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How Does Journalism Work? Ask Us Questions. We Can Explain.

At ProPublica Illinois, we strive to be transparent about how our journalism gets done. But we can’t predict what you will find useful about it. So, tell us.

This story was first published in ProPublica Illinois’ weekly newsletter. Sign up for that here.

Last week, Louise Kiernan, our editor-in-chief, wrote about some of the work behind our journalism here at ProPublica Illinois. She detailed time-consuming fact-checking techniques, long reporting trips and what can feel like countless rabbit holes our reporters jump into just to find a single source. “In what is a particularly turbulent time for the press,” she wrote, “many of us in journalism have come to realize the public doesn’t necessarily know as much about the way we go about our jobs as we may think.”

We want to change that. But we’d like your help to get us started.

To be honest, the extent to which Kiernan’s post seemed to resonate with people surprised us.

One response that stuck with us came from @someonetobe:

“Thank you for this article. I'm barely informed on the process of journalism, and I am often surprised to still find myself the most informed person in many rooms. Please continue to share examples like this. Thank you.”

We do plan to continue sharing examples and writing about the work behind our work. Offering insight into our reporting can be not only a useful resource, but also open the metaphorical door to our newsroom a bit wider. But to make these future posts as helpful and relevant as they can be, we could use some kindling from you to spark what we write about next.

So I have a question I’d like you to think about: What do you want to know about how journalism works and how journalists do their jobs?

When you think of something, email us or tweet us. You can write us at [email protected], or tweet us at @ProPublicaIL. There’s no time limit for this inquiry. Whenever a question you have for us pops into your mind, let us know — anytime.

The value of transparency isn’t new to us — it’s baked into the mission of ProPublica and ProPublica Illinois. That’s why we often publish the data we use in our stories. And why we publish reports detailing the impact of our reporting. It’s why our organization’s financial information is available on our website.

Over the past few months, we’ve published a handful of stories that speak to this mindset; you can read some of those below. But, to be frank, we can’t exactly predict which pieces about our work will resonate, and which you will find useful. So, again, that’s why we’re asking for your questions about what we do — so we can shape posts like these to be the most useful, interesting, and eye-opening to you.

I’m looking forward to reading what you come up with. Until then, here’s some of what we’ve done so far:

  • I’ve Sent Out 1,018 Open Records Requests, and This Is What I’ve Learned. This week, our data reporter Sandhya Kambhampati debriefs her experience filing Freedom of Information Act requests in Illinois. And she’s noticed some state-specific quirks. Here are her tips for navigating the #FOIA abyss of Illinois.

  • I Spent Years Reporting on Chicago’s Property Tax System. Here’s What Got Me Out of the Weeds. Reporter Jason Grotto writes about the sometimes “mind-numbing” work of investigating a complex property tax system that favors the wealthy and punishes the poor. Here’s how he kept his eye on the ball.

  • A Story From the Saline County Jail. Reporter Duaa Eldeib has made a number of 300+ miles car trips between Chicago and Southern Illinois to report on criminal justice issues. She details one specific trip to Harrisburg, Illinois, while investigating why youths at a juvenile correctional facility were being sentenced to adult prison for low-level offenses. She writes about interviewing those young men and how she was able to get the information she needed to have a story in the first place.

  • ProPublica Illinois Is Listening. Engagement reporter Logan Jaffe (me) explains what her job actually entails (No, it has nothing to do with “engagements” and please refrain from marriage proposal jokes). She also outlines what she considers the main challenges of this kind of reporting in Illinois.

  • How (and Why) We’re Collecting Cook County Jail Data. News apps developer David Eads writes about a tool he built to scrape data from the Cook County Jail, including inmates’ court dates, and when and where they are moved within the jail complex. The goal? To better understand what actually happens behind the jail walls.

  • Meet ProPublica Illinois: Q&As With Our Illinois Newsroom. Each week, Emerging Reporter Andrea Salcedo published interviews with members of our newsroom. They’re a fun read — and a way for us to introduce ourselves, our work, our goals and what makes ProPublica Illinois … ProPublica Illinois. Because if you haven’t heard, journalists are people. And that’s a good starting place if we’re going to explain how journalism works.

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ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that produces nonpartisan, evidence-based journalism to expose injustice, corruption and wrongdoing. We were founded ten years ago to fill a growing hole in journalism: newsrooms were (and still are) shrinking, and legacy funding models failing. Deep-dive reporting like ours is slow and expensive, and investigative journalism is a luxury in many newsrooms today — but it remains as critical as ever to democracy and our civic life. A decade (and five Pulitzer Prizes) later, ProPublica has built the largest investigative newsroom in the country. Our work has spurred reform through legislation, at the voting booth, and inside our nation’s most important institutions.

This story you’ve just finished was funded by our readers and we hope it inspires you to make a gift to ProPublica so that we can publish more investigations like this one that holds people in power to account and produces real change.

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Portrait of Logan Jaffe

Logan Jaffe

Logan Jaffe is the engagement reporter for ProPublica Illinois.

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