This week, ProPublica Illinois marked its first birthday. There was cake, of course. And our newly invented signature cocktail, the Prairie ProPublican.
But mostly there was pride in what we’ve been able to accomplish in a year and a great sense of purpose and excitement for what comes next.
In 12 months, with five reporters on our 12-member editorial staff, we have published almost 150 articles on our website, including more than a dozen major investigations examining crucial issues ranging from gun trafficking to property taxes to immigration.
You may have read this work in the pages of the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, Hoy and the Chronicle of Higher Education, or on the websites of The Atlantic and Mother Jones. You may have heard our stories on WBEZ public radio or seen them on Univision. They’ve been published in almost 200 outlets big and small, across Illinois and the country, as well as in Mexico and Spain.
Our Politic-IL Insider column analyzes the state’s infamous politics. We built an online widget that tracks campaign dollars flowing into the Illinois governor’s race, the most expensive in the state’s history. Through ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, we have supported and co-published journalism about public housing issues in southern Illinois.
We’ve filed thousands of requests under the Freedom of Information Act and analyzed millions of lines of data. With our ongoing “Ask ProPublica Illinois” feature, we conduct a transparent conversation with readers about how we do what we do, whether it’s explaining our guidelines for using anonymous sources, talking about how we keep bias out of our reporting or offering tips for identifying fake news. Every week, for 52 weeks and counting, newsletters like this one have taken readers behind the scenes of our work.
We’ve road-tripped with Chicago’s Free Street Theater, hosting workshops around the state to hear what people have to say about their communities and the issues they care about most, helping surface ideas to create more relevant, powerful journalism. And we’ve launched a mentorship program to work with aspiring reporters on the city’s South and West sides.
Whew. The best part, though? Our journalism has already begun to spark meaningful change. The investigative series with the Tribune that exposed Cook County’s deeply broken, inequitable property tax system spurred an independent investigation and several lawsuits and helped lead to Assessor Joseph Berrios getting voted out of office. When we documented the errors and gaps in the Chicago police department’s gang database, the department promised reforms and our reporting was cited in a federal lawsuit. Attorneys volunteered to represent teenage offenders after we revealed they were being sentenced to lengthy adult prison terms for minor infractions in a southern Illinois juvenile corrections facility. Following our reporting on children being trapped in psychiatric hospitals beyond their release dates, state lawmakers conducted a hearing and attorneys went to court to request a federal judge appoint an independent monitor.
Our multi-part examination into punitive ticketing practices that have driven poor, minority residents into spiraling debt and bankruptcy prompted a third-party study calling for reforms and has become an issue in Chicago’s mayoral race. After our most recent series of investigations into the inner workings of the secretive network of Chicago shelters housing immigrant children, lawmakers demanded access to the facilities.
As we enter our second year, we’re determined to produce even more journalism that makes a difference and to expand our reach into communities around the state. We’re just getting started. But, as a nonprofit newsroom, we depend upon the support of our readers to fund our journalism. We hope you’ll help us continue to do this critical work. (If you’d like to know even more about what we’ve accomplished since our launch, check out our stakeholders’ report.)
Oh, and if you’d like to join us in raising a glass, the Prairie ProPublican is two parts rye, one part ginger liqueur and three parts ginger ale, with a twist of moral force.