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ProPublica Is Expanding Its Local Reporting Network to Youngstown, Ohio

Youngstown is losing its only daily newspaper, but there’s no shortage of investigative stories worthy of coverage. ProPublica will fund one investigative reporter at an Ohio news organization for a year.

ProPublica announced Monday that it will immediately open up a spot in its Local Reporting Network for a local news organization to cover accountability issues in Youngstown, Ohio, after the region’s only daily newspaper, The Vindicator, announced it will close at the end of next month.

Under the program, which currently works with 20 local partners across the country, ProPublica pays the salary and a stipend for benefits so news organizations can devote a full-time reporter to work on an accountability journalism project for a year. ProPublica also offers editing support, as well as data, research, engagement, audience and production/design assistance.

“What’s going on in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley cries out for solid investigative reporting,” said Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica’s editor in chief. “We created the Local Reporting Network to fill that critically important need.”

News organizations and reporters interested in applying for the Youngstown reporting spot should fill out this form and describe what they plan to investigate. Applications are due by July 22. The news organization we select will receive funding for the salary and benefits of a full-time reporter through June 2020. (Freelance reporters can apply, but they need to secure the backing of an Ohio-based news organization willing to run their work.)

The news unfolding in Youngstown and its surrounding area, which has a population of more than 500,000, requires journalistic attention, Engelberg said.

General Motors recently closed its plant in neighboring Lordstown, which made the Chevrolet Cruze, and eliminated as many as 1,700 hourly positions. An electric vehicle startup has been in talks to buy the plant, but a deal hasn’t been finalized. The plant’s closure is expected to have broad effects, including on small parts manufacturers that relied on the GM facility for work.

Youngstown is also struggling with the quality of its school system, which was taken over by the state in 2015. A review last year by the Ohio Department of Education found that the district remains severely challenged, failing key metrics for educating kids.

Youngstown was the hometown of James Traficant, who was expelled from the U.S. House of Representatives after he was convicted of racketeering, bribery and fraud. He died in 2014. The area’s current congressman, Rep. Tim Ryan, is running for president.

ProPublica is no stranger to Youngstown. In 2012, ProPublica and Engelberg worked with The News Outlet at Youngstown State University to provide advice on investigative projects. Engelberg visited the campus and conducted weekly video calls with reporters and editors to provide ongoing advice. The reporters worked on stories about charter schools, lobbying conflicts by a member of the state school board and nursing home abuse.

The impact of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network has been felt widely.

In Indiana last year, the South Bend Tribune, working with ProPublica senior reporter Ken Armstrong, reported on how police officers in Elkhart, Indiana, beat a handcuffed man and about how the police chief promoted officers despite records of discipline. As a result of those articles, the police chief was forced to resign, an independent investigation was launched and the officers were criminally charged. The mayor of Elkhart also abandoned his reelection effort.

This year, WNYC, another LRN partner, reported on how a company in Camden, New Jersey, provided a false answer on an application for tax breaks, leading the state to freeze the tax break pending further investigation.

The Anchorage Daily News, in a first-of-its-kind investigation, found that one in three communities in Alaska has no local law enforcement. No state troopers to stop an active shooter, no village police officers to break up family fights, not even untrained city or tribal cops to patrol the streets. Following that coverage, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr visited Alaska and later declared a state of emergency, releasing millions in federal funds to devote to the problem.

In Rhode Island, The Public’s Radio reported how 911 call takers were not trained to provide CPR instructions by phone and about people who died after those call takers failed to provide proper guidance. The state legislature is poised to add money for training in the coming year’s budget.

And MLK50, a nonprofit news organization in Memphis, Tennessee, reported on how the largest hospital system sued and garnished the wages of thousands of poor patients, including its own employees, for unpaid medical debts. Within days, the hospital suspended the lawsuits and said it would reevaluate its financial assistance and collections policies.

Again, applications are due by July 22. Questions should be sent to [email protected].

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