ProPublica announced on Thursday that Lulu Ramadan, an investigative reporter with The Seattle Times, has been selected as a new member of the Distinguished Fellows program. Ramadan, who has previously participated in ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, will pursue investigative projects, in partnership with ProPublica, through the end of 2023.
“We couldn’t be happier with having Lulu join us as a Distinguished Fellow,” Charles Ornstein, managing editor, local, said. “Her stellar work on the investigation into air pollution near Florida’s sugar cane fields shows her deftness at writing about complicated topics. We are thrilled to work with her and The Seattle Times on deep investigative journalism for the next two years.”
Ramadan joined The Seattle Times in August for a reporting position supported by the paper’s community-funded Investigative Journalism Fund. Before joining The Times, Ramadan was a reporter with The Palm Beach Post. During her year-long LRN partnership with ProPublica, Ramadan investigated sugar cane burning practices and found a series of shortcomings in how authorities monitor the air in Florida’s heartland, including how the smoke was disproportionately affecting impoverished residents of color.
To better understand the impact of cane burning on air quality and public health in the Glades, Ramadan, ProPublica engagement reporter Maya Miller and news applications developer Ash Ngu collaborated with residents to set up their own air monitors. For four months, these PurpleAir sensors collected data. When the sensors detected a spike in pollution, reporters used a text bot to interview residents in real time about what they were experiencing.
Soon after the investigation was published, a division of NASA dedicated to air quality research announced it was partnering with a team of scientists to study the impacts of sugar cane burning in western Palm Beach County. Additionally, leading members of Congress called for the EPA to investigate air monitoring in Florida and to change national pollution standards.
Ramadan replaces Wendi C. Thomas, who decided to step back from her spot in the Fellowship program to focus on her duties as editor and publisher of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism.
“Wendi’s passion for investigative journalism and holding the powerful to account has made her an invaluable partner to our newsroom,” Ornstein said. “We look forward to growing our relationship with MLK50 to produce important journalism projects in the future.”
As a participant in the ProPublica Local Reporting Network for two years, Thomas’ “Profiting From the Poor” series exposed the predatory debt collection practices of the largest health care system in Memphis. The investigation led the hospital to backtrack and eliminate patients’ debts. The series won the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, the Gerald Loeb Award for local reporting and the Association of Health Care Journalists award for business reporting, and also tied for first place for the Investigative Reporters & Editors Award for print/online.
An outgrowth of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network — which since 2018 has similarly funded local accountability reporting projects for one year across more than 50 local newsrooms to date — the longer-term Distinguished Fellows program enables reporters to pursue a broad range of stories while deepening ProPublica’s relationship with the partner newsrooms and their communities.