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New Hires At ProPublica Illinois Promise Good News For Local Watchdog Journalism

By Stephen Gossett in News on May 22, 2017 9:50PM

Getty Images / Scott Olsen

From both major dailies to smaller outfits like City Bureau, the Chicago Reader, South Side Weekly and many others, Chicago is lucky to have numerous outlets putting forth must-read investigative journalism. But in an age of creeping consolidation—often followed closely by "operating efficiencies"—we'd all be wise to never take that work for granted.

To that effect, we're among the countless media watchers who are eagerly anticipating the arrival of ProPublica's upcoming local watchdog operation, ProPublica Illinois. The celebrated non-profit newsroom announced back in January that it would be opening its first regional operation—right here in Chicago. And just today they announced some early major hires that bode very well for the site.

Longtime Chicago Tribune investigative reporters Jodi S. Cohen and Jason Grotto are both on board, ProPublica Illinois made public on Monday.

"We’re off to a great start in building the ProPublica Illinois team with these stellar journalists,” ProPublica Illinois editor-in-chief Louise Kiernan said in a release. “Their formidable skills in data-driven accountability journalism, strong community roots in Illinois, and track records of real-world impact make them exciting additions to our newsroom. We look forward to announcing more hires soon."

Cohen spent 14 years at the Tribune. She spent a decade as the paper's higher education reporter for 10 and helped blow the lid on University of Illinois admissions chicanery at the University of Illinois. Grotto, an investigative reporter with the Tribune since 2007, spearheaded an award-winning series on Chicago Public Schools and the district's use of controversial debt instruments that crashed in 2008, among other notable deep dives. NPR Visuals vet and Tribune alum David Eads was also hired, as the site's news applications developer.

For a couple of good recent examples of the kind of heavily-resourced investigative reports that ProPublica excels at, check out The Last Person You’d Expect to Die in Childbirth, a look at the nation's tragically high maternal death rate, and Minority Neighborhoods Pay Higher Car Insurance Premiums Than White Areas With the Same Risk, which includes Chicago's East Garfield Park in its analysis of the modern-day redlining practices common among insurers.