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2016 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Medium Newsroom finalist

ProPublica

About the Project

In the past year, ProPublica’s projects set a new bar for interactive data, deep reporting, rich illustrations and reader engagement.

Here are some highlights of our work in the past year:

Our SURGEON SCORECARD project changed the way medicine takes inventory of its mistakes. Using innovative data visualization and a statistical analysis virtually unprecedented in journalism, the project for the first time evaluated thousands of American surgeons by name, and led to a wholesale reconception of the way that surgical complications are accounted for.

“The old way – where all the information was privileged and known only among physicians – is gone,” said a leading patient safety researcher about Surgeon Scorecard. “And it is not coming back.”

Our collaboration with The Marshall Project, AN UNBELIEVABLE STORY OF RAPE was a powerful narrative and a startling expose. It was also an example of 21st century journalistic partnership, in which two journalism organizations, hearing each other’s footsteps, put the story first and combined efforts rather than racing to win a pyrrhic victory.

With a many-splendored approach to presentation and urgent, definitive reporting, KILLING THE COLORADO was a project that helped give lie to the notion that the shortage of water in the western U.S. is a natural phenomenon, or even one solely attributable to climate change. Rather, it’s the result of competing priorities, overuse, and flawed public policy.

HELL AND HIGH WATER was a deeply integrated combination of text and graphics, letting readers watch simulated storms wreak havoc on an unprotected stretch of Texas shoreline that’s home to more than $100 billion of America’s petroleum infrastructure. It’s a premonition to a disaster we can prevent, a digital Cassandra at a time when climate change has created a new normal, with more potent and more frequent storms.

Based on deep data collected by the U.S. Dept of Education, DEBT BY DEGREES turned a critical eye on colleges and universities. Long held as a ticket out of poverty, and given special tax-exempt status as a social good, colleges and universities are doing far too little to make sure that their poorest students can afford school and leave with manageable levels of debt. We did this through traditional stories but also through an innovative news application that let readers explore for themselves the efforts undertaken by each college and university in America.

The COLOR OF DEBT was a database and series of stories with courageous reporting and revelatory data. We showed our research to the mayor of one town near St. Louis. When she saw how her own personal struggles with debt collectors was shared with some huge percentage of her constituents, she shook her head in disbelief, and said, “They’re just suing all of us.”

Our investigation into the effects felt by veterans exposed to AGENT ORANGE has been almost entirely built on collaborations with readers. More than 5,000 veterans and families have joined the effort to tell the untold story of how exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War continues to affect their health.

We also took new approaches to our daily workflow and refactored our main platforms. We used new technologies to begin building our interactive graphics and our stories in an integrative way instead of on separate paths. And our new mobile app was rebuilt from the ground up to give readers access to a sit-back reading experience for our latest stories.