Local online news orgs provided crucial accountability journalism in 2017

By Matt DeRienzo | Jan. 1, 2018

The Richland Source in Ohio took a solutions journalism approach to the issue of infant mortality in its community.

Local independent online news publishers produced a steady stream of significant accountability journalism in 2017, from major investigations that had immediate impact on public policy, to deeply reported ongoing coverage of local government, business and public health issues.

LION Publishers has nearly 200 members who run local news organizations in 42 states.

The work of several newsrooms run by LION members was recently highlighted in a list of “20 of the Best Nonprofit News Stories of 2017.”

An investigation by The Lens in New Orleans found that prosecutors were sending out fake subpoenas. The story ended the practice and prompted a civil rights lawsuit.

A series by VT Digger examined the impact of contamination left by a Teflon factory in Vermont.

Oklahoma Watch tracked a political influence campaign by the oil and gas industry, MinnPost uncovered sexual harassment allegations in the Minnesota legislature, and CT Mirror detailed Connecticut's failure to adequately fund teacher and state employee pensions.

The Tucson Sentinel, another nonprofit news site run by a LION member, uncovered a plan to exempt the Border Patrol from the Freedom of Information Act, journalism that quickly killed the proposal.

The New Haven Independent in Connecticut went in-depth on side-effects of its city's battle against heroin addiction, obtained police video through FOIA in an alleged abuse case, and uncovered election fraud in multiple local elections.

Crucial accountability journalism was also a focal point of LION members who run for-profit local news sites.

The Racine County Eye in Wisconsin covered the health impacts of pollution from a major local coal plant, and the local realities behind a big announcement that President Trump made about the construction of a new Foxconn factory.

The Richland Source in Ohio received national recognition for its "solutions journalism" approach to in-depth coverage of local issues, including reporting on infant mortality in its community, and a series on food insecurity.

Flint Beat in Michigan has been covering its city's lead-in-the-water public health crisis.

Local independent online news sites are often the only journalists to regularly attend and cover city council and school board meetings, and even important legislative hearings. The Chester Telegraph was all over a controversial school consolidation process in Vermont, an example of the kind of important local issues that LION member sites cover every day.

LION members also provided a vital source of breaking news about public safety emergencies in their communities in 2017, including in markets where daily newspaper coverage is severely eroded or has disappeared. Covering Katy in Texas stepped up as its city was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. And in California, Santa Barbara's Noozhawk, Berkeleyside and the Mendocino Voice provided blanket coverage as wildfires threatened and then the recovery process began.