August 7, 2019

For a year, a team from the Tulsa (Oklahoma) World worked on a project about childhood trauma.

They brought together community leaders.

They studied the science.

They held an event and turned the series into a special section for community groups.

And the whole time, they kept working on daily news.

“We put it down and picked it up over the course of a year, but kept pushing it through,” said Ashley Parrish, deputy managing editor.

Does your newsroom have a projects team? Does it even have a projects reporter anymore? Chances are, the smaller the newsroom, the less likely it is that either still exist.

That doesn’t mean that projects can’t happen, though. And the community response from Tulsa shows why they’re so necessary.

The Tulsa World’s project is featured here this week, along with some explainer journalism on a muddled street name from Community Impact News in Austin, Texas.

What’s your newsroom working on? Share the work that you’re proud of, and I’ll reach out if we decide to feature it.

All the answers shared here came through a Google form and have been edited for length and clarity.

‘When the journalism is good … people will stick with you.’ — Ashley Parrish, deputy managing editor, Tulsa World


Newsroom: Tulsa (Oklahoma) World

Newsroom size: 65

Series: Breaking the Cycle

How many people worked on this? Ashley Parrish, James Royal, Andrea Eger, Guerin Emig, Michael Overall, Tim Stanley, Corey Jones, Ian Maule and Curtis Killman.

How did you make this series happen? 

We asked for input from the entire newsroom, sending out an invitation for topics. When a projects reporter brought back the stat that Oklahoma leads the nation in childhood trauma – and that there is science linking that to all of the problems we considered tackling — we knew had a series. We brought in the best minds in trauma in the city, asked how to do this story the right way, then reported the hell out of it.

Related: It took the News & Observer a year to get the story, but the persistence paid off

Tell us more about working with people in Tulsa. 

When we knew we wanted to do this series, we called two big groups of community leaders together. We knew this was a subject that we wanted to handle with care, as we would be interviewing people who had been traumatized.

We wanted to make sure we knew the science and the implications of high ACE scores. And we wanted advice on how to get access to not only adults who were dealing with childhood traumas but kids going through it now.

My only regret was not setting up a video of those advisory meetings – they were fascinating. The panel included a university president who is a working psychiatrist, the chief juvenile court judge, heads of mental health and child abuse agencies, educators and therapists. Not only did we get an incredible base for our reporting, but those same people helped us with that access. Everyone knew we wanted to get this right, so they let us talk to their patients and clients.

What’s happened since the series published?

We printed the entire series in a special section because we heard agencies, educators and others say they wanted to use it as a resource.

And we had an incredible community forum the week after it published. More than 300 people attended – we had to add rows and rows of chairs. The audience included many teachers who were thrilled that the discussion was reaching the mainstream – they wanted to know how to be social workers and teach math at the same time. They wanted to know that someone else was on the frontlines helping address the trauma. There were parents, those in the mental health community and legislators, who vowed to create change.

It’s a topic we are definitely going to keep following.

What did you learn?

When the journalism is good, and you make the stories human and relatable, people will stick with you. We’ve reprinted the entire series into a special section for nonprofits, schools and other organizations to use as a resource. We also learned that you can do a project of this scope and work on daily stories. We put it down and picked it up over the course of a year, but kept pushing it through.

Photo by Ian Maule/Tulsa World

How can other local newsrooms do work like this?

Get everyone invested from the beginning. Ask for feedback from all parts of the newsroom, bring together those who seem most passionate about it and don’t rush it. Was our series a year of active work? No. But when reporters and the photographer needed dedicated time, we gave it to them. We waited to publish until we had it where we wanted it.

‘People starve for details.’ — Joe Warner, Community Impact News, Austin


Newsroom: Community Impact News, Austin, Texas

Newsroom size: 18

Story: Manchaca-Menchaca debate continues as lawsuit to rename South Austin road advances

Who worked on this? Nicholas Cicale and Joe Warner

How did you make this story happen? 

We took a deep dive into the history of a major road in Austin that has been spelled and pronounced wrong for years.

Image via Community Impact News

What did you learn?

People want to know about the history of the area, too. The story was told over and over in Austin, just glancing at the history value. Readers love going deep when it comes to the history of their communities — and in this case — a major road.

Related: The LA Times made a simple game to help readers understand a complicated issue

Image via Community Impact News

How can other local newsrooms do work like this (and what tools did you use for the graphics?)

InDesign Suite/Creative Suite. Each of our 31 monthly papers has its own designer to help tell the story. It is the type of explainer journalism that goes well beyond the one-minute story on the local TV stations. People starve for details. This was a fun, informative story

Image via Community Impact News


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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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  • The Tulsa World staff really went above and beyond to tell the story of why Oklahoma is No. 1 in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs.) As a member of the Oklahoma nonprofit community who works in media relations, every level of the Tulsa World stepped up to tell these heartbreaking stories. At a time when telling stories does not allow for dedicating an entire year to planning and execution, this makes their efforts all the more amazing.

    To give you even more perspective on this series, please listen to Mental Health Association Oklahoma’s podcast, Mental Health Download. It dedicates an episode to talking to three people who played key roles in the Tulsa World’s 8-part series on ACEs. Lucinda Morte is a mental health professional who has a relatively high ACE score herself. Donavon Ramsey is a resilient 19-year-old with a high ACE score and plenty of heartbreaking stories. And, finally, Ashley Parrish, the Tulsa World’s Deputy Managing Editor who oversaw the year-long process to make the Breaking the Cycle series a reality. You can listen to it via Apple Podcasts at