Watch: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is one of at least 12 local U.S. newsrooms receiving grants this year to make ambitious, high-impact journalism for local audiences as part of the Pulitzer Center’s Bringing Stories Home initiative. Milwaukee reporter Rick Barrett investigated how global and market pressures are devastating America’s dairy industry, bankrupting Wisconsin farmers, and squeezing the state’s economy. His series has already captured the attention of state lawmakers.
Last year, the Facebook Journalism Project announced it would do more to support local news in communities where it is struggling to survive. One of our goals was to provide funding and help local journalists and newsrooms with their newsgathering needs. As part of these efforts, we supported the Pulitzer Center with a $5 million endowment gift to launch Bringing Stories Home, a new initiative that offers reporting grants to local newsrooms across the country, aiming to support coverage of issues that affect their communities.
Over the past six months, Bringing Stories Home has helped fund enterprise reporting projects and community engagement with nearly a dozen regional news organizations. Reporters have covered topics ranging from police corruption and hate crimes to the challenges immigrants face when they seek asylum in the U.S.
Below, you can read highlights of stories from six of the first-year projects. We’re proud to continue our support on this initiative that’s bringing important, under-reported stories to local communities.
‘Dairy in Distress’
By Rick Barrett at The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, May 2019
“There was a time when the soft glow of barn lights dotted Wisconsin’s rural landscape like stars in a constellation, connecting families who labored into the night milking cows, feeding calves and finishing chores.”
The story: “Dairy farmers are in crisis — and it could change Wisconsin forever”
Nearly 3,000 U.S. dairy farms shut down in 2018, and Wisconsin was hit the hardest. In a multi-part series called “Dairyland in Distress,” reporter Rick Barrett wrote a deeply researched portrait of how the issue affects the state’s economy, identity, and culture.
The impact: Members of Congress and other stakeholders have cited the story in calls for changes in agricultural policy. “We always aim high on our projects and investigations,” said Barrett’s editor, George Stanley. “The grant money allowed us to aim even higher.”
‘Cops and Robbers’
By Justin Fenton at The Baltimore Sun, June 2019
“Wayne Jenkins was living a double life. Then 34, he was already an admired leader of aggressive street squads and would go on to head the elite Gun Trace Task Force, one of the Baltimore Police Department’s go-to assets in the fight against violent crime. He was also the ringleader of a criminal enterprise of police officers who were robbing people and dealing drugs.”
The stories: Parts I, II, and III
Reporter Justin Fenton uncovered the abuse of power by an elite Baltimore Police unit in a three-part multimedia feature. He combed through thousands of pages of court records, hundreds of emails and restricted files, and dozens of body camera videos to produce the story. Listen to him tell the story of reporting the project here.
The impact: Fenton appeared on local radio shows. National news outlets including Poynter, The Marshall Project, and The Athletic wrote about the series. Editors at The Washington Post, ProPublica, and the Cato Institute, along with The Good Wife actor Josh Charles, shared the story on Twitter. Baltimore radio talk-show host Larry Young said, “This story is being talked about in every barber shop and hair salon in the state.”
‘A Lost Generation’
By Perla Trevizo at the Arizona Daily Star, La Estrella Tucson, April 2019
“HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala — Amidst the chaos of third-graders getting ready for recess, a small empty desk stands out. The child who used to sit there is gone, having left for the United States with his father.”
The story: “Passports to the American dream: Mounting debt, few opportunities keep Guatemalans coming”
Diving deeper than national headlines into the migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border in Tucson, Arizona, reporter Perla Trevizo traveled to Guatemala, where a significant number of Central American migrants arriving at the border are from. Visiting schools and homes, she reported a multi-part series for the Arizona Daily Star and its Spanish-language sister publication, La Estrella de Tucsón, and uncovered a vicious cycle of debt that forces families to leave for the U.S.
The impact: The Arizona Daily Star‘s editor, Jill Jorden Spitz, said she committed to running the story “for our community, but also to help inform the world beyond, where opinions about the border are strong, but sometimes understanding of life here is weak. In this instance we found some instances of chronic mis-reporting and felt it was important to set the record straight, both to our community and to the world beyond.”
‘Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson’
Project led by Richard Weiss, published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis American, and St. Louis Public Radio, July 2019
St. Louis, Missouri
“In the early hours of July 7, 2018, Teddy Washington was among a group of incoming Washington University freshmen who had just left an IHOP in Clayton, where they had eaten and paid their bills. Coincidentally, others had left the restaurant about the same time without paying their tab. The manager called the police, who stopped Teddy and his group as they were walking down Brentwood Boulevard to a MetroLink station.”
The story: “For one St. Louis family, the long road to justice began years ago”
The Pulitzer Center is supporting Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson, a storytelling project that traces systemic racism through generations of African American families in St. Louis. The initiative includes holding public events with the families featured in the series.
Journalist Richard Weiss profiled a teenager who was racially profiled by police at an IHOP restaurant. Weiss’s reporting went beyond the national headlines about the Washington parents’ formal complaint to police, exploring the story of the family’s history in St. Louis.
The impact: Days before the story was published, Clayton government officials released a plan for addressing racial inequality in the community. Weiss’s stories were published in the St. Louis American, the leading newspaper for St. Louis’s African-American community, and appeared on the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Public Radio. “With the Pulitzer Center’s support and guidance,” Weiss said, “we are looking forward to bringing the Washingtons to community events where they can bear witness to their experience, and where we can challenge participants to think ‘#onethingicando’ to address racial inequities in their community.”
‘Fleeing Violence, Mexicans Seek Asylum in the U.S.’
By Rebecca Plevin and Omar Ornelas, published in The Desert Sun, Salem Statesman Journal, The Arizona Republic, and Animal Politico, February and March 2019
Palm Springs, California
“One evening in November, Evelia was frying eggs for dinner when the phone rang. The voice on the other end told her to look out the window.”
The stories: Parts I, II, III, IV
Focusing on the spike in Mexicans seeking asylum at the U.S. border, reporter Rebecca Plevin and photojournalist Omar Ornelas traveled to Guerrero, Mexico, and to Oregon, to tell the story of Mexicans who fled for their lives because of cartel-related violence.
The impact: The four-part project was published in The Desert Sun, Salem Statesman Journal, and The Arizona Republic, and parts were also featured in USA Today. “Through a partnership with the Mexican website Animal Politico, we were able to reach a bilingual audience on both sides of the border,” said The Desert Sun‘s editor, Julie Makinen. The funding from Bringing Stories Home made the story possible. “Our annual travel budget would have been totally consumed by this project alone,” she said.
‘Asset Forfeiture in Texas’
By Jolie McCullough, Acacia Coronado, and Chris Essig in The Texas Tribune, June 2019
“Police seizures have been slammed by property rights advocates and critics across the political spectrum, who say civil asset forfeiture gives too much power to police and provides a strong financial incentive for them to take money and valuables. But it’s also fiercely defended by police and prosecutors, who argue the practice is a necessary tool to combat criminal organizations like drug cartels by hitting them where it hurts — in their profits.”
The story: “Texas police can seize money and property with little transparency. So we got the data ourselves.”
Civil asset forfeiture is a common, controversial law enforcement tactic in which police can take money and property from criminal suspects even if they’ve never been charged with a crime. In a sweeping data analysis, The Texas Tribune outlined the seizure of nearly $10 million and 100 vehicles by Texas police. Digging into thousands of court records, they shed light on a national issue as it affects the residents of Texas.
The impact: Dave Harmon, editor of The Texas Tribune’s investigative projects team, said the project is the best kind of public-service journalism. “I don’t think it’s been on most citizens’ radar because it’s had so little media attention and it doesn’t spark big court battles or affect powerful political interests,” he said. “I think we have revealed how commonly it’s used by police in Texas, how often it’s used under questionable circumstances, and how often money and property is taken from people when police don’t even file criminal charges.”