December 13, 2019; Nieman Lab and ProPublica
Almost three years ago, ProPublica began its Documenting Hate project, bringing 180 newsrooms together to crowdsource stories about hate crimes and bias incidents nationwide. According to Rachel Glickhouse, the partner manager for Documenting Hate, the project was launched because “after a spate of hate incidents in the wake of the 2016 election, we wanted to better understand why the government does such a bad job tracking hate crimes.”
ProPublica, reporting on data collected by the Associated Press, states that roughly 17 percent of city and county law enforcement agencies in the country haven’t reported a single hate incident in the last six years. Furthermore, the data the FBI does track only accounts for incidents reported to law enforcement.
Since ProPublica is a relatively small newsroom, it partnered with national and local publications and media outlets from communities of color to investigate and write stories. ProPublica’s partners reported on “kids getting harassed in school, middle schoolers forming a human swastika, hate crime convictions, Ivy League vandalism, hate incidents at Walmart, and the phrase ‘go back to your country,’ to name just a few.”
Glickhouse notes that, “Since the project began in 2017, we received more than 6,000 submissions, gathered hundreds of public records on hate crimes, and published more than 230 stories.” All this data will become part of a databank that can be accessed by journalists working on the topic.
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While the project’s goal is to collect hate crime data across the country, ProPublica intends to contribute to the growth of collaborative data journalism by educating news networks in the how’s of conducting a successful project, which is why it has put considerable energy into outlining broad lessons learned.
In partnership with Harvard’s Neiman Lab, ProPublica offers the following advice: “overshare information,” “prepare for turnover,” “be understanding about the news cycle,” “adapt to the realities of the beat,” and “expand your offerings.”
A recent NPQ article observed, “It makes perfect sense to us that investigative journalism would eventually become a more significant element of the nonprofit sector—a free press and healthy civil society are both essential building blocks of democracy, and the news should ideally serve the public good.” The ProPublica effort certainly is an exemplar of this rising trend.
In a follow-up article published last week, Glickhouse provides an overview of the articles published through the project over the past three years. “Our journalism has had major impact,” she writes, resulting in arrests, government reports, letters from members of Congress, and more.” A full list of stories published is available here.
Of course, the work goes on. Glickhouse acknowledges that, “This type of reporting isn’t easy, and there are still many stories that remain untold. Although the project is coming to an end, many newsrooms—including ProPublica—are continuing to prioritize this issue. Unfortunately, much work remains to be done.”—Meredith Betz