ProPublica announced on Friday that Tony Schick, an investigations editor for Oregon Public Broadcasting, has been selected as a new member of its Distinguished Fellows program. Schick, who has previously participated in ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, will pursue investigative projects, in partnership with ProPublica, as part of the new regional team in the Northwest.
“Tony has been an admired member of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network for three years,” said Sarah Blustain, deputy editor for local. “He’s a great journalist and a great collaborator, and we are thrilled to be able to continue that work with him and OPB through our new Northwest office.”
Schick has been a reporter at OPB in Portland, where he has covered the environment since 2013. He previously worked for Investigative Reporters and Editors. In Schick’s first year with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, he and Rob Davis of The Oregonian/OregonLive produced the first systemic investigation into the Oregon timber industry’s unseen role in hollowing out the state’s rural communities. Their project, “The Cutting,” scrutinized a series of decisions by lawmakers that permanently cut timber taxes; created a tax-funded agency, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, to promote logging; and weakened environmental regulations.
Following the news organizations’ reporting on OFRI, then-Gov. Kate Brown called for an audit, which was released in July 2021 by Oregon’s secretary of state. It found that the institute misled the public by presenting a biased view of forestry and might have broken the law by trying to influence policy. In a written response, the agency’s director agreed to implement the auditors’ recommendations by late 2022.
The series won the 2021 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism and won bronze in the 2021 Barlett & Steele Awards.
Last year, Schick partnered with ProPublica to explore how the federal government has broken its treaties with Indigenous tribes by failing to stop the decline in the salmon population. Part of the yearlong investigation examined toxic contamination in salmon, a pillar of tribal diets and culture, often served at ceremonies and largely considered a medicine to tribes in the Pacific Northwest.
Although tribal members and researchers have been raising concerns about this contamination for decades, federal and state governments have failed to consistently monitor the waters of the Columbia River Basin for pollution in fish. Given the gaps in testing, ProPublica and OPB did their own, revealing levels of contaminants in Columbia River salmon that, when consumed at average tribal rates, would be high enough to put many of the 68,000 tribal members living in the basin at risk of adverse health impacts.
A documentary film, “Salmon People: A Native Fishing Family’s Fight to Preserve a Way of Life,” by Schick and filmmaker Katie Campbell of ProPublica, features the plight of the salmon of the Columbia River and the Native people whose lives revolve around them.
Schick replaces Distinguished Fellow Rob Perez, an investigative reporter with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, who will be retiring after more than 40 years, having worked for newspapers in Hawaii, California, Florida and his native Guam.
“ProPublica has been honored to work with Rob Perez. He has a deep understanding of the harms Native Hawaiians have suffered, and our teams of editors and reporters have learned so much from him,” Blustain said. “We will miss the partnership and wish him all the best in his retirement.”
As a participant in ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network for three years, Perez’s work in the “Promised Land” series, co-reported with ProPublica’s Agnel Philip, exposed the decadeslong failure of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to return Native Hawaiians to ancestral lands. In response to the coverage, DHHL officials acknowledged that bold action was needed to deliver on the department’s main mission, and they pressed for more funding. In turn, legislative leaders prioritized the homesteading program this year. It was a top issue for House Speaker Scott Saiki, who cited the Star-Advertiser and ProPublica’s reporting as a major factor in advancing legislation that appropriated $600 million to the program. After passage of the measure, Native leaders, who are distrustful of the state department, developed a plan on how to spend the single largest injection of funds in the history of the century-old initiative.
The series won Asian American Journalists Association Journalism Excellence Awards in the investigative reporting category and the Pacific Islander reporting category.
An outgrowth of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network — which since 2018 has similarly funded local accountability reporting projects for one year across more than 60 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.