The Fund for Investigative Journalism

Supporting investigative reporting projects around the world

  • Next Deadline: Sept. 24, 2018 (11:59 pm Eastern)

  • Grantees’ Work

    Farmers face uncertainty because of land deals and sale of mineral rights

    April 4th, 2018

    For decades, the Tennessee Valley Authority bought and traded mineral rights from energy companies in Illinois. During that time, from a period stretching from the 1960s into the 1980s, the TVA also signed deals with hundreds of farmers who agreed to sell their mineral rights and promised to sell their land if it was needed for mining. But as Kari Lydersen reports for Energy News Network, many of those farmers or their descendants now regret those deals, saying they never imagined the situation would play out as it has: with private companies profiting handsomely off the coal and using a destructive form of mining that was not common at the time they signed. Meanwhile the terms of TVA’s little-known leases seem like worse deals for the public than leases for BLM coal that have been widely criticized; and the mine continues to expand despite serious safety and environmental concerns.

    In photo by Kari Lydersen for Energy News Network, Pat and Mark Kern could be forced to sell their farm because of a deal Mark’s father signed almost four decades ago.

    [Funding for this project was provided by the Park Foundation and the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism.]

    Violence and death escalate as El Salvador tightens ‘iron fist’ on gangs

    March 15th, 2018

    In her first installment of a series of stories focused on anti-gang security policies in El Salvador, FIJ/Schuster Institute fellow Danielle Mackey reports on the rising number of enfrentamientos — or “shoot-outs” — that have taken the lives of young El Salvadorans. The number of civilian victims in these enfrentamientos has jumped from 39 in 2013 to 591 in 2016. But as Mackey reports for World Politics Review (non-subscription link here), the killings of many suspected gang members may not have been the result of shoot-outs, as police claim, but were extra-judicial executions carried out under a zero-tolerance policy put in place by national police. According to Mackey’s report, a group of middle-school boys were among the victims of the police crackdown on gangs, including the so-called MS-13, a violent street gang with origins in Los Angeles, California.
    (In a 2010 file photo by Oscar Leiva (@oleivaphoto), a soldier performs a random stop-and-search in the neighborhood of a young father in  the municipality of Mejicanos, San Salvador.)
    [[Funding for this project was provided by the Ford Foundation.]

    Pulitzer Prize-winning examination of rape expanded into a book

    February 26th, 2018

    T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong have expanded their Pulitzer Prize-winning story into a book, “A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America,” published by Crown in February. The book tells the story of Marie, an 18-year-old near Seattle, Washington, who reported being raped, only to be branded a liar by police. Miller and Armstrong first wrote about the case for ProPublica and The Marshall Project. The story was also a “This American Life” episode and will soon be an eight-part series on Netflix.

    [Funding for this project was provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation.]

    Investigation looks into the ‘environmental injustice’ of US prisons

    February 23rd, 2018

    Earth Island Journal and Truthout spent more than a year on a collaborative reporting project investigating the links between mass incarceration, environmental degradation, and social justice. Using federal and state data gathered through FOIA requests, and on-the-ground reporting from prisons and prison-adjacent communities in California, Texas, and Pennsylvania, the “America’s ToxicPrisons” series revealed that from coast to coast, prisons, jails, and detention centers are exposing prisoners to environmental health hazards — through their siting on contaminated lands and hazardous locations, and their use of polluted drinking water. Often, not unlike factory farms, prisons themselves also become significant sources of pollution.

    Since the series was published, the Department of Justice withdrew plans to build a prison on a mountaintop-removal site in Kentucky, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to add prison locations to its online environmental justice mapping tool. What’s more, the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, citing the project,  sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Acting Bureau of Prisons Director Thomas Kane, to demand that the Justice Department investigate and remedy the conditions.

    [Funding for this project was provided by the Park Foundation.]



    Activists push rabbis to address ancient custom of ‘mamzerut’

    February 15th, 2018

    FIJ/Schuster Institute diversity fellow Michele Chabin focused on the desperate plight of families touched by mamzer status, the closest thing Judaism has to a class of untouchables. The status is passed down from generation to generation. Writing for New York Jewish Week, Chabin sheds light on why so-called mamzerim are sentenced to a life of secrecy and shame. While wars and migration once allowed most families touched by mamzerut to hide their status, the advent of the internet, digital recordkeeping and increasingly stringent rabbinical standards is making it more difficult to safeguard their secret. Those advocating for mamzerim say Judaism’s most influential rabbis lack the courage to find solutions to mamzerut.

    In photo courtesy of Nurit Jacobs-Yinon, an exhibit of “Mamzerim, Labeled and Erased” at the 2017 Jerusalem Biennale.

    [Funding for this project was provided by the Ford Foundation.]

    Faulty intelligence may have led to U.S. military operation that killed 10 Somali civilians

    February 9th, 2018

    Christina Goldbaum spent three months investigating a U.S. Special Forces-led operation in Bariire, Somalia and found compelling evidence that U.S. Special Operators fired upon and killed 10 civilians, including a child.  Goldbaum’s reporting for the Daily Beast showed that the decision to fire was partly based on information from notoriously untrustworthy sources and made despite concern from African Union Peacekeeping leadership. The story prompted U.S. Rep., D-California, to call for a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S. counter-terrorism in Africa, using his time to discuss the Daily Beast investigation.  The Head of U.S. Africa Command requested the Defense Criminal Investigative Service open its own investigation into the operation. In an internal memo obtained by Goldbaum, the head of U.S. Specials Operations Command in Africa urged his troops to use greater caution and obtain high level approval for all ground operations.

    In photo by Christina Goldbaum, a Somali National Army soldier goes on foot patrol with African Union Peacekeeping Forces in Afgoye.

    [Funding for this project was provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation.]

    U.S. mining company disrupts lives of Ghanaian villagers

    February 2nd, 2018

    When Colorado-based Newmont Mining arrived in the hills of Brong-Ahafo in Ghana in 2004, locals were optimistic that Africa’s second-largest gold producer would deliver lucrative jobs. But Sophia Jones, reporting for Sierra magazine, found that thousands of residents have been displaced by Newmont and its open-pit, cyanide-processing mine. Jones, an editor and reporter with the Fuller Project for International Reporting, and Accra-based photojournalist Ruth MacDowall say they discovered widespread abuses against the local population, including alleged sexual assaults. Farmers have been pushed out and their land destroyed. Jones writes that women bear the brunt of the physical, social and economic impacts of mining and some are battling Newmont for a return of their land and livelihood.

    In photo by Ruth MacDowall, Zeinabu Dawda regularly attends protests against Newmont. “I will persevere,” Dawda says. “I don’t fear anything.”

    [Funding for this project was provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation.]

    Michigan man wins freedom 47 years after being incarcerated as a teen

    January 31st, 2018

    FIJ/Schuster Institute diversity fellow Lisa Armstrong continued her investigation into how the United States incarcerates juveniles. In a piece for The Intercept, Armstrong looks into the case of Zerious Meadows, who at 63 was recently released from the Macomb Correctional Facility near Detroit.  He spent 47 years behind bars. The United States is the only country that sentences minors to life in prison without parole, Armstrong has previously reported. In her current project, Armstrong notes that Michigan has the second-highest number of juvenile lifers in the country. A 2016 court decision gave the approximately 1,500 people who were sentenced before 2012, like Meadows, a chance at release.

    In photo by Lisa Armstrong, Zerious Meadows, center, spends time with family after being released from the Macomb Correctional Facility near Detroit.

    [Funding for this project was provided by the Ford Foundation.]

    Investigation highlights need for better monitoring of pollutants dumped into New York City waterways

    January 26th, 2018

    New York City is threaded with heavily polluted waterways, like the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek and the Bronx River, where sewage and chemicals sometimes make the water dangerous to even touch. An investigation by City Limits shines light on an undercovered element of the city’s ongoing violation of the Clean Water Act: raw sewage from homes and apartments pumped through illegal pipes into waterways, and industrial chemicals dumped down storm drains or leaked onto waterfront land. Individual incidents can involve hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage a day, but no one knows the full extent of the problem. Dozens of times each year, monitoring devices pick up high fecal bacteria counts, but the city often cannot find their origin. City Limits’ report highlights the need for more intense monitoring and broader public awareness if swimmable, fishable water is ever going to be reality in the five boroughs.

    WNYC recently featured the investigation by City Limits.

    In photo by Adi Talwar for City Limits, city investigators have found more than a dozen buildings encompassing nearly 1,000 homes whose sewage was running into Coney Island Creek via an illicit connection.

    [Funding for this project was provided by the Park Foundation.]

    As Hilcorp plans to drill in Arctic waters, a troubling trail of violations surfaces

    January 24th, 2018

    InsideClimate News delved into the regulatory record of the energy company Hilcorp, a Houston-based firm that has kept a low profile despite being one of the country’s largest privately held oil and gas producers. As Hilcorp makes plans to drill in the Arctic, InsideClimate reviewed thousands of pages of government documents and conducted interviews with industry experts and watchdogs. The investigation by InsideClimate portrays a company that critics say prioritizes an aggressive expansion in Alaska while repeatedly falling short on safety and environmental protection. A version of the story was also published in the Dallas Morning News.

    [Funding for this project was provided by the Park Foundation.]