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ProPublica to Further Expand Local Reporting Network With Additional Newsrooms

Warren Apartments, a complex in Memphis, Tennessee. HUD’s mismanagement of public housing was the subject of a 2018 Local Reporting Network investigation by The Southern Illinoisan. (Andrea Morales for ProPublica)

As part of an ongoing focus on local accountability journalism, ProPublica announced Wednesday that it is again expanding the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Made possible by a new grant from the Abrams Foundation, the expansion will provide support for an additional six local newsrooms across the country — allowing the Local Reporting Network to work with 20 participating newsrooms this year.

Applications for the new iteration of the Local Reporting Network are due April 26. National news organizations are not eligible to apply; all other newsrooms are. The reporters will begin their work on July 1.

The ProPublica Local Reporting Network, introduced to help create vital investigative journalism in communities where such stories would otherwise not be done, began its work in 2018. Through the initiative, ProPublica pays the salary, plus an allowance for benefits, for full-time reporters at partner news organizations dedicated to big investigative projects. Fourteen local news organizations are currently participating, with seven projects focused on state government and the rest covering a broad range of subjects. Local reporters work from and report to their home newsrooms, while receiving extensive support and guidance for their work from ProPublica, including collaboration with a senior editor and access to the nonprofit newsroom’s expertise with data, research, engagement, video and design.

ProPublica also announced that senior editor Charles Ornstein has been promoted to deputy managing editor to direct the work of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network, effective immediately. Ornstein was one of the first reporters ProPublica hired in 2008 and oversaw the first group of Local Reporting Network newsrooms in 2018.

This latest expansion of the initiative comes as hundreds of cities and towns across the U.S. are losing their newspapers — more than 1,400 over the past 15 years, according to a recent Associated Press analysis compiled by the University of North Carolina. As many existing local news organizations grapple with budget constraints, accountability journalism has been shrinking and underfunded. ProPublica’s local journalism strategy includes not only the Local Reporting Network but also ProPublica Illinois, a fully staffed office of reporters and editors covering important issues in that state.

“Although local journalism has been decimated by cuts, the ProPublica Local Reporting Network has demonstrated that there is still plenty of energy left in local news organizations across the country,” ProPublica President Richard Tofel said. “Many reporters know what to do; they just lack the time and resources to do it. We’re so pleased that a generous grant from the Abrams Foundation will enable us to support more important investigative work at the ground level.”

Projects from the inaugural ProPublica Local Reporting Network exposed lapses in worker safety at nuclear facilities; failures in public housing; conflicts of interest that have allowed Louisiana legislators to benefit themselves, their relatives and their clients; and the devastating toll of post-traumatic stress disorder on first responders. An investigation from the South Bend Tribune in Indiana, which uncovered shocking misconduct by Elkhart County police, prompted the police chief to resign and the Elkhart mayor to announce an independent review of the city’s Police Department, in addition to a federal grand jury indictment of two Elkhart police officers on civil rights charges. The series was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting. A project by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, exploring the price paid by West Virginia residents as the natural gas industry gains power, was a finalist for the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for environmental reporting.

More information on the ProPublica Local Reporting Network and application process can be found here.

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