29 Times Nonprofit Journalism Made a Difference In 2018

When it comes to the biggest stories of 2018, from immigration to education, gun violence to campaign finance, nonprofit journalists around the country have been a driving force for good, revealing corruption and lifting up the stories of their communities.

Josh Stearns
8 min readDec 31, 2018


Below are 29 remarkable examples from the Institute for Nonprofit News list of best stories from 2018 that show the power and importance of nonprofit reporting. You can donate to all these newsrooms at NewsMatch.org (if you give before the end of 2018 NewsMatch will double your donation.)

Shining a Spotlight on Family Separation

Katie Schoolov/KPBS

1) After ProPublica obtained a recording of children inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility who were recently separated from their families, they used the audio and related reporting to document the reality of the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Within 48 hours President Trump reversed his policy and soon after a federal judge ordered that parents and children be reunited. A month later the 6-year-old girl in that recording was reunited with her mother.

2) KPBS’s ongoing coverage of family separation showed that the practice was not limited to illegal border crossings, but was also occurring at legal ports of entry, contradicting the claims of senior White House officials.

3) In “Kids on the Line,” Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting exposed a shelter in Texas drugging migrant children against their will. After the reporting a federal judge demanded the activity be stopped and that the children be removed quickly.

Revealing Corporate Corruption and Wrongdoing

Photo via In These Times Magazine

4) The Lens uncovered a scheme to place paid actors at New Orleans City Council meetings to give the impression of community support for a power plant. The reporting triggered an investigation of the city’s power utility, Entergy New Orleans, which faced a $5 million fine.

5) The New Food Economy revealed that Amazon was a top employer of food stamp recipients across the nation, prompting a new bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders which drove Amazon to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour for hundreds of thousands of employees.

6) After the U.S. Energy Department proposed a new rule to subsidize struggling coal and nuclear power plants, In These Times published exclusive photos showing an undisclosed meeting between Energy Secretary Rick Perry and coal CEO Robert Murray, at which Murray handed Perry a similar proposal. The article led the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to delay its rulemaking and to ultimately reject the proposal in January 2018, and resulted in a federal lawsuit.

Driving Accountability in Local Coverage of #MeToo

Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

7) Voice of San Diego spent months reporting on sexual misconduct by teachers and other public school employees and, in several cases, has gone to court to secure records documenting those abuses. Reporting revealed that abusers often were allowed to quietly resign or transfer — sometimes with cash payouts and glowing recommendations.

8) After the Tucson Sentinel’s extensive reporting on an Arizona congressional candidate’s failed attempt to cover up a sexual assault allegation, numerous Democratic organizations disavowed him.

9) Months of reporting by MinnPost culminated in a detailed expose of sexual harassment and misconduct by a top aide to Rep. Rick Nolan, one of Minnesota’s most prominent Democratic politicians. The investigation revealed not only the harassment of three young women, but the systemic mishandling of their allegations by the congressman and his senior staff. The story resulted in widespread criticism of Nolan and prompted increased scrutiny during his failed run for lieutenant governor.

10) The Frontier spent months tracking down what had happened to police reports and 911 calls from a domestic violence call to the home of a powerful figure in Oklahoma politics, Preston Doerflinger. Doerflinger resigned from all of his state positions less than 18 hours after the story was published, despite being considered untouchable by many in the state.

Reporting on Elections and Campaign Finance

Erin Lefevre for ProPublica

11) The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, as part of its “Undemocratic” series, exposed the tricks used by the Legislature to sneak in unpopular legislation and keep the public in the dark. The story put into context legislative maneuvers — such as last-minute and anonymous budget amendments.

12) Bridge Magazine’s monthslong probe documented how a nonprofit front group backed by business interests worked with politicians to gerrymander Michigan and solidify political majorities for a full decade. In November, Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot proposal to take redistricting out of politicians’ hands.

13) Injustice Watch’s reporting on judges in Cook County, Illinois, led to a judge losing his reelection race for the first time since 1990.

14) Eye On Ohio, published by the Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism, analyzed 10 years’ worth of election contributions and found that the past two attorneys general — both running for governor — were much more likely to give no-bid debt collection contracts to campaign donors. This prompted a lawsuit against the attorney general.

Covering Criminal Justice Across the Country

Sebastian Hidalgo for City Bureau

15) The Marshall Project teamed up with the USA Today Network in Tennessee to expose how a 150-year-old law allows county jails to put people in solitary confinement before they are even convicted of a crime. After the reporting, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a law prohibiting jail officials from holding teenagers in state solitary confinement while awaiting trial.

16) City Bureau reporters followed the opening of the nation’s first restorative justice court, on Chicago’s West Side, bringing an unprecedented amount of transparency and community input to an experimental and opaque court system.

17) The Better Government Association and WBEZ exposed a big loophole that allowed many officers involved in shootings in Chicago suburbs to escape discipline. The report resulted in a law requiring all police shootings in the state to prompt an internal review for policy violations or procedural mistakes.

18) The Investigative Reporting Workshop found deep cracks in the registry system for sex offenders that allow predators to move, skip registration, and begin new lives under the radar in a new neighborhood — unless they are arrested again.

Keeping An Eye on Education

Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource

19) Oklahoma Watch revealed that dozens of private schools fail to include disabled students in their policies against discrimination in admissions in violation of state law. The story led the state’s largest tax-credit scholarship fund to order at least 60 schools to comply or be removed from the program.

20) PublicSource spent months in schools around Pennsylvania to document disparities between school districts that border one another. Following the reporting, the state education secretary visited to talk with local administration officials about potential solutions to disparities.

21) IowaWatch showed that nine of every 10 public school districts in Iowa have buildings within 2,000 feet of farm fields where pesticides get sprayed, a potential risk some school leaders were unaware of.

22) Philadelphia Public School Notebook revealed in January that school district contractors had botched lead paint remediation efforts. Lead exposure is a major issue in many old school buildings. The reporting prompted the city council to call a hearing and the district obtained state funding to assist with repairs.

Standing up For Kids and Families

Emma Lee/ WHYY PlanPhilly

23) A four-month investigation by Searchlight New Mexico uncovered a pattern of abuses within New Mexico’s foster care system, specifically a branch focused on serving the most traumatized children in state custody. The reporting found at least 28 specific violations of oversight rules and led to a state investigation.

24) In 2015, North Carolina’s legislature passed a law mandating that insurers cover expensive treatments for children with autism, but more than two years later, that promise had yet to be fulfilled for many families. After NC Health News reported and ran this pair of stories, state health officials pressed local mental health management to start serving these children.

25) After dogged reporting by WHYY’s PlanPhilly showed that a plan to stop providing aid to Puerto Rican evacuees living in Philadelphia would effectively leave them homeless, FEMA extended housing assistance.

26) Scattered reports of children dying in Russia from AIDS led Coda Story to investigate how malfeasance in public healthcare, the Kremlin’s encouragement of conspiracy thinking, and a grassroots campaign of denial of accepted HIV treatment combined into a deadly public health crisis.

Tracking Pollution and Public Health

Karen Pulfer for FERN

27) The Food & Environment Reporting Network, in collaboration with Reveal, documented how the EPA for years ignored scientific evidence that the herbicide dicamba was prone to drift onto nearby fields and kill non-GMO crops that weren’t designed to resist it. Journalists had to sue to get access to public records that showed scientists had repeatedly warned the EPA and illustrated the influence of industry groups.

28) South Dakota News Watch showed how major rivers across the state have become dumping grounds for billions of gallons of human, agricultural and industrial waste each year under a state-sanctioned permit program. The “Rivers at Risk” series put water quality and inspection deficiencies onto the agenda for gubernatorial debates.

29) Digging behind the headlines of a corruption trial, BirminghamWatch found the vast majority of the local region’s major sources of pollution are located in low-income areas whose residents are largely African-American. The reporting continues to inform the ongoing dispute over whether former Alabama environment agency officials broke the law in resisting remedies.

How You Can Help

Nonprofit journalists are able to take on these stories, to spend the time to get it right, because they are supported by their community. That means they answer to the public, but that the public has a role to play.

Your donations make this kind of reporting possible and from right now until Dec. 31 your donations will be doubled. Get started at NewsMatch.org.

This post originally apeared at BuzzFeed.

Josh Stearns is the Director of the Public Square Program at the Democracy Fund. Josh joined the Democracy Fund from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, where he served as the Director of Journalism and Sustainability and worked to support and expand community-driven local news. Previously, Josh served as press freedom director at Free Press and was a founding member of First Draft News and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @jcstearns.



Josh Stearns

Senior Director, Public Square Program at the Democracy Fund. Journalism and democracy of, by and for the people. Formerly: @grdodge @freepress