MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Dec. 12, 2018) — MLK50: Justice Through Journalism and its founder Wendi C. Thomas have been selected to participate in ProPublica’s 2019 Local Reporting Network, a program that supports investigative reporting at local and regional news organizations.
This year’s group of 14 newsrooms and reporters was announced today. Half will focus on state government; the others, including MLK50, will cover a range of subjects. ProPublica received more than 215 applications as part of the Local Reporting Network’s second year.
“While the past year has seen yet more cutbacks at local news organizations, the ProPublica Local Reporting Network has been a bright spot nationally,” said ProPublica senior editor Charles Ornstein. “We couldn’t be happier with the accountability journalism produced by our inaugural class and are excited to pursue another year of investigative projects with moral force.”
ProPublica reimburses a year’s salary and benefits for each of the participating reporters and supports the projects with its expertise in data, research and community engagement.
Thomas, 47, will focus exclusively on MLK50’s core topics: The intersection of poverty, power and public policy, work she began two years ago as the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis approached. The 2019 stories will be published both on MLK50.com and ProPublica’s web site, propublica.org.
“ProPublica does what Memphis desperately needs: Investigative journalism with the potential to make important change for the city’s most vulnerable,” Thomas said. “I am eager to spend the next year continuing the work we began when we launched MLK50.com.
“Journalism that holds the powerful to account and disrupts the status quo doesn’t come cheap, and it isn’t easy,” she said. “Those who have the resources locally to support this kind of journalism often benefit from the status quo MLK50 seeks to disrupt.
“I’m grateful that ProPublica and its Local Reporting Network are affirming the value of this work.”
Since its launch on April 4, 2017, the journalists of MLK50 have published more than 210 stories and thousands of social media posts as it chronicled the milestone anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis. MLK50’s coverage centered the perspective of workers, low-income residents, immigrants, activists and organizers.
In December 2017, MLK50 broke the news that the city’s Confederate monuments had been purchased by a new nonprofit and would be moved. It also forced the living wage issue into the civic conversation, conducting the city’s first ever living wage survey of the area’s largest employers.
Thomas was named the Journalist of the Year for 2018 by the Journalism and Women Symposium. She developed the ideas behind MLK50: Justice Through Journalism during her 2015–16 fellowship at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.
“We took seriously the journalist’s charge to write the first draft of history. We wanted to center the workers, the activists, the organizers, the most marginalized, those who were vulnerable.” – @wendi_c_thomas, MLK50 founder & @womenjournos Journalist of the Year #jawscamp18 pic.twitter.com/JdZVXOcnMO
— MLK50: Justice Through Journalism (@MLK50Memphis) October 14, 2018
From 2003 to 2014, Thomas was the metro columnist and assistant managing editor at The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal, where she was inducted into the Scripps Hall of Fame for local columns. Previously, she was an editor at The Charlotte Observer and The (Nashville) Tennessean and a reporter at The Indianapolis Star.
Starting in January, the day-to-day management of MLK50 will be handled by Managing Editor Deborah Douglas, with contributions from Visuals Director Andrea Morales, senior writer Kevin McKenzie, reporter J. Dylan Sandifer and others.
Since it began publishing in 2008, ProPublica has received four Pulitzer Prizes, three Peabody Awards, two Emmy Awards and five George Polk Awards, among others.
Read ProPublica’s entire release here.
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on power, poverty and public policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation and Community Change.