The Society of Professional Journalists announced Friday that ProPublica Illinois and ProPublica, in addition to the Anchorage Daily News and Reckon by AL.com — both participating newsrooms in the ProPublica Local Reporting Network — won four Sigma Delta Chi Awards.
“The Quiet Rooms,” a collaboration between ProPublica Illinois and the Chicago Tribune, won an award for investigative reporting. The series by ProPublica Illinois reporter Jodi S. Cohen, the Tribune’s Jennifer Smith Richards and former ProPublica Illinois reporting fellow Lakeidra Chavis showed how Illinois schools frequently put children in stark “isolated timeout” spaces, or physically restrained them, for reasons that violated state law.
After the series was published, Illinois’ governor and state education officials committed to sweeping change, beginning with emergency restrictions, and legislators began rallying around reform bills. The state board of education banned locked seclusion immediately. State officials also put new restrictions on schools’ use of physical restraint, including banning prone restraint. For the first time, Illinois is also monitoring restraint and timeout, with schools required to notify state officials within 48 hours of using the measures.
ProPublica won for public service in newsletter journalism, honoring emails that helped readers stay informed about and go deeper into ProPublica’s work. Specifically, two newsletters took readers inside the reporting process: “False Witness,” a newsletter on jailhouse snitches by senior reporter Pamela Colloff, which was written as a companion series to her ProPublica and New York Times Magazine feature, and “Disaster in the Pacific,” a deep dive into Navy preparedness, which accompanied the yearlong investigative project by reporters Robert Faturechi, T. Christian Miller and Megan Rose. “Not Shutting Up,” a column on the issues facing journalism and democracy by ProPublica’s President Richard Tofel, gave readers insight into the unique goals and practices of investigative journalism.
“Lawless” by the Anchorage Daily News won the award for public service journalism (daily circulation of 1-100,000). Led by Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins, the investigation uncovered a sexual assault crisis in Alaska and how it is compounded by a profound lack of public safety services. The series specifically laid bare Alaska’s failing, two-tiered criminal justice system in which rural indigenous communities are systematically denied first responders. For example, at least 70 communities have no local public safety officers.
After the series began publishing, the Department of Justice promised more than $52 million in federal funding for public safety in Alaska villages. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Anchorage also announced the hiring of additional rural prosecutors, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state will hire 15 additional state troopers. The Daily News’ Loren Holmes, Bill Roth, Marc Lester, Alex Demarban, Michelle Theriault Boots and Tess Williams, as well as ProPublica’s Adriana Gallardo, Beena Raghavendran and Nadia Sussman, also contributed to the series.
“Unchecked Power” by Reckon by AL.com won the award for public service journalism (non-daily publication). The series by Connor Sheets investigated the extraordinary power wielded by Alabama sheriffs and how the state’s patchwork system — in which each county has an elected sheriff — allows them to carry out unethical and illegal misconduct. The investigation found that Alabama sheriffs who lose reelection often turn their attention to undermining their successors in ways that abuse the public trust, including personally pocketing public money intended to feed inmates, deleting public records and even drilling holes in government-issued cellphones.
The revelations prompted state lawmakers and local officials to call for investigations and reforms, and six new sheriffs requested state audits of their office finances. At least three sheriffs reported the behavior to the Alabama Ethics Commission, and at least two sheriffs reported the most egregious allegations to their local district attorneys.