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The Year in Visual and Interactive Storytelling

Hurricanes. Hate Crimes. President Trump. If 2017 seemed busier than most, that’s because it was. ProPublica published more stories and broke more news than ever before. In addition to stellar investigative work, our reporting included ambitious visual storytelling, data journalism and interactive presentations. Here are some highlights from the year that was.


‘Alternative’ Education

Reporter Heather Vogell examined how schools nationwide are dodging accountability ratings by steering low achievers into alternative programs.

A deep dive into the data by our News Apps team uncovered thousands of students who left alternative charters run by a for-profit company in Orlando, Florida — the nation’s tenth-largest school district — but weren’t counted as dropouts.


Documenting Hate

Hate crimes and bias incidents are a national problem, but there’s no reliable data on the nature or prevalence of the violence. We decided to do something about it, collecting and verifying reports to create a national database for use by journalists, researchers and civil rights organizations.

During the course of this ongoing project, we’ve mapped bomb threats against Jewish community centers and hate incidents against mosques, documented where hate crimes don’t get reported, and launched an up-to-the-minute index of news reports about hate crimes and bias incidents with our partners at Google News Lab and Pitch Interactive.


What Hospitals Waste

The nation’s health care tab is sky-high. Marshall Allen kicked off a year-long investigation to find out why, starting with a trip to a warehouse in Maine. Wading through literal piles of discarded medical supplies, Allen and photographer Tristan Spinski documented this unique look at all the perfectly good stuff hospitals throw away and what it costs you.


Quick Hit: Vital Signs

ProPublica has accumulated a wealth of data about how medicine is really practiced in the U.S., and in 2017 we decided to make it available to everyone. The Vital Signs project put the most important information from all our health care projects in one easy-to-use place, and even features a full API for professional users.

Machine Bias in Auto Insurance

Our Machine Bias series continued in 2017 with an analysis of insurance premiums and payouts in California, Illinois, Texas and Missouri. Our reporting found some major insurers charge drivers in minority neighborhoods as much as 30 percent more than other areas with similar accident costs.


Represent

In April we launched a new way for citizens to keep an eye on who represents them in Congress. Our expanded interactive database lets users track members of Congress, votes and bills in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. And a new API gives developers access to that data so they can use it in their applications as well.


Sold for Parts

In May we reported on Case Farms, one of the most dangerous companies in the U.S. for workers. Hector Emanuel’s extraordinary photo work took him and reporter Michael Grabell from Ohio all the way to the northwestern highlands of Guatemala, in an effort to document the journey of the company’s workforce.

Paired with data graphics from our News Apps team, Emanuel’s photos accompanied Grabell’s in-depth examination of how the company sought out immigrant workers, then used America’s laws against them when they got injured or fought for better working conditions.


Kafka in Vegas

After spending 20 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, prosecutors offered Fred Steese a deal: go free, but plead guilty and remain a convicted killer.

The one-two punch of Chris Buzelli’s artwork and Dan Winters’ photography, courtesy of our partners at Vanity Fair, helped tell the surreal tale reported by Megan Rose about this confounding legal maneuver, known as an “Alford plea.”

Steese was granted a full pardon this November after our story was published.


Quick Hit: The Breakthrough, Season 2

Our behind-the-scenes podcast made its second season debut, chronicling how investigative journalists landed some of their biggest scoops. Highlights included how WNYC’s Robert Lewis uncovered New York City cops making millions in suspicious deals, and how a small local news outlet brought down a state hero in Vermont.

How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico

What happens when a DEA drug operation tips off the people it’s investigating? Reporter Ginger Thompson went to Mexico to document the catastrophic results.

Told through audio captured by engagement reporter Adriana Gallardo and photos by Kirsten Luce, this oral history walks readers through the tragic and violent events that unfolded across the Mexican border town of Allende.


Quick Hit: Preferential Rent in NYC

“Rent-stabilized” apartments in New York City are supposed to be protected from steep rent hikes. But thanks to a loophole, owners can seek big increases anyway. Our analysis and interactive map showed some of the city’s poorest areas are most at risk.

Lost Mothers

The U.S. has the highest rate of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth in the developed world, with 700 to 900 women dying each year, many from causes that are preventable.

Part of Nina Martin’s continuing investigation of this shocking and ongoing tragedy, an interactive gallery by Design & Production team member Rob Weychert highlighted some of the personal stories that are often lost in the statistics for women who died in 2016.


Quick Hit: Illustration

Throughout the year we worked with scores of talented illustrators to help breathe life into our story layouts. Here are just a few:

Featured: Giulo Bonasera, Sonia Pulido, Kasia Bogdanska, Tim McDonagh, Cameron Cottrill, Brian Stauffer

Bombs in Our Backyard

In 2017 we took an in-depth look into one of America’s biggest polluters: the U.S. military.

We paired Abrahm Lustgarten’s exhaustive reporting with a first-ever full map of polluted sites by News Apps team member Lena Groeger. Along with extensive work by veteran photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson, the result was one of the most comprehensive pictures yet of how the Pentagon has poisoned millions of acres of land and left Americans to guess at the threat to their health.


Quick Hit: Sikhs in America

For more than a century, Sikhs in the U.S. have faced suspicion and violence. As part of our Documenting Hate initiative, photographer Chad Batka paired with reporter A.C. Thompson to create a series of video portraits about the challenges faced by members of the Sikh community.

Why Houston Isn’t Wasn’t Ready for Harvey

Last year we documented why Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city and home to America’s largest refining and petrochemical complex, wasn’t ready for the next big hurricane. And in 2017 it hit.

In response to Hurricane Harvey, we created detailed graphics to demonstrate where Houston had flooded in the past, examined why people were living within Houston’s flood-control reservoirs, and detailed why buyouts won’t be the answer for many frequent flooding victims.


Quick Hit: A New ProPublica.org

In August we took the wraps off our new online home. In addition to a cleaner, more modern design and better navigation, we completely overhauled our publishing system to help us keep up with the pace of technological change in modern publishing. We even took a moment to clean up our logo, with the help of designer and typographer Thierry Blancpain.

Chapter 13

In September we investigated how the bankruptcy system is failing black Americans. According to our detailed analysis, black people struggling with debts are far less likely than their white peers to gain lasting relief from bankruptcy. What’s primarily to blame? A style of bankruptcy practiced more often by lawyers in the South, steering clients to file under Chapter 13 rather than Chapter 7.


Walking While Black

Our reporting about racial disparities in America continued, this time with an examination of Jacksonville, Florida’s uneven enforcement of pedestrian violations. In addition to a video with our partners at Vox, we created a helpful interactive guide on how not to cross the street in Jacksonville.


White House Visitor Records

In November we published an extensive database of White House visitor records the Trump administration didn’t want you to see. This added to a busy year for our political news apps. Earlier in the year we outlined Trump’s 10 most troubling deals with foreign power players, added a lobbying registration tracker to Represent, started tracking political ads on Facebook, and took over the Sunlight Foundation’s database of deleted tweets so you can keep tabs on the Tweeter-in-Chief.


Quick Hit: Video

Our engagement team was busy in 2017 creating great video pieces for our readers on social media. Here are some of our favorites:

Featured: Has the Moment for Environmental Justice Been Lost?, Chicago Police Skirt Punishment as Disciplinary System Fails Yet Again, It’s a Fact: Supreme Court Errors Aren’t Hard to Find (part 1 and part 2), New York City Moves to Create Accountability for Algorithms, and Racist, Violent, Unpunished: A White Hate Group’s Campaign of Menace

The Taking

Trump’s call to “build a wall” isn’t the first time the U.S. has aimed to construct a fence along its southern border.

T. Christian Miller and our partners at the Texas Tribune reported on how the federal government’s boldest land grab in a generation produced another border wall — in 2007. Their reporting, paired with comics from reporter and editorial illustrator Susie Cagle, document a trail of abuse, mistakes and unfairness.


‘What Are We Going to do About Tyler?’

Tyler Haire was 16 years old with a long history of mental health issues when he was arrested for stabbing his father’s girlfriend with a 10-inch butcher knife. A Mississippi judge ordered he undergo a mental health evaluation. Then he waited… and waited… and waited.

Accompanied by photography from Mike Belleme, and an affecting film from our video team and partners at the BBC, Sarah Smith’s reporting paints a vivid picture of a state mental health system in crisis, and the impact on those it was intended to serve.


David Sleight is ProPublica’s design director. In addition to managing the Design & Production team, he is responsible for ProPublica’s overall design and editorial presentation.


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