2023 Excellence in Social Media Engagement, Medium Newsroom finalist

ProPublica’s Short-Form Investigative Video


About the Project

ProPublica has begun to experiment with short-form, social video as a vehicle for distilling and delivering often complex investigative journalism to audiences who might not otherwise encounter it. Our entry showcases the range of work we produced and how we have adapted to telling stories in new forms.

In Entry 1 and 2, we produced two short-form videos — one in English, one in Spanish — about the death of a migrant worker’s son on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and posted both to Instagram and TikTok. As reporters Melissa Sanchez and Maryam Jameel worked on the story, they noticed that the Spanish-speaking dairy workers had an already established community on TikTok, sharing memes and stories relevant to their specific experience. Our goal in producing the video in both languages was to reach those most affected on the platforms they were already using.

In Entry 3, we featured footage of students navigating blocked train crossings captured by our television partners at Gray TV and added voiceover to tell the story of the impact on residents in Hammond, Indiana. The trains block crossings for hours, forcing students trying to get to school on time to crawl around them. These massive trains could start moving at any moment, a significant safety risk. The footage alone is striking and, because we knew this situation was widespread throughout the U.S., we hoped this would reach a national audience who could share their experiences with us. The result was our most popular social video to date, drawing more than 215,000 views on Instagram and 78,000 views on TikTok. Many commenters posted about dealing with these trains in their own communities. Dozens of users tagged Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeg and demanded accountability. His social accounts posted their own video after the story was published.

In Entry 4, we took a different approach. Many museums and universities across the U.S. still possess the remains of Native Americans, despite the 1990 passage of NAGPRA, a federal law meant to help return them to tribes. Today, many tribes are still waiting. The goal of our 45-second video was not only to introduce readers to our findings, but also to encourage them to use a database we had created for themselves. We showed viewers to navigate our database and research their local universities and museums. In the comment section of the video on TikTok and Instagram, many viewers tagged institutions asking for answers.

Entry 5 examines the story of two teenagers who barricaded themselves in their room in Utah in protest of forced parental reunification. A judge concluded the children were victims of “parental alienation,” which continues to influence family courts despite being rejected by mainstream scientific groups, and authorized police to use “reasonable force” to remove them from their mother. The teens had taken to TikTok to chronicle their experience. We produced a social video that defined parental reunification and alienation. The audience response was immediate and helped shine a national spotlight on the issue.