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INN-led collaborations in 2020 tackle COVID in rural U.S., new mayor in Chicago

March 24, 2021

In a comprehensive story detailing the effects of COVID-19 on Schurz Elementary School on a reservation in the Nevada desert, reporters Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez and Jackie Valley of The Nevada Independent revealed that “Prior to the pandemic, 80 percent of households on the Walker River reservation had a computer, but only 60 percent had access to broadband internet service. Now, every single family with a student has a computer or a Chromebook and internet access.”

That encouraging finding is just one nugget among many challenges and opportunities identified in 25 stories published over five months in INN’s collaboration called “Lesson Plans: Rural schools grapple with COVID-19.”

Lesson Plans, produced with generous support from the Walton Family Foundation, was one of three editorial collaborations that INN led or co-led that recently concluded. The other two focused on rural health care and the first year of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration.

INN considers collaboration key to providing more in-depth public service reporting on critical local topics, and expanding the reach of this content. By giving participating newsrooms access to a project manager and additional funding, we help ensure that they have the resources they need to delve into complex issues critical to their audience.

Overall, these three collaborative projects created 96 stories, including text and radio pieces, and enabled members to connect with their audiences through three participatory events, both in-person and online.

Lens on Lightfoot

With support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Lens on Lightfoot included four INN members — Better Government Association, Block Club Chicago, Chalkbeat Chicago and The Chicago Reporter — as well as La Raza, The Daily Line and The TRiiBE. The project looked at how Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s policies and proposals aligned with promises she made on the campaign trail and during her first year in office.

Reach highlights:

Read the full reach report here.

Slammed: Rural health care and COVID-19

In partnership with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, INN’s Amplify News Project co-led a collaboration that included Iowa Watch, Side Effects Media and Wisconsin Watch. The Amplify Project receives generous support from the Joyce Foundation to make this project possible. The project focused on the extreme pressure the already financially strapped health care systems and medical professionals faced during the pandemic.

Reach highlights:

Read the full reach report here.

Lesson Plans: Rural schools grapple with COVID-19

The collaboration partners were Charlottesville Tomorrow, El Paso Matters, Iowa Watch, The Nevada Independent, New Mexico in Depth, Underscore News/Pamplin Media Group and Wisconsin Watch/The Badger Project. Walton Family Foundation provided significant funding for the project. The project focused on the unique struggles rural districts face as they educate students during the pandemic.

Reach highlights:

Read the full reach report here

These projects follow two previous INN-led collaborations published in 2019: “Seeking a Cure: The quest to save rural hospitals,” which explored the financial distress of rural hospitals across the Midwest, and “From Rust to Resilience: What climate change means for Great Lakes cities.”

INN also has several other collaborations underway in Chicago, including a shared photography desk; a pilot expansion of City Bureau’s Documenters program, with support from the McCormick Foundation; and a Spanish-language translation collaboration, with support from the Field Foundation and McCormick. In addition, INN is managing a national collaboration on water quality issues with support from The Water Desk and INN’s Amplify Project.

If you’d like to participate in an INN-led collaboration or have an idea for a reporting project, please contact Collaborations Leader Sharon McGowan.

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