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ProPublica Local Reporting Network Selects Youngstown, Ohio, Partner

We’re adding The Business Journal in Youngstown to our local network as the city’s only daily newspaper prepares to close.

ProPublica has selected The Business Journal in Youngstown, Ohio, as the latest partner for its Local Reporting Network, aiming to help fill the void that will be created when the city’s lone daily newspaper closes at the end of the month.

Dan O’Brien, a senior reporter and associate editor of The Business Journal, will cover an accountability story in his hometown. He will begin in mid-August and work with ProPublica through June 30, 2020. O’Brien will be the 21st local partner of the Local Reporting Network.

ProPublica pays the salary and benefits of reporters participating in the Local Reporting Network. ProPublica also offers editing support, as well as data, research, engagement, audience and production/design assistance.

“When we read the news that The Vindicator was closing its doors, we tried to find a way in which we could be of value,” said Charles Ornstein, a deputy managing editor at ProPublica, who oversees the network. “Dan’s project will shed light on an important issue facing Youngstown, and we’re excited to partner with The Business Journal on it.”

The Business Journal is locally owned and is published in print twice a month, reaching 45,000 readers. Its website is updated each business day. Like other news organizations in the region, The Business Journal plans to step up its coverage of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley in light of the Vindicator’s closure.

Youngstown and its surrounding area, which has a population of more than 500,000, has been in the national news lately and has been a choice destination for presidents and presidential candidates from both political parties to make pronouncements about the Rust Belt.

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.

In 2012, ProPublica worked with The News Outlet at Youngstown State University to provide advice on investigative projects. Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica’s editor in chief, visited the campus and conducted weekly video calls with reporters and editors. The reporters worked on stories about charter schools, lobbying conflicts involving 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 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 involved in the beating were criminally charged. The mayor of Elkhart also abandoned his reelection effort.

This year, MLK50, a nonprofit news organization in Memphis, Tennessee, reported on how the area’s largest hospital system sued and garnished the wages of thousands of poor patients, including its own employees, for unpaid medical debts. The hospital subsequently said it would raise the minimum wage it pays employees, dramatically expand its financial assistance policy for hospital care and stop suing its own employees for unpaid medical debts.

WNYC, another Local Reporting Network 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.

ProPublica will accept new applications this fall for news organizations that want to participate in the Local Reporting Network next year. Questions should be sent to [email protected].

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