ProPublica Illinois won five Peter Lisagor Awards on Friday for its investigative reporting, feature writing, data journalism and blogs. The Lisagor Awards, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, the nation’s largest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, recognizes exemplary journalism produced in 2018 in Illinois and Northwest Indiana.
ProPublica Illinois received three awards in the All Media division and two in the Online Media division.
The Driven Into Debt series, begun by ProPublica Illinois and continued in partnership with WBEZ Chicago, won in All Media for Best Investigative Reporting and Best Data Journalism. The investigation revealed that Chicago’s parking ticket system has been driving motorists into bankruptcy through fines and fees that unfairly target majority-black neighborhoods and people who can least afford to pay.
The reporting led to a number of policy proposals and reforms, including city officials agreeing to refund or dismiss 35,000 duplicate citations and calls for action from Chicago mayoral election candidates. ProPublica Illinois reporter Melissa Sanchez and WBEZ Chicago’s digital editor Elliott Ramos collaborated on the series, with contributions from ProPublica Illinois news applications developer David Eads and former data reporter Sandhya Kambhampati.
“We Will Keep on Fighting for Him” won in All Media for Best Feature Story. The project was part of The $3 Million Research Breakdown investigative series, which found misconduct in a drug research trial at the University of Illinois at Chicago for children with bipolar disorder. The story details the pain and heartbreak of a family caught in a child psychiatry study, and it focuses on the mother’s journal entries and present-day annotations from her and her son. While keeping their voices at the center of the narrative, the interactive display blends the journals with family photos, video and audio clips, and deep original reporting. ProPublica Illinois reporter Jodi S. Cohen and engagement reporter Logan Jaffe collaborated on the feature, with multimedia design contributions by editorial experience designer Rob Weychert.
In the Online Media division, Politic-IL Insider won awards for Best Continuing Blog (Affiliated) and Best Individual Blog Post (Affiliated). The online investigative column by reporter Mick Dumke provides insight on a bevy of political issues such as government surveillance, access to open records and the aftermath of election campaigns. Dumke was the first to obtain and publish Chicago’s controversial gang database, documenting its many errors and discrepancies. He found similar problems with the gang database maintained by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, prompting the Cook County Board’s unanimous vote to ban it.
ProPublica Illinois reporting fellow Lakeidra Chavis also received the award for Best Health or Science Reporting in a Radio Broadcast for “Chicago’s Black Communities Hit Hardest in Opioid Overdoses.” The story, which aired while she worked at WBEZ Chicago, highlighted how the problem deeply affects African Americans in the city, even as most narratives about the nation’s opioid crisis have focused on white, suburban areas. WBEZ Chicago senior news editor Rob Wildeboer also contributed to the project.