The ProPublica Illinois and Chicago Tribune project “The Tax Divide” is the winner of two 2018 Excellence in Financial Journalism awards in the best local reporting and public service categories. In addition, ProPublica, The New Yorker and NPR won the award for best general reporting for the “Sold for Parts” series. The awards honor exemplary business news reporting published in 2017.
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 also contributed to the work. 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.The first three stories appeared 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.
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. In the Illinois primary election in March, fairness in the property tax system was a major issue — and Berrios was voted out.
In “Sold for Parts,” ProPublica reporter Michael Grabell’s first story uncovered exploitative employment practices by Case Farms, a major chicken supplier for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Boar’s Head. For decades, the company has recruited and relied on undocumented immigrant workers, subjecting them to harsh, at times illegal, conditions. Yet if they were injured on the job or protested, Case Farms used their undocumented status to get rid of them.
Grabell then teamed with NPR correspondent Howard Berkes to expose how employers and insurance companies got out of paying workers’ compensation benefits by using a Florida state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. In Ohio, Grabell’s stark reporting on Case Farms helped defeat a state measure that would have barred undocumented immigrants from receiving workers’ compensation. And after the Florida story ran, state legislators there pledged to review the workers’ compensation provisions that allowed employers and insurance companies to act like immigration agents.
Learn more about the Excellence in Financial Journalism Awards.