent successor is in place. (To apply for this role, click here.) Before joining ProPublica, Thompson worked at The Washington Post, where she spent much of her professional career, serving as assistant managing editor of investigations, national editor, deputy national enterprise editor and Sunday editor.

“There’s an enormous amount happening in Washington beyond the White House,” ProPublica deputy managing editor Eric Umansky said. “We are committed to digging into what’s happening inside the halls of power across the government and the real-world impact of those decisions. With her track record of landing hard-hitting stories on exactly this, Marilyn is uniquely suited to lead the way.”

To apply for Washington reporting jobs, click here.

April 8, 2019

ProPublica Named a Finalist for Three Deadline Club Awards...

Three ProPublica projects have been named finalists for Deadline Club Awards in the annual contest honoring the best work by journalists in the New York City area.

The Right to Fail,” a collaboration with PBS Frontline, is a finalist in the Newspaper or Digital Local News Reporting category. Led by ProPublica reporter Joaquin Sapien and filmmaker Tom Jennings, the investigation focused on a New York policy to move people out of institutions and into private apartments, revealing that social workers felt pressured to move individuals even when they were not good candidates for living on their own. Lacking the structure of institutions, it became much easier for individuals to slip through the cracks, with dangerous, dehumanizing and sometimes fatal results.

The day after our report co-published in the New York Times, federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who originally approved the 2014 settlement that resulted in the supported-housing policy, ordered an independent report to assess the effectiveness of its incident reporting system. Garaufis also got state officials to commit to examining their service-coordination program and suggested they develop a program to help residents learn basic life skills in supported housing.

Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Crisis, a collaboration with the New York Times, is a finalist in the Business Investigative Reporting category. The series of investigations by ProPublica senior editor Charles Ornstein and New York Times reporter Katie Thomas detailed undisclosed relationships between Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and for-profit health care companies, highlighting conflicts of interest. A story on Dr. José Baselga, MSK’s chief medical officer, detailed his failure to disclose corporate board memberships and payments from companies connected to cancer research in his published research articles, even when he was reporting on the results of studies conducted by those companies. Baselga resigned from his job at MSK within days, after initially insisting his conduct was appropriate and ethical, and he later stepped down as one of the editors-in-chief of Cancer Discovery, a prominent medical journal.

Following the series, MSK’s CEO, Dr. Craig Thompson, also resigned from his seats on the boards of Merck and Charles River Laboratories and made new conflict disclosures, as did other MSK staff. MSK additionally announced that a vice president who oversees hospital ventures with for-profit companies would turn over to the hospital a nearly $1.4 million stake in a biotech company that he received for representing MSK on the company’s board.

The Billion-Dollar Loophole,” co-published with Fortune, was nominated in the Business Feature category. The investigation by senior reporter Peter Elkind exposed a popular charitable donation tax scheme for the very rich that is being manipulated to make big profits, and how it’s costing the government billions in lost revenue.

See a list of all the 2019 Deadline Club Award finalists here.

April 2, 2019

ProPublica Wins Six Malofiej Awards for Infographics...

The Society for News Design announced this week that ProPublica has won six Malofiej Awards, an annual competition honoring the best infographics in media from around the world.

Silver Medals went to:

Powerless, a ProPublica Local Reporting Network project by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica, in the features (local) category. The multimedia package by Ken Ward Jr., of the Gazette-Mail, and ProPublica’s Al Shaw and Mayeta Clark used drone footage in its reporting to show that, even if you own your land, you aren’t entitled to the minerals underneath it — allowing natural gas companies to drill right on private property.

To See How Levees Increase Flooding, We Built Our Own, a collaboration with Reveal and Vox, in the innovation format (visual storytelling) category. Led by ProPublica’s Al Shaw, Lisa Song and Katie Campbell and Ranjani Chakraborty, a ProPublica-Vox video fellow, the team hired engineers at the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory at the University of Minnesota to build models of four levee scenarios to see how the height and placement choices of levees can put surrounding communities at greater risk of flooding. The project also received a bronze medal in the innovation format (innovative format) category.

Other Bronze Medals went to:

One Night on a Private Garbage Truck in New York City, by ProPublica’s Al Shaw and Kiera Feldman, of the Investigative Fund, in the features (local) category. The interactive map took readers through the route of a garbage truck driver’s night shift as a way to tell the story of the shocking dangers in the world of private trash collection.

The Waiting Game, an immersive news game created by ProPublica and WNYC, in the innovation format (innovative format) category. Created by ProPublica Assistant Managing Editor Sisi Wei and Playmatics’ Nick Fortugno, the Waiting Game — based on on the real case files of asylum-seekers from five countries — lets players walk in their shoes.

ProPublica news applications developer Al Shaw in the category of portfolio (features).

See all of this year’s Malofiej Awards winners here.

March 29, 2019

ProPublica Illinois Earns 13 Nominations for Peter Lisagor Awards From...

The Chicago Headline Club, the nation’s largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, named ProPublica Illinois a finalist for 13 Peter Lisagor Awards. The Lisagor Awards honor the best journalism produced throughout Illinois and Northwest Indiana.

ProPublica Illinois received five nominations in the All Media categories, which span all news mediums and platform sizes, and eight nominations in the Online Media categories — including General Excellence in Online Journalism. These projects reflect the depth and range of the newsroom’s collective efforts, from features, original video and illustrations, to blog posts and investigative reporting. Winners will be announced on May 10.

The finalists are:

Best All Media

  • Driven Into Debt, for best investigative reporting and best data journalism. The series, initiated by ProPublica Illinois and continued in partnership with WBEZ Chicago, outlines how the city of Chicago drives its residents into bankruptcy through ticketing practices that disproportionately affect black neighborhoods and motorists who can least afford the fines and fees.

  • Hidden in Plain Sight, for best investigative reporting and best illustration. At the outset of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, four stories quickly uncovered the secretive network of Illinois shelters that serve as detention facilities for immigrant children.

  • We Will Keep on Fighting for Him,” for best feature story. As part of the $3 Million Research Breakdown investigative series, the feature details the heartbreak and struggle of a family caught up in a child psychiatry study gone awry — and blends deep original reporting with a mother’s journal entries and present-day reflections by her and her son.

Online Media

  • ProPublica Illinois for general excellence in online journalism.

  • Stuck Kids, for best non-deadline reporting series. The series showed how the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services fails to find appropriate homes for young people with mental illness, holding some children and teens in psychiatric hospitals even after they’ve been cleared for release, with serious consequences for their health and well-being.

  • Politic-IL Insider, for best continuing blog and best individual blog post. The online investigative column from Mick Dumke provides a close look at political issues such as government transparency, civil liberties and criminal justice.

  • Going Bankrupt Over Ticket Debt in Chicago,” for best use of features video. The three-minute video profiled one woman’s descent into bankruptcy and illustrated inequities in Chicago’s vehicle ticketing system.

  • Driven Into Debt, for best investigative/public service reporting. In addition to the series, an online news application, The Ticket Trap, shows how Chicago’s reliance on ticketing for revenue affects motorists across the city. The interactive database allows users to search more than 54 million tickets issued since 1996.

  • We Will Keep on Fighting for Him,” for best multimedia feature presentation and best feature story or series. Part of a series of stories that revealed misconduct in a research trial at the University of Illinois at Chicago for children with bipolar disorder, this interactive story highlighted a mother’s journal entries alongside present-day annotations, and used family photos, video and audio clips to intimately reveal the challenges of raising a child with mental illness.

In addition, reporting fellow Lakeidra Chavis was named a Radio Broadcast finalist in Best Health or Science Reporting for “Chicago’s Black Communities Hit Hardest In Opioid Overdoses,” a project that aired during her prior stint with WBEZ Chicago.

ProPublica Illinois, founded in 2017, is the first regional publishing operation of ProPublica, dedicated to stories about big issues that affect people living and working in the state. For the full list of Peter Lisagor Awards nominees, visit the Chicago Headline Club’s website.

March 27, 2019

ProPublica Illinois and ProPublica Local Reporting Network Partnership...

The Association of Health Care Journalists announced Wednesday that ProPublica Illinois’ “Stuck Kids” series won an Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism in the health policy category, and “Half-Life,” a collaboration between the Santa Fe New Mexican and ProPublica, won in the public health category.

Stuck Kids,” by ProPublica Illinois reporter Duaa Eldeib, exposed how hundreds of Illinois children spent weeks, and sometimes months, in psychiatric hospitals after doctors had cleared them for release. As they waited for the state’s child welfare agency to find them more appropriate homes, they were trapped inside locked facilities — deteriorating mentally and behaviorally — despite a state law mandating that children in state care live in the “least restrictive” setting. In addition to revealing the failure of the child welfare system to find appropriate placements for children, the stories also detailed disturbing allegations of sexual and physical abuse, as well as patient safety violations, at a psychiatric hospital the state relies on to treat hundreds of children in its care.

Following publication, lawmakers convened a bipartisan legislative hearing to force Illinois Department of Children and Family Services officials to explain why they routinely failed to find placements for children in psychiatric hospitals. A federal judge appointed an independent monitor to oversee agency reforms for the first time in more than two decades, the Cook County public guardian filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of children stuck in psychiatric hospitals and DCFS’ own inspector general launched an investigation into children languishing in psychiatric hospitals. In addition, DCFS stopped sending children in its care to the psychiatric hospital where there were allegations of abuse and removed those who were still there.

Half-Life” by reporter Rebecca Moss of the Santa Fe New Mexican — a participant in the 2018 ProPublica Local Reporting Network — explored ongoing worker health and safety issues at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atomic bomb. While the government claims that nuclear safety issues were only a Cold War problem, workers say that the lab has not accurately tracked their radiation exposure, and that they are being denied benefits as a result. The series found that lab contractors have amassed more than $110 million in fines and lost performance bonuses for serious accidents, radiation exposure and other lapses since 2006. Moss also reported that the government has made it difficult for workers to get compensation for radiation-linked cancers, revealing a 10-year delay on a petition that would grant benefits to those who could prove they had such cancers. Hundreds of workers who began working at the lab after the Cold War have died waiting for answers.

As a result of this reporting, dozens of additional workers and their friends have come forward with reports of occupational illnesses at Los Alamos, unreported accidents and problems accessing benefits. Former federal officials, including ex-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and former OSHA chief David Michaels, have called for Congress to reform the benefits program to better help recent workers.

In addition, a ProPublica collaboration with Wondery, “Dr. Death,” won third place in the investigative category. The story examined the case of Christopher Duntsch, a neurosurgeon who practiced in Dallas from 2011 to 2013. He earned the nickname Dr. Death after the vast majority of his patients ended up severely injured. Two died. The story not only looks at Duntsch’s actions, but how the health care system was complicit in the tragedy.

See a list of all the Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism winners here.

March 27, 2019

ProPublica to Further Expand Local Reporting Network With Additional N...

As part of an ongoing focus on local accountability journalism, ProPublica announced Wednesday that it is again expanding the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Made possible by a new grant from the Abrams Foundation, the expansion will provide support for an additional six local newsrooms across the country — allowing the Local Reporting Network to work with 20 participating newsrooms this year.

Applications for the new iteration of the Local Reporting Network are due April 26. National news organizations are not eligible to apply; all other newsrooms are. The reporters will begin their work on July 1.

The ProPublica Local Reporting Network, introduced to help create vital investigative journalism in communities where such stories would otherwise not be done, began its work in 2018. Through the initiative, ProPublica pays the salary, plus an allowance for benefits, for full-time reporters at partner news organizations dedicated to big investigative projects. Fourteen local news organizations are currently participating, with seven projects focused on state government and the rest covering a broad range of subjects. Local reporters work from and report to their home newsrooms, while receiving extensive support and guidance for their work from ProPublica, including collaboration with a senior editor and access to the nonprofit newsroom’s expertise with data, research, engagement, video and design.

ProPublica also announced that senior editor Charles Ornstein has been promoted to deputy managing editor to direct the work of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, effective immediately. Ornstein was one of the first reporters ProPublica hired in 2008 and oversaw the first group of Local Reporting Network newsrooms in 2018.

This latest expansion of the initiative comes as hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. are losing their newspapers — more than 1,400 over the past 15 years, according to a recent Associated Press analysis compiled by the University of North Carolina. As many existing local news organizations grapple with budget constraints, accountability journalism has been shrinking and underfunded. ProPublica’s local journalism strategy includes not only the Local Reporting Network but also ProPublica Illinois, a fully staffed office of reporters and editors covering important issues in that state.

“Although local journalism has been decimated by cuts, the ProPublica Local Reporting Network has demonstrated that there is still plenty of energy left in local news organizations across the country,” ProPublica President Richard Tofel said. “Many reporters know what to do; they just lack the time and resources to do it. We’re so pleased that a generous grant from the Abrams Foundation will enable us to support more important investigative work at the ground level.”

Projects from the inaugural ProPublica Local Reporting Network exposed lapses in worker safety at nuclear facilities; failures in public housing; conflicts of interest that have allowed Louisiana legislators to benefit themselves, their relatives and their clients; and the devastating toll of post-traumatic stress disorder on first responders. An investigation from the South Bend Tribune in Indiana, which uncovered shocking misconduct by Elkhart County police, prompted the police chief to resign and the Elkhart mayor to announce an independent review of the city’s Police Department, in addition to a federal grand jury indictment of two Elkhart police officers on civil rights charges. The series was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. A project by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, exploring the price paid by West Virginia residents as the natural gas industry gains power, was a finalist for the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for environmental reporting.

More information on the ProPublica Local Reporting Network and application process can be found here.

March 27, 2019

ProPublica Is Again Expanding Its Local Reporting Network. Apply for a...

ProPublica is once again expanding its Local Reporting Network, part of its growing effort to help local journalists pursue meaningful accountability stories in their communities.

We are now accepting applications for six more news organizations to do investigative projects as part of our network. The group will begin work on July 1 and continue for a year.

With support from a new grant, we will pay the salary (up to $75,000), plus an allowance for benefits, for full-time reporters. Applications are due April 26, and selected reporters will begin work on July 1. (We’re also posting jobs for a senior editor, production designer, news applications developer, engagement reporter and research fellow to work on our staff with these reporters.)

ProPublica’s first group of seven local reporters produced a strong body of work last year, exposing lapses in worker safety at nuclear facilities, failures in public housing, the devastating toll of post-traumatic stress disorder on first responders and stunning miscarriages of justice in Indiana, among others.

So far this year, we are working with 14 new projects — half involving state government, the rest on issues of local importance. This further expansion will bring the total of newsrooms and projects for 2019 to 20.

If your organization is selected, the reporter will continue to work in your newsroom, but they will receive extensive guidance and support from ProPublica. Their work will be published or broadcast by your newsroom and simultaneously by ProPublica.

National news organizations are not eligible to apply; all other newsrooms are, regardless of size or medium. It can be a small newspaper, website, radio or TV station, or anything else that reaches your community. We are not looking to fund day-to-day beat coverage, but instead to enable your organization to do ambitious accountability projects that would not otherwise be done.

Applications should be submitted by newsroom leaders for a particular project and a specific reporter. If you lead a newsroom and are interested in working with us, we’d like to hear from you about:

  • An investigative project. The proposed coverage can take any number of forms: a few long stories, an ongoing series of shorter stories, text, radio, video or more. Please tell us why this coverage is important, any similar coverage that has been done before it, why this project has particular urgency now and a plan for executing the work. Please also explain why your community and your newsroom are the right places to tell this particular story.
  • The reporter who you ideally envision spearheading the work, and the market salary you would need to pay them for the year. This could be someone already on staff or someone else — for example, a freelancer with whom you aspire to work. Please include a personal statement by the reporter explaining his or her interest, at least three clips of their prior best work and, of course, a resume.

The deadline for applications is April 26. Please submit your proposal using this form. If you have questions that aren’t answered here, email us at Local.Reporting@propublica.org. ProPublica reporters and editors are open to give you feedback on your idea before you apply. Entries will be judged principally by ProPublica editors. Winning proposals will be announced in June, to enable work to begin on July 1.

Here are a few questions and answers about what we’re looking for in a proposal.

Is this different from other groups in your Local Reporting Network?

Much like our original Local Reporting Network, this one is not topic-specific and is open to any local accountability ideas.

Will you also be seeking applications this fall for projects to begin in January?

Yes. Look for details this fall. If you want to be added to our list, sign up here.

What subjects are best suited to this program?

Our local reporting initiative has the same mission as that of ProPublica overall: to spur change through stories with moral force.

How detailed should we make our proposal if the deep reporting is ahead of us?

We know that the best stories take unanticipated turns. That said, there are several elements that can be included in a proposal. If you’re considering an idea relating to a trend, please check whether any data exists that might prove (or disprove) your story idea. It would also be helpful to provide some assessment of how your project will distinguish itself if it builds on previous coverage.

At ProPublica, we try to send reporters after stories that we feel would not be done if we did not exist. While we’ll give preference to ideas that break new ground, we could well underwrite reporting that significantly expands on a subject that has already been the focus of some reporting. We encourage you to propose reporting that time or resource constraints have prevented you from doing. That could be something about which you have already turned up enough information to know there’s a bigger story waiting to be done.

Will we still be in charge of our own reporter?

Yes. Your organization will designate your lead editor. They will work hand in hand with a ProPublica senior editor who will offer guidance on making the stories from each of our Local Reporting Network partners as powerful and well-executed as they can be. That ProPublica editor will also help assess whether there are ways that our expertise with data, research or engagement could be of use.

The key decisions about how the story will be reported and written will be made in collaboration between us and your newsroom. Since we plan to jointly publish stories that result from this collaboration, that will mean, as in all of our partnerships, producing work that meets the standards of both your organization and ProPublica.

This sounds tricky, and it can sometimes get complicated. But through literally hundreds of partnerships, we’ve found that when people are truly committed to collaborating, there’s always a way to make it work.

Can the reporter work on other stories while they’re doing their investigative project?

The goal of this initiative is to give your newsroom the resources and help to execute accountability stories that would not otherwise have been possible. We expect the reporter will be working on that full-time. Having said that, we understand that other, crucial stories may come up. If that happens, we are confident we can all settle on a plan that works for everyone.

If I’m a reporter, what happens if another job opportunity comes up?

This is a 12-month commitment, and by accepting this position, you are agreeing in good faith to stay for the duration. Obviously, we know family emergencies and other situations may come up, but you should expect to commit to working on this project for the entire year. If you have doubts, you may not want to apply.

How many stories are we expected to produce under this grant?

We’ve never found quotas particularly useful. Our reporters aim to produce a body of work each year that offers the possibility of prompting change. Sometimes, that has been a succession of stories building to a larger piece or pieces, as we did with the Red Cross. Sometimes, it’s a traditional multipart series or a single story, with appropriate follow-ups. Sometimes, it’s a group of deep-dive pieces on a related topic, such as fracking or drug company payments to doctors. The goal is impact, and there are many routes to achieving it.

What if we drill a dry hole?

This is always possible in investigative reporting, but our experience has shown it is unlikely. Send motivated reporters after a promising subject and they almost inevitably find intriguing material, including things they were not looking for when they began their research. Our plan is for our senior editor in charge of this project to be in regular touch with the newsrooms receiving the grants. If a story idea doesn’t work out, we will encourage the newsroom involved to come up with something else.

What kind of support can I expect from ProPublica?

In addition to editing help to conceptualize and write your stories, we will also have a data reporter, a researcher and an engagement reporter dedicated to helping our partner newsrooms. We stand ready to offer design help for the stories as well.

What happens if we do so well, there’s more than a year’s work?

We should all be so lucky! Our intention is to provide one year of support. If a newsroom taps into something that is among the most promising proposals for year two, it would get serious consideration.

What about other costs, such as travel or public records requests?

News organizations should expect to incur most of those costs, though ProPublica has set aside some funding to help offset those expenses. You should consult with us in advance about splitting costs.

We are based outside the United States. Can we apply?

At this time, the Local Reporting Network is only open to news organizations based in this country.

Can we run our idea by you before applying?

Yes. Operators are standing by. In all seriousness, we want to help you make your proposal the best it can be. ProPublica reporters and editors are willing to read a draft of your proposal and give you our thoughts.

March 26, 2019

ProPublica Wins Two SABEW Awards for Business Journalism...

The Society of American Business Editors and Writers, or SABEW, announced Tuesday that ProPublica won two awards in its Best in Business competition recognizing excellence in business journalism.

Marshall Allen’s “Health Insurance Hustle” won in the health/science category. The series explored why health insurance in the United States ranks among the costliest in the developed world — a mystery so overwhelming and complex that few journalists have successfully tackled it. Allen interviewed scores of insurance insiders and pored over reams of internal documents, lawsuits and medical bills to produce clearly told, entertaining stories that revealed the hidden schemes, side deals and fees that jack up the amount we all pay for health care. In addition to helping patients and employers better understand health insurance, “Health Insurance Hustle” also empowered them to question to status quo.

“Marshall Allen’s series used narrow, gripping stories to tackle some of the biggest problems with American health care,” contest judges said. “A hip replacement became a powerful indictment of a system built to maximize costs. A trade show floor revealed how the nation’s private surveillance giants are trying to sell their dossiers on us to our insurers, with the implication that we could be compelled to pay even more. And the story of a CPAP machine that spied on a patient for his insurer showed still-darker consequences: an insurer threatening to cut off access to an essential breathing tube. Some of these issues are perennial, others brand-new, but Marshall Allen’s engaging yet understated writing demystified both subsets for a wider audience that urgently needs to know more.”

Unprotected” by reporter Finlay Young, with photography by Kathleen Flynn, won for international reporting. The story looked into an acclaimed charity called More Than Me led by American Katie Meyler, which wanted to save vulnerable Liberian girls from sexual exploitation. Then children in the charity’s care were raped. “Unprotected” showed that the rape within the charity was far more widespread than had ever been acknowledged, that the perpetrator had AIDS and that the charity had obscured the truth while failing to safeguard all the victims.

“Unprotected” exposed deep accountability problems, not only within Liberia, but within the whole system of philanthropy-funded international aid. Following publication, More Than Me apologized to the victims and, for the first time, conceded it had failed them. The board chair resigned, along with two other board members, while Meyler took a leave of absence. The Liberian government also announced a multi-agency inquiry.

The story “was brave reporting about a sensitive topic — well written and respectful,” contest judges said. “It had very vivid imagery, and really took the audience there, but it also managed to show just enough to tell the story without exploiting the children involved.”

Two other ProPublica projects received SABEW Award honorable mentions. “Black Patients Miss Out on Promising Cancer Drugs,” a deep, data-driven investigation by Caroline Chen and Riley Wong, received honorable mention in the health/science category. The ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ Chicago series “Driven Into Debt” by Melissa Sanchez, David Eads, Sandhya Kambhampati and Elliott Ramos of WBEZ — which laid out how Chicago raised ticket fees to yield more revenue, with disastrous effects on the city’s poorer and minority populations — received honorable mention in the investigative category.

Learn more about the SABEW Awards and see a list of all the winners here.