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ProPublica Hires Reporter Jennifer Smith Richards to Join Its Midwest Newsroom

ProPublica announced Friday that reporter Jennifer Smith Richards is joining its Midwest newsroom. She starts on June 14.

Smith Richards, a ProPublica Distinguished Fellow since 2021, joins the newsroom from the Chicago Tribune, where her data-driven investigative work has exposed abusive educators, government misspending, sexual abuse in schools, flimsy police accountability and the mistreatment of students with disabilities.

Smith Richards’ reporting collaboration with ProPublica’s Jodi Cohen on “The Quiet Rooms,” an investigation about the illegal use of isolated timeout in Illinois schools, led to emergency restrictions and then legislative reforms aimed at protecting students. The project won the Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics, the Online Journalism Association’s Award for Investigative Data Journalism and the Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting, among other honors.

In “The Price Kids Pay” Cohen and Smith Richards exposed a loophole that for years allowed police in Illinois to routinely issue tickets to children for minor misbehavior, circumventing a 2015 state law that bans schools from fining students as a form of discipline. The investigation prompted Illinois education officials to call for an end to school-based ticketing, the state attorney general to initiate a civil rights investigation into a suburban school district northwest of Chicago and state lawmakers to rethink when police should be involved in student discipline. Smith Richards and Cohen’s work received the Worth Bingham Prize for Investigative Journalism, an Investigative Reporters & Editors Award and other honors.

Before joining the Tribune, Smith Richards wrote about education at newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia; Utica, New York; Savannah, Georgia; and Columbus, Ohio.

“We’re thrilled to continue to work with Jennifer in her new role as a member of our Midwest team,” said George Papajohn, ProPublica’s Midwest editor. “Her work throughout the years in Illinois, Ohio and elsewhere has demonstrated an untiring commitment to exposing injustice, precision reporting and productive collaboration.”

“I’ve been privileged to work with ProPublica while at the Tribune for several years and have been so impressed by the impact and reach of this organization’s work,” said Smith Richards. “I’m thrilled to join the Midwest team and eager to keep holding the powerful to account.”

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