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2020 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Medium Newsroom finalist

ProPublica

About the Project

On May 12, ProPublica celebrated its 12th anniversary. Founded at a time of heightened uncertainty for the news industry, ProPublica has covered three presidential administrations, two global financial crises, and now a global pandemic. And although we’ve grown in size and resources, our commitment to doing ambitious journalism that holds the powerful to account has remained as strong as it was when we were a few people at a tiny startup in downtown Manhattan.

Our approach leverages the possibilities of digital media throughout reporting, publishing and engagement processes while centering our audience in the coverage. Here are highlights from the last year.

The same night in late-February 2020 we reported about CDC’s design of flawed COVID-19 screening tests and its delayed solution, we launched an unprecedented newsroom-wide engagement effort to gather stories of what people were experiencing with the novel coronavirus. By mid-March, we had a network of 7,000+ people willing to inform our reporting, including hospital workers, government officials, doctors, new mothers and social workers. Reporters across our newsroom followed up with more than 35% of respondents, which informs ongoing reporting.

In 2019, our work exposing the for-profit tax preparation industry’s legislative efforts to block free filing services also pulled in our audiences across platforms. The experiences they shared fueled our investigation, which proved companies were hiding free filing products from Google search results and using programming techniques to actively coerce users into using a paid product even if their income qualified them for completely free options.

We used video to report stories and engage audiences throughout the year. For example, investigative video storytelling revealed the dangerous lack of humanity, procedural followthrough and basic medical care afforded to migrant children in the care of Border Patrol that ended up killing one sick 16-year old boy. This video was viewed more than a million times on ProPublica’s platforms.

Video played a visceral role in showing the harrowing experience of Illinois school children unlawfully locked away in “quiet rooms” or restrained as punishment. Built on an impressive foundation of documents and data, the sensitivity and dedication of the ProPublica Illinois and Chicago Tribune reporting team to their sources filled the investigation with emotion and elicited nationwide outrage.

During the year, our news applications team built interactive data resources that helped people understand how national phenomena affect them. Their map of the cancer risk from air pollution used a predictive model in a new way, and let people see how lax regulation was letting polluters increase cancer risk in vulnerable communities along the Mississippi River in Louisiana. Their interactive database lets users search for clergy who have been listed as credibly accused of sexual abuse in reports released by Catholic dioceses and religious orders and is the only nationwide database of official disclosures.

And, our Local Reporting Network, combining local expertise with national resources, continues to prove local newsrooms can have an enormous impact on their communities. This program, now in 20 newsrooms across the country, is a model for collaborative journalism.