MLK50: Justice Through Journalism housing reporter Jacob Steimer is the winner of the Report for America local news award for Community Leadership for his story about the different approaches judges take during eviction court.

RFA, which is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, is a national service program that places talented, emerging journalists in local news organizations for one to two years. RFA covers half of the journalist’s salary and the local outlet and local funders cover the rest. 

“I am really thankful this piece was recognized,” said Steimer. “I think the beauty of the story was in its simplicity — letting people see into a courthouse that’s extremely important but rarely noticed, just as its six judges were up for re-election. It’s a formula I hope other reporters can follow, as judge elections rarely receive enough attention.” 

Steimer is a 2016 graduate of the University of Missouri at Columbia. Before joining MLK50 in June 2021, he was the lead reporter for the Memphis Business Journal, where he covered commercial real estate. 

He has been tracking the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program since it launched in late 2021, writing stories about its effectiveness and exploring the lives of the people it was supposed to help. That led him to the city’s eviction courts, where he observed how Shelby County General Sessions judges ran their courtrooms. As part of MLK50’s municipal election coverage, Steimer developed the idea of observing these and documenting how often they referred tenants to the ERA program. 

“I’m thrilled for Jacob,” said MLK50 Executive Editor Adrienne Johnson Martin. “I got to witness him mull this idea and then develop it into a story with real meaning for our readers. It gracefully speaks to the vagaries under-resourced people endure.”

The RFA judges called Steimer’s story “a well-organized piece that dives into an important topic that upends the lives of many people on a daily basis,” and praised the piece as one that “humanized the eviction process both through the perspective of judges and those facing removal from their homes, making it both informing and intriguing.”

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

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