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ProPublica Illinois Wins Four Awards from Chicago Headline Club

ProPublica Illinois took home four Peter Lisagor Awards at the Chicago Headline Club’s annual awards dinner on May 11.

The ProPublica Illinois and Chicago Tribune project “The Tax Divide” won the 2017 Watchdog Award for Excellence in Public Interest Reporting, one of the highest honors from the largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Led by reporter Jason Grotto, “The Tax Divide” highlighted the complex issue of property taxes in the Chicagoland area. ProPublica Illinois data reporter Sandhya Kambhampati and Chicago Tribune reporter Ray Long contributed to the work, which also won the Lisagor Award for Best Investigative Reporting in a General Interest Daily News Paper, News Service or News Bureau (circulation over 100,000).

The series exposed widespread inequities and egregious errors in assessments that punished small businesses and poor homeowners, while giving the wealthy unsanctioned tax breaks and lining the pockets of politically connected tax attorneys. Citing the series, three prominent public interest law offices sued Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios and the county in December, alleging violations of state and federal civil rights and housing laws, and Berrios was ultimately voted out during the Illinois Democratic primary election in March. The first three stories were published in the Chicago Tribune; a fourth piece of the series and more than a dozen additional follow-up articles were published as a ProPublica Illinois/Chicago Tribune partnership.

One judge remarked: “[T]he project is a strong testament to the power of partnerships, from the multiple media organizations that had a hand to the work with experts who helped validate the reporting. This project is a clinic in how to tackle stories about complex systems.”

In both the Online and All Media categories, ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune won honors for Best Multimedia Feature Presentation and Best Multimedia Collaboration for stories about police accountability in Chicago, “Chicago Police Skirt Punishment as Disciplinary System Fails Yet Again.” The award for collaboration honors a story or series involving the joint effort of multiple media organizations.

The project outlined how some punishments for police officer misconduct remained pending despite a Chicago Tribune investigation that revealed faults within the disciplinary system. Those faults caused officials to lose cases, though inaction continued even after they pledged to track the cases down and finalize them. The team used data and infographics to track more than 300 police disciplinary cases appealed through the department’s Management and Labor Affairs Section, showing significant reductions between the original discipline orders and what officers actually served.

ProPublica Illinois reporter Jodi Cohen and Chicago Tribune reporter Jennifer Smith Richards, ProPublica Illinois news applications developer David Eads, and ProPublica social visuals and graphics producer Lucas Waldron collaborated for the series.

In addition, ProPublica Illinois reporter Melissa Sanchez won the award for Best Business or Consumer Reporting (Online) for prior work at The Chicago Reporter.

Learn more about the Chicago Headline Club’s Peter Lisagor Awards here.

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