This was an amazing year for investigative journalism — especially around the country at the local level where nonprofit newsrooms are holding leaders accountable and covering the issues communities care about. Here are 20 important stories that had an impact around the United States in 2017.
Standing Up For Quality News
This year has reminded us why quality journalism matters like never before. From ProPublica’s investigation into why the U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world to Centro de Periodismo Investigativo’s journalists who faced incredible challenges and personal disasters while tirelessly covering their communities across Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. From MinnPost’s coverage of sexual harassment in the Minnesota Capitol, which led to the resignation of two legislators, to InvestigateWest’s reporting on the disarray at Washington State’s foster care program that prompt six new laws and $48 million in funding to keep kids safe.
As nonprofits, these newsrooms depend on donations to bring these stories to light. This kind of public powered reporting helps newsrooms take on the biggest stories facing our community and our nation, without fear or favor. That is why News Match is doubling donations to these newsrooms until the end of 2017. National and local funders have contributed more than $3 million to match your donations but time is running out!
The Institute for Nonprofit News has collected more than 60 of the most important local and investigative stories from nonprofit journalists this year. Below are 20 great examples from that list. Donate today to double your contribution — otherwise stories like these might not get told.
Reporting on Justice and Equity
1) Reporting by the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed how judges were funneling people into grueling labor at chicken factories under the guise of addiction rehab programs. The investigation led to class action lawsuits, government investigations and national companies probing their own supply chains.
2) The War Horse shined a spotlight on pandemic online sexual harassment of female Marines and veterans whose naked photos were posted without consent on a private Facebook group called Marines United. The reporting led to federal investigations and changes in military law.
3) The Lens revealed that prosecutors in New Orleans had sent fake subpoenas to uncooperative witnesses to pressure them to talk. After the story, prosecutors announced they would end the practice. Subsequent investigations found several people were jailed for ignoring the notices, resulting in a civil rights lawsuit.
4) The Food & Environment Reporting Network investigated an obscure legal provision behind a dramatic decline in land ownership by African-American farmers. The provision, only now being addressed, allowed developers and speculators to forcibly buy thousands of acres of farmland owned for generations by rural descendants of slaves.
5) The Trace, in partnership with more than a dozen local NBC TV stations, obtained more than 800,000 stolen and recovered gun records from more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies across the U.S. Reporters connected thousands of stolen firearms to crimes, including rapes, robberies, and murders.
Reporting on Health, Science, Environment
6) Original research by Orb Media revealed how microscopic plastic fibers have contaminated tap water around the world. The reporting spurred discussion, activism, and — in at least 10 countries — additional water testing.
7) The Center for Public Integrity reported that technicians at Los Alamos National Laboratory placed plutonium rods so close together in 2011 they nearly caused a deadly runaway nuclear chain reaction. In the wake of this story and others in a “Nuclear Negligence” series, the lab director announced he would retire early.
8) “Teflon Town: ChemFab’s Toxic Legacy” is a five-part series by VTDigger about the impact of chemical contamination from a Teflon fabric coating plant in North Bennington, Vermont. The series examined the history of the plant, the state’s unwillingness to require proper air emissions controls, and the impact on residents who have been sickened and can’t sell their homes.
9) The Intercept exposed how mercenary forces hired by the firm behind the Dakota Access Pipeline used tactics imported from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan against the indigenous-led water protector movement.
10) CALmatters exposed behind-the-scenes deals at the heart of legislation creating California’s cap-and-trade program that could result in hundreds of millions of dollars worth of benefits for the oil and agriculture industries.
Reporting on Children and Education
11) Months of reporting by InvestigateWest showed Washington State’s foster care program under strain and in disarray. The series helped prompt six new laws and $48 million in funding to keep children from being shuttled around to hotels or sleeping on the floors of caseworkers’ offices.
12) After two decades in an Indiana prison for the murder of her four-year-old son Michelle Jones was admitted to a doctoral program at New York University. The Marshall Project chronicled her story, reporting that helped to spark a national conversation about forgiveness and a prison higher education movement.
13) Chalkbeat investigated an Indiana online charter school getting millions of dollars in state funds and found few students graduating, contracts that raise ethics questions, and a 222-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.
14) The Hechinger Report used federal and state data to examine the effect of college loan debt on students dropping out before earning a degree. Reporting in collaboration with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution turned up a half-billion-dollar surplus in Georgia lottery funds designated for scholarships that was going unused while debt-ridden students drop out.
15) A San Diego charter school renowned for sending minority, low-income and disadvantaged students on to college, often on full scholarships, pressured its teachers to inflate grades, an inewsource investigation found. Once in college, these graduates often struggle, the reporting showed.
Reporting on Public Affairs
16) Oklahoma Watch uncovered campaign donations from oil and gas interests to every state legislator, with searchable data, and every gift and meal purchased for lawmakers during their latest session.
17) MinnPost revealed that a state senator had sexually harassed multiple women, including another lawmaker, and reported on the toxic culture for women at the Minnesota Capitol, coverage that led to the resignation of two legislators.
18) “A Legacy of Debt,” a special report by Connecticut Mirror, explained the consequences of one of America’s richest states failing for generations to adequately save for retirement benefits promised to teachers and state employees.
19) After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo checked the official death toll against accounts from hospitals, police reports and social media posts and found huge discrepancies in the official stats, slowing identification and burial of victims, and affecting public perception of the crisis.
20) An investigation by Pine Tree Watch prompted a legislative inquiry into hundreds of millions of dollars of spending by Maine PowerOptions, a state-sponsored consortium that helps municipalities and school districts buy electricity.