These 11 non-profit news sites are using investigative storytelling to rebalance the news

From time to time, an industry or subject inspires us to create a best-of list. These are sites that produce out-of-this-world coverage in a crowded arena. In case you’ve missed some of these, you can find them here. If you think your site should be considered, give us a holler and tell us why.

investigate news sites

Investigative non-profit journalism flourished in 2017.

According to Nieman Lab, investigations had more impact this year than ever before.

It’s no surprise. With media credibility in question, there’s an ever-more-pressing need for trustworthy journalism.

To regain confidence of readers, many newsrooms are shifting away from the breaking news cycle to focus on deep reporting that exposes issues and drives solutions.

For example, a series on a long-ignored transparency law prompted the San Diego City Council to enact a new law requiring anyone doing business with the city to disclose their identities and business interests.

More recently, investigative journalists spurred a reckoning when they broke news of Hollywood’s biggest sexual harassment scandal.

These are the stories that remind the public how good journalism can incite attention, accountability, and action.

Here are 11 non-profit news sites and projects we’re watching that seek to rebalance the news.

1. Reveal 

Reveal is where The Center for Investigative Reporting publishes its work. Regarded as one of the most credible, relevant, and innovative media organizations in the U.S., CIR uses groundbreaking storytelling to spark action.

“Our award-winning journalists hold the powerful accountable and reveal government fraud and waste of taxpayer funds, human rights violations, environmental degradation and threats to public safety,” the site says. “We consistently shine a bright light on injustice and protect the most vulnerable in our society.”

Stories to read right now: As opioid crisis strains foster care, states aren’t tracking the damagePolice guns are turning up in crimes, but ATF can’t talk about it, and 5 ways Reveal stories changed things this year

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting

2. The Marshall Project 

This nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization writes about the U.S. criminal justice system.

Named after Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, The Marshall Project “aims to produce journalism that is accurate in its facts, fair in its interpretation and presentation, and independent in its judgments – in a word, trustworthy,” it says, on the site.

It collaborates with organizations like The New York Times, NPR, Vice, and The Washington Post to produce stories. Some of its writers work or live in the criminal justice system.

Stories to read right now: We Are WitnessesThe Man Who Spent 35 Years in Prison Without a Trial, and What to Know About the Death Penalty in 2018

The Marshall Project

3. The Frontier

The Frontier is a non-profit digital media start-up based in Tulsa, Okla.

Its award-winning staff produces investigative and enterprise journalism that advocates for more transparency in government. It also sometimes partners with local, state, and national media outlets for groundbreaking projects. 

“Our mission is to hold public officials accountable, give a voice to the powerless and tell the stories that others are afraid to tell, or that illuminate the lives of people in our community,” it says, on the site. “We will shine a light on hypocrisy, fraud, abuse and wrongdoing at all levels in our community and state.”

Stories to read right now: Shadow Land: How rape stays hidden in Oklahoma and Records show anger, fear and frustration expressed by hundreds of state health department employees in wake of scandals

The Frontier

4. The Public Herald

Pittsburgh’s The Public Herald was co-founded in 2011 by investigative journalists Melissa Troutman and Joshua Pribanic.

Its mission is two-fold: truth + creativity. The team uses journalism and art to empower readers and hold accountable those who put the public at risk.

According to the site, “We believe in the vital role the Free Press plays in a democracy and society to protect truth, transparency and accountability. Our investigative journalists tell transformational stories that shift the status quo.” It goes on to say, “We’re not afraid of ‘pissing off the wrong person.'” We love that.

Stories to read right now: “To Hell With Us” – Records of Misconduct Found Inside Pa. Drinking Water Investigations and Public Herald 30-Month Report Finds DEP Fracking Complaint Investigations Are “Cooked” & Shredded

Public Herald

5. Discourse 

Discourse Media is an independent journalism company dedicated to in-depth reporting on complex issues facing Canada and the world.

It seeks to fill reporting gaps and drive impact around matters of public importance, like gender, environment, education, the economy, politics, Indigenous issues, and more.

“We are building a home for new approaches to storytelling that look beyond conflict-driven daily news cycles,” the site says. “Discourse aims to add value to dialogue about solutions by providing our audience with access to untold stories and untapped information.”

Stories to read right now: Why nobody seems to know Canada’s total number of diesel spillsWhen child protection cases get delayed, who’s keeping track?, and 5 tips for reporting on gender

Discourse

6. The Reentry Project 

The Reentry Project is an unprecedented collaboration of 15 of Philadelphia’s general interest newsrooms and community and ethnic media organizations. Supported by the Solutions Journalism Network, the news initiative aims to produce journalism that speaks to the challenges and solutions of prisoner re-entry into the city.

“Upon leaving prison, formerly incarcerated people face many challenges as they reintegrate into the community,” it says, on the site. And they often get little, if any, help.

In addition to its investigative reporting on the social and economic toll of recidivism, the project hosts public events and forums seeking community engagement and dialogue on this often overlooked issue.

Stories to read right now: Lessons learned: Hiring ex-offenders pays off, but the workers need help and Redina’s story: A mother’s troubled journey home from prison 

The Reentry Project

7. Orb

Founded by journalist and documentary filmmaker Molly Bingham, Orb Media seeks to build a new kind of journalism. Its reporting team pursues stories under an eight-issue umbrella, including food, water, education, and the environment.

“At a time when we most need to see the full picture of our planet, today’s journalism is showing us only fragments of it,” it says, on the site. “Rather than bombarding the public with breaking news while providing little in the way of context, Orb practices proactive journalism.”

What’s really interesting about this site: You can choose how you want to experience each story — be it via text, audio, multimedia, or data. You also can easily toggle between languages.

Stories to read right now: The plastic inside us and No place like home: a global exploration of violence between partners

Orb Media

8. High Country News

High Country News is a nonprofit media organization that covers important issues and stories that define the American West.

Reporting on 12 Western states, it’s a leading source for regional news on public lands, water, natural resources, wildlife, logging, and more.

“High Country News’ commitment to environmental stewardship, diversity and social responsibility gives an added resonance to our unique Western voice, through journalism that goes well beyond what other journalists do,” the site says. “We strive to inspire and engage readers to expand their own perspectives and accept the challenge of new stories and new ideas.”

Stories to read right now: How a rural clinic sparked a small-town addiction crisisNationwide, oil pipeline spills are a near-daily reality, and What does a gentrifying city look like? Talk to the man who delivers the mail.

High Country News

9. The Texas Tribune 

The Texas Tribune is a digital-first, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about issues happening in their state.

According to the site, The Tribune’s mission “is to provide our readers with impartial, informative reporting, and with an outlet for civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government and other matters of statewide concern.”

The model it uses may be new and innovative, but its commitment to journalistic ethics is not, the site says.

Stories to read right now: Relatives report inadequate heating at more than 30 Texas prisons and  How a South Texas bureaucrat became a multimillionaire amid the rush to build a border fence

The Texas Tribune

10. The Lens

The Lens is a non-profit investigative journalism initiative focused on in-depth coverage of issues facing New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region.

The site is dedicated to providing journalism that serves the public interest. Its work has resulted in federal and state inquiries. 

“Our aim is to report stories that others aren’t or can’t,” it says on The Lens. “Increasingly, traditional newsrooms are facing budget cuts and have been curtailing long-term investigative reporting because it tends to be the most expensive kind of work. We’re here to fill that gap.”

Stories to read right now: Judge can’t remember whether he used fake subpoenas while working as prosecutor and A vital port for the nation’s oil and gas industry is on its way to becoming an island.

The Lens

11. Pro Publica

You’ve heard of ProPublica. Its mission is to expose wrongdoing by government, business, and other institutions. It uses investigative journalism to spur real reform and could be considered an influential model for the sites you see above.

“We dig deep into important issues, shining a light on abuses of power and betrayals of public trust — and we stick with those issues as long as it takes to hold power to account,” it says, on the site.

ProPublica’s award-winning journalism has helped hold accountable leaders at the state, local, and national level. It’s also contributed to the passage of new laws and reversals of harmful policies.

Stories to read right now: Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage CollectionNothing Protects Black Women From Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth, and Long Story Short: An annotated history of the 30-year fight over a single polluted Air Force base.

ProPublica

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Anna Jasinski is senior manager of audience relations at PR Newswire and former magazine journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @annamjasinski and @BeyondBylines.

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