News organizations in Solving for Chicago have a lot to be proud of as they wrap up their first collaborative project, reporting on the experiences, information needs and challenges of essential workers.
For the past eight months, 20 news outlets in the Local Media Association collaborative have combined to report 87 stories, including an exclusive interview with Vice President Kamala Harris on the experiences of Black essential workers. This coverage has driven direct and indirect impact to better serve this undercovered community of 1.7 million workers in the Chicago area.
Reporting by Solving for Chicago contributed to $1.4 million in direct community impact and influenced $10 million in policy changes in the city. In the process, Solving for Chicago news outlets raised $120,000 to support this essential journalism.
One way Solving for Chicago increased the impact of its reporting was through partnerships. The news outlets joined with the Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership — a collaborative of more than 100 health care and community organizations working on equitable vaccine distribution to essential workers — to spot broader vaccine trends and better target reporting.
In April, publisher Block Club Chicago reported on efforts to address COVID-19 and unemployment in the heavily Hispanic Little Village neighborhood through a program that hired high school dropouts to serve as essential workers doing vaccine outreach.
“Mauricio Pena’s coverage of ‘Increase the Peace’ vaccine outreach work in Block Club Chicago helped the Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership raise close to $400,000 for grants given to similar community-based organizations so they could conduct vaccine outreach,” said Max Clermont, senior project lead for the group. “This story helped paint a picture of what health outreach from violence prevention organizations could look like, allowing us to build the case for providing stipends to youth outreach workers.”
In follow-up interviews, workers and organizations that represented and served essential workers reported that public attention and resources flowed to communities when the collaborative did community-level reporting that showcased effective programs by applying the principles of solutions journalism.
The consistent coverage by Solving for Chicago newsrooms also kept attention on the health and equity issues facing workers, effects that would extend beyond the pandemic. This sustained attention helped push public officials to invest $10 million to extend a health equity program targeting communities with a high proportion of essential workers.
During the pandemic, the city of Chicago launched the “Protect Chicago Plus” program to do targeted vaccine outreach in neighborhoods with the largest proportion of essential workers and those hardest hit by COVID-19. The Solving for Chicago newsrooms reported heavily on the program and exposed to a wider audience the experiences of ground-level workers serving other essential workers through the program. The coverage highlighted the setbacks and solutions being found by participants in the program and the drive in many communities to use it as a launching pad to tackle more systemic health equity issues.
The consistent reporting from the collaborative’s many community news organizations contributed to a commitment from the city to invest $10 million to expand the Protect Chicago Plus program over the next four years to address other systemic health and equity issues essential workers and their communities face.
These kinds of impacts underscored for the power of collaboration for Solving for Chicago newsrooms.
“Seeing the reach of our stories, and stories we picked up from the collaborative, go into underserved communities was definitely a positive,” said John Sahly, digital editor of Shaw Media. “The combined power of our collaborative, I think, is proving to find strategies that we haven’t even considered before, and that is encouraging to see.”
The work is not over. Solving for Chicago continues to reach out to the more than 200 individual workers who directly engaged with the reporting, to identify other impacts as the collaborative thinks about its next topic.