The Chicago Headline Club announced Friday that ProPublica won six Peter Lisagor Awards, recognizing the best journalism produced across the Chicago region. ProPublica projects won for best feature story, best illustration, best education reporting, best individual blog post, online best non-deadline reporting and online best feature story.
“Inside the Lives of Immigrant Teens Working Dangerous Night Shifts in Suburban Factories” by Melissa Sanchez won best feature story, as well as online best feature story or series. The piece revealed that immigrant teenagers as young as 13 or 14, who attend school by day, are routinely working in illegal and often dangerous jobs on factory assembly lines at night. Sanchez unveiled a world operating in plain sight in one Chicago suburb and in places like it around the country. The story prompted the high school the teenagers attended to convene meetings to discuss how to better support its students, and a number of residents in the area donated money to the families of the students. Artists Christie Tirado and Gaby Hurtado-Ramos won for best illustration for their work on the project.
“A Teenager Didn’t Do Her Online Schoolwork. So A Judge Sent Her to Juvenile Detention” by Jodi S. Cohen won for best non-deadline reporting in the online category. Co-published with the Detroit Free Press, Bridge Michigan and Bridge Detroit, the story examined the life of Grace, a 15-year-old Black girl who was jailed for not doing her online schoolwork after her school in suburban Detroit shifted to remote learning at the height of the pandemic’s first wave. The first story in the series attracted immediate global attention, prompting a #FreeGrace movement on social media, an online petition supported by more than 350,000 people and protests calling for her release. Members of Congress also asked the U.S. Department of Education and the Justice Department to intervene. Six days after the investigation was published, the judge involved in the case denied a motion for Grace’s release, but the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned that decision. Less than three weeks after the initial story came out, Grace was released from detention.
“The Pandemic and Illinois Schools: A Digital Divide, Vulnerable Students and Hidden Data,” a collaboration with the Chicago Tribune, won for best education reporting in the newspaper category. Reporters Cohen and Jennifer Smith Richards produced a collection of stories focusing on the impact of the pandemic on some of the state’s most at-risk students. The reporters conducted an in-depth examination of what the shift to remote learning meant for children who live in rural areas with limited internet access. Following the report, a local internet provider, in the rural district highlighted in the story, installed Wi-Fi service to connect families to the district network and an anonymous donor pledged to donate a dozen hot spots. The state began publishing the location and information about public hot spots across Illinois in an effort to help rural communities find access points.
Cohen and Richards also turned their attention to the state’s reluctance to release information about COVID-19 infections at schools. The lack of information frustrated parents and educators attempting to assess whether in-person learning was safe. Within two weeks of publication of the investigation, state health officials agreed to make the data public.
“A Sundown Town Sees Its First Black Lives Matter Protest” by Logan Jaffe won for best individual blog post-affiliated. Jaffe wrote about the young activists who organized a Black Lives Matter protest in the small town of Anna, Illinois, whose troubled racial history Jaffe had profiled in an earlier article.
In addition, Tony Briscoe won in the newspaper category for best science, health, technology or environment reporting for a story published in his previous position at the Tribune.
See a list of all this year’s Peter Lisagor Award winners here.