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Dec. 8, 2017, 8:50 a.m.
Reporting & Production
LINK: www.propublica.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Christine Schmidt   |   December 8, 2017

From Santa Fe, New Mexico to Vale, Oregon, to Carbondale, Illinois, the investigators are coming — and they’re already in your communities.

ProPublica just announced the seven projects that will kick off its Local Reporting Network, an initiative funding the full-time salaries and benefits of local journalists digging into the public records and issues of their own communities. As we noted in October, this network intends for the nationally-focused powerhouse to “reach communities we would have not otherwise have reached,” said Eric Umansky, the organization’s deputy managing editor. That’s part of why applicants were limited to those pitching work in areas with less than 1 million people: “At the end of the day, what we want to show is how collaborating and being open to new ways of doing journalism and working together can result in better and more journalism.”

The journalists’ work as part of the network will be published by both the local outlets and ProPublica.

It’s been a noteworthy week for opportunities in local investigative journalism: the Nieman Foundation, our homebase, just announced a new fellowship — which includes funding for an investigation after the academic year — for up to three U.S. journalists to improve the health of the nation’s local investigative journalism ecosystem. (But ProPublica is still cool, too.)

The following seven newsrooms and journalists have been selected from 239 applications, submitted from 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. (That’s about a three percent acceptance rate, and ProPublica had previously only planned on funding six journalists.) The local editors will retain some editorial control and ProPublica’s senior editor for the network, Charles Ornstein, will also stay involved to offer its guidance in data, research, and engagement.

Here are the winners, whose upcoming projects are not specified, with Ornstein’s context about their work:

Christian Sheckler, a criminal justice reporter at the South Bend Tribune in northern Indiana. His hard-pressed approach with police officers “hasn’t gotten me invited to any barbecues,” he wrote in his application, “but I believe I’ve better served my readers with aggressive reporting on issues such as excessive force, the imperfect protective order system for domestic battery victims and policies on deadly high-speed police chases.”

Abe Aboraya, a health reporter at WMFE, an NPR affiliate in Orlando. Aboraya has covered the deadly shooting at the Pulse nightclub and produced an hour-long documentary and podcast on the health care workers who responded to the massacre. Aboraya has also looked at HIV’s impact in Florida and how state budget cuts have reduced access to prenatal care.

Rebekah Allen, a reporter at The Advocate, based in Baton Rouge, La. She is a member of the paper’s small team of reporters focused on investigative projects and enterprise stories. Last year, she produced a three-part series highlighting how the state’s powerful nursing home lobby fought off efforts to make it easier for the elderly and disabled to receive care in their homes. “As a result, nursing homes, ranked last in the nation in quality, have seen their budgets soar in a punishing financial climate where everyone from higher education to hospitals has seen dramatic reductions,” the paper said in introducing the series online.

Jayme Fraser, a reporter who will be working with the Malheur Enterprise, a weekly newspaper in Vale, Ore. Fraser has been an education and statewide projects reporter at the Missoulian in Missoula, Montana, and before that, at the Houston Chronicle. She has written about how the Indian Health Service isn’t meeting the needs of Native American patients, and about questionable science presented in a local “shaken baby” case. This fall, Fraser helped lead a first-time collaboration between the Missoulian and the University of Montana School of Journalism to investigate an issue at the intersection of health and criminal justice. The series will publish at the end of this month.

Rebecca Moss, a reporter at the Santa Fe New Mexican. Moss covers energy and environmental issues, focusing on Los Alamos National Laboratory and nuclear waste. Last year, she co-wrote about how a company that processes and distributes fertilizers and other agricultural products had found a friendlier regulatory climate under the state’s Republican governor than under her predecessor. And this year, she wrote about how a New Mexico town had stepped up to be part of a nuclear waste disposal experiment, even as other states and towns had balked.

Molly Parker, an investigative reporter at The Southern Illinoisan, a newspaper in Carbondale, Ill. In the past two years, she has covered a public housing scandal in Cairo, Illinois, in which residents lived in deplorable conditions while managers of the housing authority received “hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars via questionable payments, bonuses, consultant contracts, retirement incentives and legal settlements in addition to their regular pay.” The crisis has drawn local and national attention.

Ken Ward Jr., a reporter at the Charleston Gazette-Mail since 1991 who covers the environment with a focus on coal mining, mine safety, the chemical industry and workplace safety. In 2014, when a chemical leak contaminated the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of people, Ward exposed significant flaws in federal safety guidelines for the chemicals and in the state’s water sampling program. His disclosures led to the appointment of an independent scientific team to examine the spill’s impacts. “I can’t think of many places that are in need of good journalism more than West Virginia is, or what higher calling journalists have than to try to write stories that make their home a better place,” Ward said in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review a few years back.

The network officially gets underway in January.

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