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Nonprofit News Awards

The Nonprofit News Awards are designed to recognize areas in which nonprofit newsrooms excel, including  deep and expert explanatory coverage, investigative reporting, extensive  newsroom collaboration and civic coverage, community-building and the expansion of public engagement and trust — elements that are reshaping and restoring news media.

2021 Award Winners

In 2021, INN received 415 entries for 24 awards across nine categories. A total of 121 news organizations submitted entries. Entries were  judged by panels that included journalists from across INN’s member newsrooms, academia and respected retired journalists. Their comments are summarized, below.

Best Investigative Journalism Award

Honors a single story or series that uncovered significant and impactful news based on the reporters’ own investigation and which advances and serves the public interest. Judges will consider the impact of the work through subsequent coverage or resulting policy changes.

Small Newsroom

WINNER: Spotlight DC – “Thousands of D.C. Renters Are Evicted Every Year. Do They All Know To Show Up To Court?

Spotlight DC’s investigation into fraud in the eviction system stood out for both its scope and significant impact. The nine-month investigation included looking through more than 13,000 pages of court records, conducting nearly 60 interviews, and reviewing hours of security camera footage to uncover more than 600 cases of questionable affidavits that informed tenants of eviction proceedings. The day after the report came out, the city council responded to the probe by closing the loophole. The judges applaud Joshua Kaplan and the Spotlight DC team for their tenacious work on behalf of their community. 

Honorable Mentions: 

Medium Newsroom

WINNER: Colorado News Collaborative (COLab) – “Three Bullets to the Back

Compelling, well-sourced and moving storytelling that exposes misdeeds at various levels in a small community and produces tangible results that make the community a better place to live. The reporting includes small-town attitudes as being part of the problem because critical reporting in that atmosphere is challenging. A Google search shows all of the reporting by other media outlets comes from this project. The COLab lived its mission in this report by making sure a small news partner had the resources but also personal backing to tell an important story.

Honorable Mentions:

Large Newsroom

WINNER: Spotlight PA – “Fundamental Flaws

“Fundamental Flaws” is a comprehensive examination of drug and alcohol treatment facilities in Pennsylvania that weaves in heartbreaking personal stories with extensive interviews and analysis of government and court records.

Honorable Mentions: 

Super Newsroom

WINNER: The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, “The FinCEN Files

One of the most extraordinary investigative series in the modern history of investigative journalism. The degree of difficulty is off the charts. The coordination and expertise needed to understand and explain this story is testament to the dedication and determination of these editors, writers and researchers. And then they top it off with writing that is both clear and dramatic.

Honorable Mentions: 

Insight Award for Explanatory Journalism

Honors a single story or a series of explanatory reporting that provides insight and understanding of a significant and complex subject. Entries may include stories/images/multimedia that are part of a single series, or up to three stories and accompanying images/multimedia from coverage of a single beat.

Small Newsroom

WINNER: Cicero Independiente – “Unrest in Cicero: How One Day Shook a Town

This work on race relations included the combination of superb multimedia and on the ground reporting that probes communities difficult to access and cover.

Honorable Mentions: 

Medium Newsroom

WINNER: Oklahoma Watch – “‘God, Please Keep Us Safe’: Amid COVID, an Oklahoma Nursing Home Faces Impossible Decisions

Compelling, beautifully written, heart wrenching at times — and packed with insights about the real life impact of the pandemic, policies and mandates, hour by hour, week by week, on one family-owned nursing home in a small town, their residents, caretakers and families. 

Honorable Mentions: 

Large Newsroom

WINNER: Resolve Philly – “In the Child Welfare System, Black Families Should Matter

Our judges found this series by Investigative Solutions Reporter Steve Volk to be amazingly well produced and reported. Volk personalizes the people behind the statistics of Black youth in foster care, and shows a model being used elsewhere that helps weed out racism from the system that removes kids from their families.

Honorable Mentions: 

Super Newsroom

WINNER: The Marshall Project in partnership with NPR – “Foster Care Agencies Take Millions of Dollars Owed to Kids. Most Children Have No Idea.

This coverage revealed and explained in clear language a shocking but legal practice taking place across the United States: the diversion of up to $165 million a year in federal payments from foster children, often without their knowledge. The stories sparked instant reactions from state and federal politicians that could lead to needed change. In addition to revealing this little known side of foster care funding, the series offered step-by-step guidance to foster children on how to retrieve the Social Security payments they may be owed. And the series offered policy prescriptions for how states and counties could build a more humane system, one that provides financial support for the children who often end up poor — even homeless — when they age out of foster care.

Honorable Mentions:

Breaking Barriers Award

Honors reporting that brought new understanding to an issue or topic affecting people or communities that are historically underrepresented, disadvantaged or marginalized, resulting in impactful change. Entries may include single stories, stories/images/multimedia that are part of a series, or up to three stories and accompanying images/multimedia from coverage of a single beat.

Small Newsroom

WINNER: Cicero Independiente – “Unrest in Cicero: How One Day Shook a Town

Cicero Independiente’s coverage of anti-Black racism deserves congratulations for the careful context and overall approach the staff took to this sensitive subject. The reporting, such as how to talk to older Latinx residents, has a focus on actions to be taken moving forward and the perspective of the community is central to every aspect of this project. The newsroom has continued to thoughtfully engage with this subject as the conversation continues.

Honorable Mentions:

Medium Newsroom

WINNER: MLK50: Justice Through Journalism – How a Black community fought a pipeline developer – and won

At its best, nonprofit news advocates for its community, fighting abuses of power. MLK50 delivered on that highest calling in a big way — and has the impact to show for it. Reporter Carrington J. Tatum broke the story of the use of eminent domain to take land from black homeowners for a pipeline in Southwest Memphis. He laid bare the stories of homeowners who found themselves in what they saw as an unwinnable fight, highlighting the real human impact of what could easily have been a stale legal story. That humanity inspired protests and political activity, which informed more reporting in a virtuous cycle. Tatum’s dogged reporting paid off: Within six months, Developers of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline dropped the project. MLK50’s work embodies the Breaking Barriers award, and we’re honored to recognize their work.

Honorable Mentions: 

Large Newsroom

WINNER: THE CITY – How Los Deliveristas Unidos Banded Together

This reporting is vivid and full of voices. THE CITY’s reporting on immigrant delivery workers also felt timely and urgent and impactful. New York City passed a sweeping set of laws just two weeks ago to help address many of the problems presented in these stories.

Honorable Mention: 

Super Newsroom

WINNER: Retro Report – “Bringing Midwifery Back to Black Mothers

This work highlighted a century-old problem that has profoundly affected a large number of women of color, both those providing care and the expectant mothers who need help. The piece spoke with people acting to address the problem directly in the community most affected and provided the clear benefit of the work being done. The piece provided both historical context and powerful modern-day examples of how the traditional medical system is failing expectant mothers of color.

Honorable Mentions:

Community Champion Award

Honors an INN member organization that made a significant contribution to the well-being of its community through a journalism-centered project or service.

Small Newsroom

WINNER: Open Vallejo – Coverage of the Vallejo Police Department

It launched in July 2020 with its first investigation, into a police ritual bending the points of badges to mark killings. As the only investigative newsroom in a news desert, Open Vallejo is keeping the police department and government accountable to the public. 

Honorable Mentions:

Medium Newsroom

WINNER: The Beacon – Helping Kansas Citians vote safely in a pandemic

Many organizations publish election guides but few do it with this level of outreach and impact. The Beacon worked with community partners in advance of the 2020 elections to connect to disenfranchised and discriminated voters and published election guides in five languages, helping people figure out how to vote in a pandemic. The guides were distributed all over, but especially in zip codes with low voter turnout. Their reporting also led to higher security on election websites, young people signing up to be poll workers and the installation of more ballot boxes in communities. The judges applaud them for partnering left and right and responding in real time to election barriers.

Honorable Mentions:

Large Newsroom

WINNER: Block Club Chicago – Block Club’s Free Coronavirus Hotline

The judges were impressed with the dedication to community shown by Block Club in standing up its coronavirus hotline. While many newsrooms eventually copied aspects of their approach, Block Club was one of the first to realize the important, direct role newsrooms could play in keeping their communities safe by sharing trustworthy, accurate information, person by person. Their service to community is a strong tribute to the values they hold in their newsroom.

Honorable Mentions:

Super Newsroom

WINNER: The Marshall Project – The sweeping impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated people in the U.S.

This package is exceptionally well reported, said the judges, and it covers a community that is easily ignored and rarely written about in a way that recognizes prison inmates as fellow human beings. The investigative reporting turned up stories essential for the wider community’s COVID-19 response and likely saved lives. Partnering with major news outlets expanded the impact.

Honorable Mentions:

Game-Changer Award

For an organization that produced an innovative idea or practice that led to success in revenue, audience growth or sustainable financial support of news.

Small Newsroom

WINNER: Dallas Free Press – “We’re texting the news!

This was a smart use of text messaging to grow readership and serve a community. The Free Press launched its texting service in English and Spanish to residents of South and West Dallas, and tries to send three texts a week — one highlighting a resource from their neighborhood resource maps; one highlighting upcoming community events; and one with links to their stories from the week. Residents’ answers to text questions often shapes their coverage and the team says they use texting as a “barometer to gauge what resonates with our communities, and what doesn’t.”

Medium Newsroom

WINNER: Documented – Use of WhatsApp to reach Spanish-speaking immigrants

The project’s creative use of multiple out-of-the-box approaches, including layering in Facebook Live sessions with the rapid and direct responses provided via WhatsApp, showed a commitment to going where people are, rather than expecting them to come to a news source themselves. The Documented team’s outreach determined where the community was, before working to build audience interaction on that platform. And Documented’s dedication to tracking and explaining their success made their work a potential model for other news outlets, as well as ably serving their own community.

Large Newsroom

WINNER: Block Club Chicago – Block Club Merchandise

At a time when everyone is looking for ways to strengthen their bottom line, provide more resources for critical reporting and build connections and relationships with their community, Block Club has put together a plan that accomplishes all three. Other newsrooms could learn from the innovative and effective way Block Club Chicago has integrated merchandise into their revenue and engagement strategies.

Honorable Mention: 

Bridge Michigan – “Turning COVID & Election Crises into Growth”

Super Newsroom

WINNER: The Oaklandside – Mission Metrics

The Oaklandside could produce a master class in how to launch a truly community-centered news organization. Its attention to the community’s needs and interests and the systematic effort to put the community at the center of everything the organization does is admirable and not easy. Its audience growth reflects the value of that effort.

Honorable Mention: 

Startup of the Year Award

Honors a young organization (operating for less than 3 years) for establishing strong journalism and the revenue, reader and community support to sustain it. (One award across size tiers)

WINNER: Mississippi Free Press

Mississippi Free Press is doing super impressive work on all fronts – journalism that doesn’t just inform Mississippians but also leads the way for national readers and media outlets. They have created a statewide presence in a short period of time and they clearly have very strong growth in revenue size and diversity. Their projects are innovative and approach the audience as partner, and they are performing genuinely leading edge work on building a young, diverse audience.

Honorable Mentions:

Journalism Partnership of the Year Award

Honors a news-oriented project or ongoing partnership that exemplifies the culture of sharing and cooperation in nonprofit news and expands the impact of its journalism. Nominations may include a member’s partnership with other newsrooms (regardless of INN membership) or other organizations, or its work to share data, specialized reporting or other shared resources with other members. (One award across size tiers)

WINNER: SJV Water and Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism, “The Central California Town That Keeps Sinking

This entry rose to the top of a very competitive field because it so beautifully illustrates three key aspects of news partnerships: one, the partners chose areas of strength that complemented each other, which allowed them to achieve reporting together that would have been challenging or impossible separately, as a one-person newsroom being supported by eight staff members at CCIJ. Two, their partnership exponentially increased the impact of the reporting, with the story being co-published by The New York Times and translated for republishing opportunities in Mexico, Central America, South America, and Africa. Finally, the scale of the data investigation, which involved sifting through more than 1 million records, was combined with photographs, animation and graphics to create a compelling and clear narrative for a complex subject.

Honorable Mentions:

Emerging Leader of the Year Award

Honors an individual with fewer than five years in executive leadership who is building a sustainable organization, models positive and innovative leadership, demonstrates a strong commitment to equity and inclusion, and a deep commitment to serving their community: An emerging luminary in the field. (One award across size tiers)

WINNER: Mukhtar Ibrahim — Founder, Editor and Executive Director of Sahan Journal

Ibrahim is a leader not only for Sahan Journal, one of the truly bright lights in journalism to emerge in recent times. He also has created an opportunity, through Sahan Journal, for the future Minnesotan majority to see itself in action in real time. And he’s demonstrated for the rest of the field how to hold fast to the core principles and practices of great journalism, while also publicly articulating his, and Sahan Journals, commitment to service and change.bIbrahim previously covered Minneapolis city government and local affairs for the Star Tribune and wrote about national security and immigration for Minnesota Public Radio News.

Honorable Mentions:

INN Nonprofit News Lifetime Achievement Award

Honors an individual who has made significant, innovative and lasting contributions to the field of independent, nonprofit news, reflecting the spirit of INN’s creation. (One award across size tiers)

WINNER: Charles Lewis — Executive Editor of Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University

Lewis, a former ABC News and CBS News “60 Minutes” producer, founded two Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit news organizations: the award-winning, nonprofit Center for Public Integrity (1989) and its International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (1997), the first global network of premier investigative reporters to develop and publish online multimedia exposés across borders. Lewis is the founding executive editor of the Investigative Reporting Workshop and the author of “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity” (2014).

Acknowledgements

INN is grateful to the FORTUNE Journalism PleasrFund, which provided INN with a general support grant that allowed us to award cash prizes to the NNA winners.

Thank you to our judges:

Joel Abrams, The Conversation

Suzanne Behnke, Iowa Watch

John Christie, Maine Monitor

Mike Dang, The Counter

Joni Deutsch, WFAE

Cassi Feldman, Type Media Center

Daniela Gerson, CSU Northridge

Ilan Greenberg, Coda Story

Dee Hall, Wisconsin Watch

Mark Horvit, Columbia Missourian

Brant Houston, Wisconsin Watch

Steve Katz, Mother Jones

Suzanne McBride, Columbia College Chicago

Robert Moore, El Paso Matters

Stacy Morford, The Conversation

Lyle Muller, Iowa Watch

Kate Myers, Center for Public Integrity

Marcia Parker , CalMatters

John Rudolph, Feet in 2 Worlds

Ryan Scnurr, Belt Mag

Christian Skotte, Grist

Scott Smallwood, Open Campus

Dylan Smith, Tucson Sentinel

Karen Stabiner, The Counter

Elizabeth Thompson, The Nevada Independent

Scott Woelfel, Public Broadcasting Atlanta

Matt Wynn, Nebraska Journalism Trust

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