Since ProPublica was started 11 years ago, impact has been at the core of our mission, and it remains a guiding principle and yardstick for our success today. In a cynical age, we have repeatedly shown that powerful, fact-based journalism has the potential to change minds, laws and the lives of ordinary people — and that innovative, online storytelling is a crucial tool in our arsenal.
BREAKING THROUGH THE PARTISAN DIN: Last June, as the plight of families separated at the U.S.-Mexico border gained national attention, ProPublica released audio of migrant children inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility. The sounds of children sobbing and begging for their parents served as evidence of the tragedy underway. Lawmakers cited ProPublica’s audio as they condemned the administration’s policy, and protesters blared the recording at demonstrations across the country. Within 48 hours, President Trump reversed his policy of separating children from their parents. A federal judge in California ordered that parents and children be reunited within 30 days. Within a month, the child heard in the recording pleading to call her aunt was reunited with her mother.
VISUALIZING A DISASTER: The U.S. levee system — thousands of miles of embankments meant to protect communities from flooding — is fundamentally flawed, and can even worsen flooding by displacing floodwaters onto neighboring communities. To show this counterintuitive concept, we built our own river and levee system by collaborating on a scale model with a fluid mechanics lab at the University of Minnesota, and created a video and interactive to allow users to experience how this works. Our series of interactive stories showed how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the federal levee regulator) is unable or unwilling to regulate a rural levee district in Illinois that increased its own flood safety at the expense of its neighbors.
IMMERSIVE STORYTELLING: In February, we published “Fight the Ship,” an immersive multimedia story that reconstructed a 2017 crash involving the USS Fitzgerald, one of the deadliest accidents in the history of the U.S. Navy. The story showed that the accident was entirely preventable, and that the Navy’s senior leadership had endangered the warship by sending an overworked, shorthanded and undertrained crew to sea with outdated and poorly maintained equipment. Citing ProPublica’s reporting — and specifically our simulation — the House Armed Services Committee convened a panel weeks after publication to question senior Navy leaders on the status of reforms that were promised in the wake of the deadly collision.
LOCAL MATTERS: ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network has created groundbreaking local partnerships on a scale virtually without precedent in journalism. Come July 1, we will be working with 20 news organizations — traditional, nonprofit, digital and radio. In the year covered by this award, we published stories and news apps with 15. From Alaska to West Virginia, LRN’s stories and news apps go well beyond the capacity of our partner news organizations, marrying the technical skills and capacity of ProPublica with the topic reporting knowledge of our partner newsrooms.