Sunday, December 10, 2017

Reporters covering rural communities and issues in ProPublica's new Local Reporting Network

Seven local newsrooms and reporters, several of them covering rural communities and issues, have been picked from 239 applicants to start the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

The nonprofit, investigative news organization created the network "to support investigative journalism at local and regional news organizations, particularly in cities with populations below 1 million," it says. "ProPublica will reimburse the newsrooms for salary for the selected reporters and provide extensive support and guidance for their stories. . . . The projects selected by editors should surprise and probe deeply, with the potential to spur positive change."

The network members include the Malheur Enterprise, a weekly newspaper in Vale, Ore., which will hire Jayme Fraser, now a reporter with The Missoulian in Montana, as a third reporter. "Fraser will build on the Enterprise’s work investigating the circumstances of the release by state officials of [a man] accused of murder and assault following his release," the Enterprise reports. "Fraser will delve into Oregon’s system for dealing with those guilty of crimes but insane."

Others whom ProPublica selected for the reporting network are:

Molly Parker, a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale. She "plans to focus on issues related to low-income and federally subsidized housing, particularly, she said, where it concerns the health and safety of residents and the viability of the surrounding communities and neighborhoods in high-poverty areas," the SI reports. "For the past two and a half years, Parker has reported on severe mismanagement of funds and facilities and the neglect of Alexander County's housing projects, which led HUD to take over the local housing authority. HUD is relocating residents from complexes known as McBride and Elmwood and plans to demolish them once everyone has moved."

Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the leading environmental reporter in Appalachia, "will be investigating the effects of West Virginia’s economic transition as the coal industry declines and natural gas has become a more dominant industry," the newspaper reports. ProPublica reports, "In 2014, when a chemical leak contaminated the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of people, Ward exposed significant flaws in federal safety guidelines for the chemicals and in the state’s water sampling program. His disclosures led to the appointment of an independent scientific team to examine the spill’s impacts." He told the Columbia Journalism Review a few years ago,“I can’t think of many places that are in need of good journalism more than West Virginia is, or what higher calling journalists have than to try to write stories that make their home a better place.”

Rebekah Allen, a reporter for The Advocate in Baton Rouge, La., which also covers New Orleans. The newspaper hasn't reported what she will be working on. ProPublica reports, "She is a member of the paper’s small team of reporters focused on investigative projects and enterprise stories. Last year, she produced a three-part series highlighting how the state’s powerful nursing home lobby fought off efforts to make it easier for the elderly and disabled to receive care in their homes."

Rebecca Moss of the Santa Fe New Mexican, "who has covered energy and environment issues for the paper since 2015," it reports, also without revealing what she and ProPublica will investigate. ProPublica reports, "Last year, she co-wrote an article about how a company that processes and distributes fertilizers and other agricultural products had found a friendlier regulatory climate under the state’s Republican governor than under her predecessor. And this year, she wrote about how a New Mexico town had stepped up to be part of a nuclear waste disposal experiment, even as other states and towns had balked."

Abe Aboraya, a Health News Florida reporter based at WMFE in Orlando. "Aboraya has covered the deadly shooting at the Pulse nightclub and produced an hour-long documentary and podcast on the health care workers who responded to the massacre," ProPublica reports. "Aboraya has also looked at HIV’s impact in Florida and how state budget cuts have reduced access to prenatal care."

Christian Sheckler of the South Bend Tribune, who has covered police and public safety stories for the northeast Indiana paper "and recently took on a new assignment covering education," it reports, without revealing what he will work on. His executive editor told him recently that there are two types of police reporters: "Those who try to make friends with officers and get rewarded with juicy tips about crimes, and those who press for answers on such thorny topics as civil rights, misconduct and accountability." He has chosen the second approach, and “That hasn’t gotten me invited to any barbecues,” he wrote in his application, “but I believe I’ve better served my readers with aggressive reporting on issues such as excessive force, the imperfect protective order system for domestic battery victims and policies on deadly high-speed police chases.”

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