Apply now for local accountability projects starting April 1! Deadline to apply is January 31.
ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network pays the salary and a stipend for benefits for reporters at news organizations across the country so they can spend a year working on an accountability journalism project of importance to their communities.
We seek to help news organizations publish projects and stories that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do — at least not with the same level of rigor. We also provide editing support, along with data, research, design and audience/engagement assistance.
You can learn more about our previous work and how to get involved below.
Here’s more about the Local Reporting Network.
- January 7: Applications open for local accountability projects to begin on April 1
- January 31: Applications close for local accountability projects to begin on April 1
What We’re Looking for in a Project
When we evaluate proposals for the Local Reporting Network, we’re looking for accountability stories that need to be told in particular regions, that would benefit from our support and that have a clear plan to achieve success. Here are questions that we ask of each project:
Is this an accountability project?
We’re looking for projects that our own staffers would undertake, ones that dovetail with our mission: to expose abuses of power and betrayals of the public trust by government, business and other institutions, using the moral force of investigative journalism to spur reform through the sustained spotlighting of wrongdoing.
Is this project investigative enough?
You should be able to answer these three questions: What’s wrong? Who or what is responsible? What needs to be changed? On the last question, we’re not asking you to be an editorial writer. Rather, we want you to talk to experts and others to identify possible solutions or find regions/companies/agencies that have confronted similar problems and solved them. Spend some time on our website reading our recent work and try to assess what our staff can do specifically to help you advance the reporting.
Why here? And why now?
We’re not looking for national problems that a news organization can localize. Instead, we’re interested in proposals with a connection to the community in which your news organization is located. An example: In the first year of the LRN, we received 18 proposals dealing with opioid abuse. While the topic is undoubtedly important in many communities, none stood out from the pack because they all were related to a national problem. Check the IRE archives for similar projects on the topic. Avoid trying to re-create a project that has already been done well elsewhere.
What is unusual or distinctive about your local area and its issues?
Bad water quality? An especially cozy state legislature? The corporate headquarters of a particularly interesting company? A place distinctive in its racial or ethnic makeup? Keep asking yourself this central question and refining your pitch. Take a look at our 2019 projects from the Anchorage Daily News, The Public’s Radio (Providence, Rhode Island) and The Sacramento Bee.
Does the proposal have a clear hypothesis?
We’re disinclined to pursue explanatory or exploratory projects, stories that ask “whether” something is happening or attribute problems to broad systems.
How would you approach this project?
Pre-reporting is critical. Offer a reporting plan with specific story ideas. Find out what experts have had to say about your subject. Include summaries of travel that will be required, agencies that have relevant documents and any projected costs. Get going on public records requests. Find out what data is available. The more you know, the more convincing your pitch will be.
We know you’re seeking the time to report out the project, and we don’t expect to see 12 months of work in a project proposal, but we are looking for evidence that your idea is feasible and deserves a spot over other worthy proposals. Anecdotes, preliminary data, documents and whistleblowers can all help.
Why are you and your news organization best positioned to tell this story?
Is it personal experiences, years living in one location, time devoted to a specific beat or unusual access to data or documents? Convince us that you have something special to say about a local issue. And if you are proposing to cover an issue that affects a particular community, tell us what that community’s current relationship is like with your publication and what your experience is covering that community.
Would this project be done without us?
The answer to this question doesn’t have to be an absolute no, but we have to see the value we can bring to the project. In some proposals, we have a clear sense that a news organization is going to pursue the topic with or without us. That’s great, but it makes a less compelling case about why our support is vital. Our Local Reporting Network has a dedicated staff with expertise in research, data analysis, community engagement, audience development, production and design that can help elevate a project.
FAQ About the Proposals
Can you explain the difference between the various groupings within the Local Reporting Network?
Our original Local Reporting Network is not topic-specific and is open to any local accountability ideas from newsrooms in cities with populations below 1 million. A second group of projects is focused on state government, broadly defined, which can include politics, lobbying, conflicts of interest and the agencies, programs or operations of state government. Finally, we have a group that starts midyear that has similar parameters to our original Local Reporting Network, except that it is open to all local newsrooms, regardless of population size. None of the groups is open to national news organizations.
When are applications due?
Applications for state government projects will be accepted in September. Applications for our original Local Reporting Network will be accepted in October. If you want to be added to our list to receive updates on specific deadlines, sign up here.
Can a newsroom submit more than one idea? And can it apply to different groups of the Local Reporting Network?
Yes. Newsrooms can submit ideas to both. In fact, newsrooms can submit multiple ideas in each round of applications.
What subjects are best suited to this program?
Our local reporting initiative has the same mission as that of ProPublica overall: to spur change through stories with moral force. At ProPublica, we tell stories involving abuses of power or betrayals of the public trust. Within the Local Reporting Network, we are interested in accountability projects — those that expose something that is broken or isn’t working as it should and clearly explains why — as opposed to explanatory or feature pieces.
If our news organization is applying to be part of the state government group, do we have to have a state capital bureau? And does the reporter have to be based in the state capital?
No and no. We recognize that some news organizations don’t have capital bureaus and may be located hours away from their state capitals. While we generally expect that at least some of the reporting will take place there, the reporter does not have to be based in the capital full time.
How detailed should we make our proposal if the deep reporting is ahead of us?
We know that the best stories take unanticipated turns. That said, there are several questions we hope your proposal will address: What’s wrong? Who or what is responsible? And what needs to change? (We’re not asking you to be opinion writers but rather to share ideas you have heard from experts and sources.) If you’re considering an idea relating to a trend, please check whether any data exists that might prove (or disprove) your story idea. It would also be helpful to provide a rough story plan: What are the stories you might pursue and how will your project distinguish itself from previous coverage? Tell us how your region/state and your newsroom are uniquely positioned to tell this story.
At ProPublica, we try to send reporters after stories that we feel would not be done if we did not exist. While we’ll give preference to ideas that break new ground, we could well underwrite reporting that significantly expands on a subject that has already been the focus of some reporting. We encourage you to propose reporting that time or resource constraints have prevented you from doing. That was the case with AL.com reporter Connor Sheets and his 2019 project on Alabama sheriffs (which followed stories from the prior year), as well as Southern Illinoisan reporter Molly Parker’s 2018 project on oversight of public housing (which originated with her reporting on failed public housing projects in her area).
What should I do if I have an idea but my editor isn’t interested in being part of the LRN?
Projects can only work with the support of a newsroom’s leaders. That said, if your editor is up for it, we’re happy to talk to him or her about the benefits of collaboration, how co-publishing works and whether your project might be a good fit.
We are based outside the United States. Can we apply?
At this time, the Local Reporting Network is only open to news organizations in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
Can we run our idea by you before applying?
Yes. Operators are standing by. In all seriousness, we want to help you make your proposal the best it can be. A team of ProPublica reporters and editors are willing to read a draft of your proposal and give you our thoughts. You can email us your draft or any other questions you have to [email protected].
FAQ About the Program
Will our reporter continue to work for us?
Yes, your reporter will continue to be based in your newsroom, and your organization will designate your lead editor. They will work hand in hand with a ProPublica senior editor who will offer guidance on making the stories from each of our Local Reporting Network partners as powerful and well-executed as they can be. That ProPublica editor will also help assess whether there are ways that our expertise with data, research, engagement, audience or production teams could be of use.
The key decisions about how the story will be reported and written will be made in collaboration between us and your newsroom. Since we plan to jointly publish stories that result from this collaboration, that will mean, as in all of our partnerships, producing work that meets the standards of both your organization and ProPublica.
This sounds tricky, and it can sometimes get complicated. But through literally hundreds of partnerships, we’ve found that when people are truly committed to collaborating, there’s always a way to make it work.
Can reporters in the network work on other stories while they’re doing their investigative projects?
The goal of this initiative is to give your newsroom the resources and help to execute accountability stories that would not otherwise have been possible. We expect the reporter will be working on that full time. Having said that, we understand that other, crucial stories may come up. If that happens, we are confident we can all settle on a plan that works for everyone.
If I’m a reporter, what happens if another job opportunity comes up?
This is a 12-month commitment, and by accepting this position, you are agreeing in good faith to stay for the duration. Obviously we know family emergencies and other situations may come up, but you should expect to commit to working on this project for the entire year. If you have doubts, you may not want to apply.
How many stories are we expected to produce under this grant?
We’ve never found quotas particularly useful. Our reporters aim to produce a body of work each year that offers the possibility of prompting change. That said, our Local Reporting Network partners have, on average, produced four to eight major stories over the course of the year, as well as several more minor stories. Sometimes, the stories are part of a traditional multipart series or a single story, with appropriate follow-ups. But more often, the stories are rolled out individually as they are completed. The goal is impact, and there are many routes to achieving it.
What if we drill a dry hole?
This is always possible in investigative reporting, but our experience has shown it is unlikely. Send motivated reporters after a promising subject and they almost inevitably find intriguing material, including things they were not looking for when they began their research. Our plan is for our senior editor in charge of this project to be in regular touch with the newsrooms receiving the grants. If a story idea doesn’t work out, we will encourage the newsroom involved to come up with something else.
What kind of support can I expect from ProPublica?
In addition to editing help to conceptualize and write your stories, we also have a team of staff on our research, data/news applications, engagement, audience and production desks dedicated to helping our partner newsrooms.
What happens if we do so well, there’s more than a year’s work?
We should all be so lucky! Our intention is to give one-year grants. If a newsroom taps into something that is among the most promising proposals in the next round of applications, it would get serious consideration.
What about other costs, such as travel or public records requests?
News organizations should expect to incur most of those costs, though ProPublica has set aside some funding to offset those expenses. You should consult with us in advance about splitting costs. We will not pay to set up a statehouse bureau, for equipment or for travel back and forth from your capital, for example.
Are there any co-publishing requirements my newsroom should know about?
Yes! We ask that all co-published stories credit the Local Reporting Network and promote our Big Story newsletter at the top. We also ask that partners embed our Pixel Ping code and share audience data on our co-published stories. We are happy to do the same.