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2014 General Excellence in Online Journalism, Small Newsroom winner

publicintegrity.org

 

 

About the Project

For 25 years now, the Center for Public Integrity has been producing investigative journalism to reveal abuses of power, corruption, and betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions. We specialize in leaving no stone unturned to find answers for some of the most troubling questions about how governments operate, where corruption thrives, and why the human cost is often ignored.

This past year has been the strongest so far in our history. We launched our most significant and impactful investigative projects, distributed this work via our greatest number of media partners worldwide, attracted our largest audiences, and witnessed the highest recognition from our peers.

Driving this surge was our greatest evolution in how we embrace our digital-only platform to serve our groundbreaking reporting—and our audience.

Our lean, four-person digital team is pushing to transform a legacy newsroom, which has always released extreme long-form, text-only journalism, and reorienting our focus toward digital-first storytelling. We add human emotion to data-rich policy stories, create more entry points to our often dense findings, and make our readers aware of our work across all channels.

In 12 months, the results have been striking. We have transformed the way we report and present our investigations by experimenting with the question, “How can we make this more reader-centered?” We now produce digital journalism which is explanatory, visual, and engaging.

For “Big Oil, Bad Air,” we continued our dogged coverage of the interplay between corporate interests and public health by investigating the oil and gas boom in the South Texas Eagle Ford Shale area. Our goal was to truly convey the breadth of what residents experience in their own backyards—to show towering flares from a fracking well burning just beyond a fenced-in playground. With our partners, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel, our focus on elegant prose, photos, video, and infographics made this story an immersive experience that we translated uniquely by using the Shorthand application: eagleford.publicintegrity.org.

We exposed for the first time nearly $70 billion in “improper” payments to health care plans and showed how federal officials missed multiple opportunities to corral tens of billions of dollars in overcharges and other billing errors tied to inflated risk scores in “Medicare Advantage Money Grab.” To help the public understand how Medicare calculates risk scores, a system so complex that many health professionals don’t even pretend to understand its fine points, we created an interactive graphic that allows readers to manipulate a risk score by changing diagnoses for a fictional patient to raise or lower the simulated cost: www.publicintegrity.org/2014/06/04/14865/how-risk-scores-work.

Center reporters have relentlessly monitored the flood of new spending by special interest groups after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. For example, in “Top U.S. corporations funneled $173 million to political nonprofits,” we uncovered the previously unreported ways companies advance their political agendas by reviewing the voluntary disclosure of political and lobbying expenditures for the largest 300 public companies in the country. The end result: never-before-seen connections between more than 100 companies and more than 1,000 nonprofit beneficiaries presented in an interactive database that was searchable, downloadable and adapted for mobile: www.publicintegrity.org/2014/01/16/14093/follow-corporate-cash-flow-nonprofits.

We can’t achieve impact if nobody’s reading our reporting—and now we know they are. In 2013 from 2012, our email subscribers increased 75 percent, our Twitter followers increased 56 percent, and our Facebook likes increased 48 percent. Importantly for a nonprofit newsroom, people are supporting our work financially; we saw a 30 percent increase in sign-ups for our monthly giving program and a 20 percent increase in individual donors overall.

In addition to reaching a larger audience, we reached the right audience—and have seen inspiring results from our investigations.

“Breathless and Burdened” exposed how the coal industry works to deny sick coal miners benefits and affordable medical care. In response, the U.S. Department of Labor revamped its black lung benefits program and issued new regulations for mines to promote a safer work environment. Two days after Center stories and an ABC News Nightline piece, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions suspended its black lung review unit, which is still not operating today. Readers, including government officials, said our data visualization comparing doctors’ drastically different readings of the same lung x-rays convinced them to take action to help these suffering coal miners: www.publicintegrity.org/2013/10/30/13551/x-ray-readings-compared.

The furor caused by the Center’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists “China Leaks” investigation swept across the world and had China’s leadership scrambling to censor major media websites from The Guardian in the U.S. and the U.K. to El País in Spain and Ming Pao in Hong Kong. Without the power of the web and social media propagating the story, nobody would have noticed the massive effort to black out the complex and risky cross-border investigation’s findings. Some described it as one of China’s biggest censorship efforts in history. For the project, ICIJ’s website turned bilingual: www.icij.org/project/zhong-guo-chi-jin-rong-jie-mi.

Other highlights include reports on:

  • Powerbrokers on Capitol Hill that are Wall Street’s “secret weapon” to beat back reforms.
  • Financial conflicts of interests of federal judges in all 50 states, including re-opening of four cases based on our findings.
  • Juvenile truants from California to Tennessee who don’t have the resources or rights to be represented in court.
  • The public and private special interests behind the nuclear energy industry.

We are dedicated to refining and broadening our approach to digital storytelling. Recently, we introduced documentary filmmaking and audio reporting to our output, to tease out different aspects of our stories and provide another way to access our work.

And, despite all the gravitas, we are not opposed to having a little fun—and reaching a younger audience. We launched our “No Comment” Tumblr to document when those in power refuse to comment on the record on public interest stories.