Local collaborations gain steam; a child finds love; a matriarch defends family against murders

This week in local journalism

March 22, 2019

You might have seen Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones’ write-up on the collaboration between 33 news organizations in California, which banded together to take full advantage of a new law requiring more state transparency in police violence and abuses of power.

The same day, the Carolina Public Press rolled out its latest initiative, “Seeking Convictions.” The Press, an independent news nonprofit since 2011, rolled out the collaborative initiative statewide in 2018 and this week launched the results of a six-month “investigative series examining sexual assault convictions in North Carolina, the challenges to successful prosecution, the differences across jurisdictions and the issues state court rulings create when it comes to consent.”

You can read more about Carolina Public Press in this Q&A with executive director and founder Angie Newsome.

In both states, organizers and participants noted how unusual these partnerships might have seemed a decade or two again, and serve to further demonstrate how the American media landscape has changed — and how it continues to put helping people and holding government to account at the forefront of its business model.

(Editor’s note: My weekly search for great local content continues to wow me — but I don’t want to overwhelm with an endless reading list. I’ve included some of my favorite pieces with a bit of context, then included several more as simple bullets. Too much? Too little? Let me hear from you at news@poynter.org. Like Stallone in “Cliffhanger,” or perhaps more aptly like Ace Ventura in “When Nature Calls,” I’m beating myself up over letting good stuff slip out of my hand, so let me hear from you.)

Sandra Tan of The Buffalo News has this heartwarming story about a child nobody wanted, and what happened when a family of 10 finally did. Amazing photos by Robert Kirkham.

John Caniglia of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer had this two-hour sit-down with the matriarch of a family accused of mass murder, packaged with some candid photos (below) from Lynn Ischay. Check out the attention to detail: “The Serenity Prayer hangs from her refrigerator door. A large, well-worn Bible sits on a kitchen countertop. An old blanket in the living room is embroidered with the message: ‘Our family is filled with hope and faith and held together with love and grace.’”

Fredericka Wagner, 76, says the community has turned against her because of the charges against her family. (Lynn Ischay/The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Jennifer Brown of The Colorado Sun wrote that despite it being legal since 2000 to turn over unwanted newborns at a designated shelter, the law hasn’t moved the needle on infant deaths.

Reporters at the South Carolina Post and Courier spent five months investigating the state’s 46 county sheriffs — and found some pretty shocking stuff. Tony Bartelme and Joseph Cranney found that “South Carolina sheriffs have embezzled, bribed and dipped into public funds for expensive chauffeurs. They’ve driven drunk and bullied other public officials. They’ve been accused of leveraging their power to sexually assault their female employees. While many South Carolina sheriffs have strong records of serving the public, others served themselves and their cronies …”

Justin Mattingly at the Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch shone a light on the shocking disparities that members of one rural community experience, including sparse medical treatment facilities, and spotty internet and cell phone service, crippling the impoverished community. The photos by Alexa Welch Edlund are particularly compelling.

Catherine Tyler gave Anthony, 4, his lunch as Jayon, 10 (from left), Gia, 6, and Zakiya, 10, waited their turn last summer. Tyler does her grocery shopping at the food pantry operated through New Hope Church in New Kent County. The pantry services New Kent and Charles City residents. (Photo by Alexa Welch Edlund/The Richmond [Virginia] Times-Dispatch)

There was a lot to read this week in The Boston Globe, including this investigation by Jenna Russell, who “reviewed dozens of complaints of workplace harassment and intimidation from around the state,” and leads with a particularly compelling figure. There’s also the insane penalty this customer faced for having a package one inch larger than UPS expected, unearthed by Sean P. Murphy; and a look at the disappointing tax revenues from Massachusetts’ pot sales via Naomi Martin.

The Miami Herald was on fire this week, with ace reporter Julie K. Brown continuing to doggedly cover the court proceedings against Jeffrey Epstein. But we also got from Monique O. Madan and Nicholas Nehamas “Worker tried to warn others FIU bridge was unsafe. The collapse left him in a coma” and Glenn Garvin brought us “She endured two decades of hell in Castro’s prisons. Now she faces foreclosure in Miami.”

If it weren’t for photographer William Luther of the San Antonio Express-News, I doubt I would have seen this two-acre homage to Beto O’Rourke.

Stan Herd's "Beto 2020" crop art portrait of presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke is seen Tuesday, March 19, 2019 just east of Austin. (Photo by William Luther/San Antonio [Texas] News-Express)

NPR member station WAMU’’s education reporter Jenny Abamu broke a story revealing that Fairfax County (Virginia) Public Schools subjected its students to hundreds of cases of physical restraint and isolation — most of them unreported. The story led to a superintendent and board review of district’s policies and a follow-up with a startling video.

Jennifer Tidd says her son Quentin was kept in a seclusion room at a Fairfax County Public School. She says he would defecate on himself to get out of the room. (Photo by Tyrone Turner/WAMU)