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ProPublica and Partners Honored With Six Online Journalism Awards

ProPublica and its reporting partners were honored with six Online Journalism Awards. Sponsored by the Online News Association, the awards recognize excellence in digital journalism around the world.

Roots of an Outbreak” by Caroline Chen, Irena Hwang, Al Shaw, Lisa Song and Robin Fields, with photography by visual journalist Kathleen Flynn, won both the 3M Truth in Science Award and the University of Florida Award in Investigative Data Journalism for a small/medium newsroom.

The series exposed an often overlooked cause of outbreaks: deforestation. Cutting down trees to make way for farming or development brings people closer to wildlife and increases the chances that viruses will jump from animals to humans, an event scientists call spillover. ProPublica blended immersive on-the-ground reporting and photography in West Africa with statistical modeling and an original analysis of satellite imagery to examine risky patterns of forest loss. The reporting team’s findings were alarming: In five epicenters of past Ebola outbreaks, including the village where the worst such outbreak originated, dangerous patterns of deforestation have increased in the years since the contagion emerged, raising the chances those areas will face the deadly virus again.

Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum (Salmon People): A Native Fishing Family’s Fight to Preserve a Way of Life,” a collaboration with Oregon Public Broadcasting through ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, won the digital video storytelling, long-form category for a large newsroom. Over the past century and a half, Columbia River tribal people have watched their access to salmon erode because of broken treaty promises, dams and environmental contamination. This film, by Katie Campbell and Tony Schick and edited by Dewi Sungai Marquis, features the plight of the Columbia River salmon and the Native people whose lives revolve around it. It is also part of a yearlong accountability project: to show the many failures of the U.S. government to fulfill its salmon-related treaty obligations to tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

A Uranium Ghost Town in the Making,” with contributions from Mark Olalde, Maya Miller, Mauricio Rodríguez Pons and photojournalist Ed Ou, won in the digital video storytelling series category for a small/medium newsroom. The investigation, co-published with the Los Angeles Times, examined how mining companies and regulators have allowed millions of tons of uranium waste to continue polluting rural areas, exposing overlooked failures in a system meant to protect Western communities and waterways.

Words of Conviction: Tracing a Junk Science Through the Justice System” won the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award for a medium newsroom. The monthslong investigation by Brett Murphy reveals how people have been wrongfully accused and convicted of murder after someone misinterpreted their call for help, while the police and prosecutors who used 911 call analysis against them face virtually no consequences. The FBI, ProPublica found, was an incubator for the program. Other regulators in virtually every corner of the justice system have promoted it as well.

“Collecting the Receipts Communities Can Use,” a collaboration with Oregon Public Broadcasting and NBC News, won the Gather Award in Community-Centered Journalism for a medium/large newsroom. This year, ProPublica’s engagement team collaborated with our editorial team and partners to work with Indigenous communities to identify problems, investigate them and ensure that information will be useful to them. With The Repatriation Project, ProPublica and NBC News reported on museums, universities and agencies holding several hundred thousand Native American human remains and funerary objects — despite a 1990 law requiring their “expeditious” return to tribes. To start their engagement efforts, reporters introduced themselves in a message to every tribal historical preservation officer and tribal leader listed in national and federal directories, as well as organizations focused on repatriation. They answered questions, which became the basis of a later FAQ post, and joined meetings of people working on repatriation. Recognizing that repatriation data can be seen as sensitive, even if it is public, they showed tribal representatives early versions of an interactive using the data. Then the team made meaningful adjustments to alleviate concerns and to ensure the tool was actively useful.

In "Broken Promises," ProPublica and Oregon Public Broadcasting teamed up to quantify the consequences of the U.S. government’s failure to uphold treaty rights through the lens of salmon, a pillar of tribal culture. Through engagement with tribal leaders, reporters learned how harmful and inaccurate a story depicting tribal members as passive victims would be. Many people told the news organizations they needed receipts and new information to push the conversation forward. The reporting team came up with the idea to test fish directly off local vendors’ counters. The results were shocking, but not surprising, to tribal members: There were levels of chemicals that have been found to cause adverse health outcomes, and state and federal agencies were not equipped to meaningfully respond to findings their own staff called alarming. The reporters focused on the significance of salmon rather than a warning to avoid it.

See a full list of Online Journalism Award winners.

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