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Nonprofit News Awards highlight the impact of the INN Network’s journalism

September 21, 2022

El Paso Matters named startup of the year, ICT’s Trahan and Michel recognized for service to nonprofit news as INN honors 28 news organizations and leaders 

The second annual Nonprofit News Awards on Wednesday honored more than two dozen examples of groundbreaking journalism and leadership, from an investigation that shut down a leaking Naval fuel depot in Hawaii, to a collaborative data project that changed how COVID deaths were counted nationwide, to an explanation of how San Francisco paid $20,000 each for garbage can prototypes.

Presented by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), the awards — nicknamed the INNYs — highlighted the range and diversity of journalism being produced by the INN Network, which has grown to 406 independent news organizations, as well as its impact on the local, national and international level.

View the full list of winners and finalists with links to winning entries.

In a period when the pace of startups is increasing across the nonprofit news field, the award for Startup of the Year went to El Paso Matters for having quickly established consistent, strong reporting that serves the community, while working to develop diverse revenue streams to sustain its journalism. Coverage ranged from school board problems, to local voter disenfranchisement, to national issues along the Mexican border. At the same time, it has worked to grow its audience through experimentation.

Listen to our conversation with El Paso Matters Founder and CEO Robert Moore:

The 2022 winners ranged from two-year-old Asheville Watchdog to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which organized 600 journalists at 152 news organizations in 117 countries to collaborate on the Pandora Papers, a leak of 11.9 million secret offshore financial files. 

With no paid employees, the Watchdog produced a series investigating how numerous vulnerable homeowners around Asheville, N.C. — many of them Black and/or elderly — lost their homes to a local attorney/investor and his associates. The work led to the arrest of a central figure in the scheme on felony charges, and the return of some of the properties. 

The ICIJ’s Pandora Papers investigation, for its part, revealed a vast international industry of offshore tax havens used by world leaders, public officials and wealthy individuals. It triggered more than 20 government probes, brought down governments in Honduras and the Czech Republic, and spurred landmark U.S. anti-money laundering legislation.

Other news organizations did work that exposed major, structural problems — and led to major change. Honolulu Civil Beat produced a series of insightful and revelatory stories on the Navy’s handling of its underground World War II-era Red Hill fuel storage facility that leaked thousands of gallons of petroleum, sickening military families, putting Oahu’s civilian water supply at risk and forcing the Pentagon to agree to shut down the facility.

Meanwhile, in New York City, The Appeal investigated the NYPD’s troubled Special Victims Unit and found that structural problems identified in a 2018 report have grown worse since then, sometimes with deadly consequences for the sex crime and child abuse victims the unit is supposed to serve. The investigation led to the replacement of the unit’s commander, a new policy to reduce turnover, and a U.S. Justice Department probe. 

The awards recognized newsrooms that excelled in meeting their audiences where they are.

Enlace Latino NC’s El Jornalero newsletter and guide for farmworkers is the first Spanish newsletter for agricultural workers in North Carolina, shared via email, WhatsApp, text message and social networks. Another winner was the Prison Journalism Project for PJPxInside, a first-of-its-kind teaching newspaper for and by incarcerated people. Judges called it “a model for other marginalized communities.”

Nonprofit newsrooms are at the forefront of using data to reveal systemic issues. Muckrock’s Uncounted: The hidden death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic was a collaboration between five newsrooms, sparked by the discovery of stark disparities in the way medical examiners reported cause of death during the pandemic. It introduced a new statistical framework for analyzing mortality data, leading to new stories about COVID death tolls by newsrooms across the country

The Center for Public Integrity, for its part, was honored for a data-driven investigation of How the lack of Medicaid expansion fuels rural poverty in the Deep South.

Others excelled in explanatory journalism. Mission Local’s Garbage Odyssey is an in-depth look at the process of city government that led to San Francisco’s decision to pay upwards of $20,000 apiece to produce prototypes of garbage cans. 

“The Nonprofit News Awards reveal the value of this type of news: it’s all about public service,” said Sue Cross, INN executive director and CEO. “Newsrooms across the INN Network uncover stories that traditional news media overlook and make these stories available to everyone.”

Mark Trahant and Karen Lincoln Michel of ICT won this year’s Service to Nonprofit News Award.

In that spirit, the Service to Nonprofit News Award went to Mark Trahant and Karen Lincoln Michel of ICT, who designed and led one of the most successful transformations of a for-profit news organization into a nonprofit in saving Indian Country Today, now ICT. 

Founded in 1981 as a print publication, ICT nearly went under in 2017 before the pair engineered its rebirth and then rapid growth. It’s now a daily digital news platform covering the Indigenous world of American Indians, Alaska Natives and First Nation people reaching some 800,000 readers a month, with a television presence in 30 markets, and includes the first comprehensive database of American Indians and Alaska Natives running for office. 

Beyond their own work, Trahant and Michel are leaders within the INN Network, extending the impact of their expertise and journalism to many smaller publications and individual journalists. 

About the INNYs

In 2022, INN received 407 entries from 129 news organizations and gave out 28 awards across 11 categories. Panels drawn from a total of 41 judges — including journalists from INN member newsrooms and academia, as well as respected retired journalists — evaluated the entries. 

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