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“America’s Dairyland” Wins Peter Lisagor Award

The Chicago Headline Club announced that ProPublica’s “America’s Dairyland" series by reporters Melissa Sanchez and Maryam Jameel won a Peter Lisagor Award in the best public service or engagement category. The awards recognize the best journalism produced across Illinois and northwest Indiana.

The series examined the cruel and often inhumane conditions facing Wisconsin’s immigrant dairy farm workers. Sanchez and Jameel’s reporting revealed how a grammatical mistake in Spanish contributed to officials wrongly blaming a Nicaraguan dairy worker for killing his young son in a farm accident, showed the consequences on the dairy industry of a state law that bars undocumented immigrants from driving and exposed how workers are often fired and evicted from their homes when they are hurt at work, among other issues. In all, the yearlong series of stories brought to light the horrors and tragedies of Wisconsin’s dairy industry.

In November, elected officials in Dane County, Wisconsin, approved an $8 million fund for farmworker housing. Separately, the sheriff’s office there drafted a proposed policy on how to respond to incidents involving residents with limited English proficiency, and it’s now working with the Justice Department on its first-ever written policy.

The vast majority of immigrant dairy workers, from Central America or Mexico, are undocumented, and they fear losing their jobs, livelihoods and homes by speaking with reporters. Sanchez and Jameel, both daughters of immigrants and fluent Spanish speakers, made it their mission to form a trusting relationship with workers. The reporting team interviewed more than 100 workers and found innovative ways to ensure their stories reached dairy workers and others in the communities where they worked and lived.

ProPublica commissioned audio versions in Spanish of many of the stories to make the reporting accessible to immigrant workers with low levels of literacy. Sanchez and Jameel also worked with ProPublica interactive story designer Anna Donlan to design paper booklets and leaflets of the stories, and visuals editor Alex Bandoni commissioned illustrations to help tell the stories accessibly. The reporters personally distributed the copies to some 70 Latino stores and restaurants across Wisconsin and in other businesses where they knew dairy workers gathered. As people saw Sanchez and Jameel’s stories over the past year, they expressed more trust and understanding about the reporters’ goals and began reaching out to them to share their experiences.

An investigation into the origins and ownership of a large collection of sacred objects from Nepal at the Art Institute of Chicago, by deputy Midwest editor Steve Mills and Elyssa Cherney for Crain’s Chicago Business, was named a finalist in the the best arts and entertainment reporting-large newsroom category.

See a list of all this year’s Lisagor award winners here.

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