The nation’s top online news organization named the Better Government Association a finalist for two awards recognizing excellence in digital journalism.
“Recycling in Chicago” was nominated for the Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award for small newsrooms. The award honors a single story or a series that uncover major news based on the reporters’ own investigations that advance and serve the public interest.
The project highlighted problems with the city’s recycling program in Chicago. Reporter Madison Hopkins found that Chicago’s recycling rate for single-family homes and small apartment buildings worsened under Mayor Rahm Emanuel after he promised improvements. The rate dropped to 9 percent — the lowest for any major American city. In numerous instances, a politically connected private contractor was paid twice for taking materials set aside to be recycled and then again for dumping the items into the company’s own landfills.
One of Hopkins’ biggest findings was a massive database kept as part of the city’s “managed competition” program that pitted private crews against city crews handling recycling for homes and small apartments. The records showed every time a crew deemed a recycling bin was “contaminated” with other garbage designating its contents to be sent to a landfill.
After mapping that data out, Hopkins found two areas of the city had extraordinarily high rates of contamination and both were being serviced by the same private firm, Waste Management, the only private garbage hauler working in Chicago that also owns landfills. It is also the only company that stands to financially benefit when a crew deems a bin “contaminated.”
Web and Graphics Editor Patrick Judge built the interactive tool that accompanied this reporting. The database allowed Chicago residents to see reported contamination at their address, in their neighborhood and citywide.
The BGA was also a finalist for the General Excellence in Online Journalism Award for small newsrooms. This award honors a digitally focused news organization that successfully fulfills its editorial mission, effectively serves its audience, maximizes the use of digital tools and platforms and represents the highest journalistic standards.
Last year, ONA named “Taking Cover” as a finalist for the Knight Award for Public Service, a prize recognizing digital journalism that performs a public service for a defined and specific community through compelling coverage of a vital community issue or event.
ONA is the world’s largest association of online journalists. ONA’s mission is to inspire innovation and excellence among journalists to better serve the public.