2023 Shortlist

ProPublica and Partner Newsrooms

Entry type: Portfolio

Country/area: United States

Publishing organisation: ProPublica and Partner Newsrooms

Organisation size: Big

Cover letter:

With a team of nearly 150 journalists, ProPublica investigates a range of topics including government and politics, business, criminal justice, the environment, education, healthcare, immigration and technology. We focus on stories with the potential to spur real-world impact. Among other positive changes, our reporting has contributed to the passage of new laws; reversals of harmful policies and practices; and accountability for leaders at local, state and national levels. A key element of our model is partnering with other newsrooms – from national nightly news broadcasts to legacy local newspapers to new regional nonprofits. Data journalism has been central to our newsroom from the beginning. In the 15 years since we first published we’ve grown enormously and, as evidenced by this portfolio, the amount and ambition of our data journalism has grown as well.

Description of portfolio:

In 2022 our data journalism uncovered broken systems and policies, holding those in power to account:

* We detected dangerous concentrations of toxins in wild salmon, a staple of tribal diets in the Pacific Northwest, shedding light on the agencies and policies that are responsible for endangering tribal members’ way of life.

* We exposed how school officials exploited a loophole in Illinois law by working with police to fine students for violations like truancy and vaping. Our interactive database allowed parents and students to check how much it was happening in their district. Newsrooms across the state, including at least one high school newspaper, used the data to publish their own stories. Hours after the investigation’s first story was published, the state superintendent told schools to end the practice.

We named every Fortune 500 company that provided financial support to election-denier members of Congress after Jan 6.

* We showed how for Black families in Phoenix, child welfare investigations are a constant threat. One in three Black children there faced a child welfare investigation over a five-year period. The office of the state’s incoming governor said it had read our work and wanted to take the agency in a new direction. She chose a new director of the state’s CPS department: a Black community advocate whom we had highlighted in our story.

* We revealed that soldiers in the Army are more likely to be locked up ahead of trial for disobeying an officer or drug offenses than for sexual assault.

* We found that traffic cameras in Chicago disproportionately ticket Black and Latino motorists – a byproduct of the difference in urban design among neighborhoods.

* We tackled economic inequality from multiple angles: continuing our coverage of America’s broken tax system, documenting the scope of a predatory lending industry, and examining the long-lasting economic effects of the Hurricane Katrina rebuilding program.

A common thread in our entries this year: most of these projects used data that was difficult to obtain. Sometimes the data we needed didn’t exist; we spent weeks or months painstakingly compiling it ourselves. Our interactive database of roughly 12,000 tickets issued to students in Illinois is based on records requests from more than 500 school districts and police departments. For another project, we got sensitive data only available with an research proposal and approval from an institutional review board. Other times, we spent hours reporting out where to get not just any data, but the right data, and then used persistence, politeness and patience to get access.

These projects are stellar examples of accountability data journalism, and we are proud to submit them for a Sigma Award.

Project links: