Case Studies

Charitable Giving

On a Shoestring: “Amid halting economic recovery, holiday giving still struggles”
– by MARY GAIL HARE, Baltimore Sun reporter, Dec. 3, 2011

What’s the story: Holiday and end-of-year giving is usually a high point for charities, but in Baltimore the economic recovery had yet to show up. Said the leader of a toy giveaway for needy families, “A lot of the people who have given to us for years are going to be shopping [at the free store] for their own children this year.”

Why it works: The reporter took advantage of seasonal needs to explore the larger issue of decline in charitable giving, and to look at the alternatives that nonprofits were pursuing in order to meet the needs. She contrasts the national economy’s overall recovery with the empty shelves of local organizations that depend on donations to help families through the holidays.


Multimedia: “Northeast Florida Nonprofits Rethinking Fundraising Efforts”
– by BETH REESE CRAVEY, reporter, Florida Times-Union, April 16, 2012

What’s the story: Cuts in government support to organizations that provide community services have created a competition for private dollars. Cravey interviewed people at organizations around Northeast Florida to show the wide range of approaches that they are taking to raise money.

Why it works: By focusing on the staff and leaders whose role had changed, Cravey brought the budget numbers and the larger economic issue down to a manageable scale. She also offered examples of personal determination and successful approaches, which made the story balanced rather than just bleak. A graphic added supplemental information.


Best Practice: “Money for nothing: Scripps probe shows U.S. nonprofits don’t follow IRS rule”
-by THOMAS HARGROVE, Reporter, Scripps Howard News Service, May 26, 2012
Best Practice: “Where should you give? Thousands of nonprofits misreporting fundraising costs”
-by JOE DUCEY, KNXV-TV / Phoenix investigative reporter, May 2012

What’s the story: A Scripps-Howard News Service analysis found 41 percent of nearly 38,000 nonprofit groups reported that they did not spend a dime on fundraising, yet collected at least $1 million in contributions. Some Scripps-Howard outlets did localized versions of this national story. First reported by the Urban Institute in a study in the late 1990s, this issue was also covered in an award-winning story by the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 2000.

Recent changes in the IRS forms have not alleviated this problem, as the new stories show. Studies show at least one-quarter and as many as two-thirds of nonprofits report that they spent nothing on fundraising, even for those whose receipts were $500,000 or more.


Economic Development

On a Shoestring: “Data Show County’s Pain as Economy Plummeted”
– by SABRINA TAVERNISE, New York Times reporter, Sept. 22, 2011

What’s the story: Tavernise took a close look at Census data for a single county, Greenwood, S.C., to examine how economic change affected lives. The poverty rate there doubled in three years. In particular she looked at specific ripple effects in smaller local businesses after the decline of textile mills, and why people had not found other jobs.

Why it works: Although writing for the New York Times, Tavernise took a quick-hit approach that could be emulated by a local news outlet anywhere…


Multimedia: “Stranded on the Sidelines of a Jobs Crisis”
– by ANDY KROLL, reporter for Mother Jones and, October 5, 2010

What’s the story: To understand the problems of long-term unemployment, Andy Kroll viewed policy and reality through the eyes of a single man, Rick Rembold. This case-study approach revealed in vivid detail the daily ups and downs of the job market, as well as the longer view on the RV industry that Rembold had worked in, and examined questions about economic development and policy through the lens of Rembold’s situation. A podcast interview with Kroll, an interview with Kroll and Rembold on MSNBC, and display on a half-dozen online outlets with photos gave the story greater reach.


Best Practice: “Tracking the Stimulus Through Pickens”
– by ANGELA REINHARDT, reporter for the Pickens County Progress, Georgia; June 6, 2012

What’s the story: Starting from data on’s Recovery Tracker, Reinhardt traced the flow of $25 million in federal stimulus money to Pickens County. She reported in detail how the biggest amounts of money were spent in Pickens, and described through local examples the impact of this major federal economic development policy.

Why it works: Reinhardt’s knowledge of her community and interviews with people who benefited from the stimulus money injected color and interest into mind-numbing data. Published just as national election rhetoric was heating up, the story offered a factual and neutral account of the results that came to her community as a result of the Recovery Act.



On a shoestring: “State voucher debate renewed in Legislature”
– by Jessica Jordan, education reporter for The Times of Gainesville, Ga. – 2009

What’s the story: A state legislator introduces a bill to give private school vouchers to public schools, which many public educators oppose because it’ll take funding from public schools where the money is needed.

Why it works: Jordan breaks the different aspects of the arguments down into subheads and segments, helping to explain all parts of the problem to readers who need it – especially parents.


Multimedia: “Law, software fuel new ‘digital’ divide”
– by Alex MacGillis of the Baltimore Sun – 2004

2004 special recognition for investigative reporting by the Education Writers Association

What’s the story: Thanks to federal grants, most schools are well-supplied with computers, but most have differing levels of software availability. Poor schools teach drill by rote methods and use older software, versus richer schools that can afford more expensive upgrades and more advanced teaching methods.


Best Practice: “The Dropout Dilemma”
– by Carmen Aiken, Hallee Berg, Thea Chroman, Sandhya Dirks, Sarah Gonzalez, Melissa McDonough, Jackie Kennedy and Shira Zucker of Mills College in Oakland, California – 2007

2007 second place educational writing in radio by the Education Writers Association

What’s the story: Holly Kernan, Mills College lecturer and KALW news director, coordinated the project enabling students to report, write and produce eight original radio stories. The Mills students examined dropout rates at Oakland Aviation School, Emiliano Zapata Street Academy, the Castlemont Community of Small Schools, Oakland High School, Skyline High School, Elmhurst Middle School and the Fremont Federation of Small Schools.



On a shoestring: “Lower Standards”
– by Jeff Kelly Lowenstein of the Chicago Reporter, investigating race and poverty in Chicago area – 2006

What’s the story: Nursing home care is arguably the worst in Illinois, especially for poor black senior citizens. Lowenstein investigates how elderly family members are treated in nursing homes in Chicago, why they have the lowest federal ratings and why they have more medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits than elsewhere.

Why it works: Lowenstein uses 60-year-old Luzella Roberts to open up a poignant story about how she was clearly mistreated in a nursing home when a needle was inserted into the wrong arm, despite obvious documentation. He closes with several…


Multimedia: “Hall woman struggles to keep home off courthouse steps”
– by Ashley Fielding, a staffer reporter at The Times in Gainesville, Ga. – 2009

What’s the story: A woman sells her furniture – even her bed – to pay her bills and attempt to keep her house from falling into foreclosure.

Why it works: By looking at the downturn in the economy in a different way, Fielding pins down one woman’s situation to explain the tension and day-to-day stress for unemployed residents in Gainesville, Ga. At the same time, the story is universal and relatable across the nation.


Best Practice: “26,000 families slip into poverty”
– by Dan Chapman and John Perry of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 2009

What’s the story: The 2008 Census showed that more families dropped below the poverty line in Atlanta, Ga., up almost 20 percent from the year before.

Why it works: Chapman and Perry explain what this means specifically and how it’ll affect the Atlanta area. By relating the statistics to real people, however, readers may actually understand the numbers that are being presented in light of a downtrodden economy. The lead sentence helps explain this entirely: “The recession’s victims increasingly look like you and your neighbors.”


Financial Services

On a shoestring: “Fresh pain for the uninsured”
– by Brian Grow and Robert Berner of Business Week – 2008

2008 first place excellence in health care journalism for magazines under 1 million circulation by the Association of Healthcare Journalists
2008 first place magazine writing excellence by the Society of Professional Journalists
2008 finalist in magazine writing by the Investigative Reporters and Editors

What’s the story: Through the eyes of April Dial, a 23-year-old truck stop waitress, and Alice Diltz, a 68-year-old dental patient, Grow and Berner examine how poverty affects health care services and payments.


Multimedia: “NOAH housing program”
– by Lee Zurik of WWL-TV Channel 4 New Orleans – 2008

2008 medal for investigative reporting, the highest honor by the Investigative Reporters and Editors
2008 Peabody Award

What’s the story: A multimillion-dollar program run by the nonprofit New Orleans…


Best Practice: “North Carolina Voices: Understanding Poverty”
– by Connie Walker of University of North Carolina WUNC public radio – 2006

2006 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism with top honors in the radio category
2006 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Broadcast News Award

What’s the story: A team of reporters looked at different aspects of poverty in their community – race, homelessness, dental care, illness and addiction.



On a shoestring: “Providers close doors to poor”
– by Marshall Allen of the Las Vegas Sun – 2008

2008 second place reporting award by the Association of Health Care Journalists

What’s the story: Budget cuts in the state’s Medicaid program are forcing a major shift in where Nevada’s poor can seek health care. Shifting hospitals is causing stress for those searching for cancer and specific bone and spine problems – specifically lower income families.

Why it works: Allen, who is the health care reporter for the Sun, watches his beat closely and saw this story develop. He was able to talk to all sides of the issue to present what’s going on and why.


Multimedia: “Chronic Care, Chronic Costs”
– by Sarah Arnquist of the Fairfield Daily Republic – 2006

2006 second place reporting award by the Association of Health Care Journalists

What’s the story: Arnquist examines the costs of homeless people as they cycle through emergency services in June 2006.

Why it works: The three-part series looks at the different stakeholders – a hospital social worker, supportive housing and homeless people themselves – as it affects hospitals and emergency services. All audio slideshows, the packages work together effectively to show a graphic and direct impact on the health care industry.


Best Practice: “TennCare Cuts”
‐ by Julie Rovner, Rebecca Davis and Joe R. Neel of NPR News ‐ 2006

2006 reporting award for radio by the Association of Health Care Journalists

What’s the story: More than a decade ago, Tennessee launched an experiment in health care to guarantee health insurance to every poor resident. But in 2006 about 200,000 people were cut from the program and more than half a million have limits on their care.

Why it works: The team immediately explains the impact of the changing program, switches to a narrative style by focusing on one family, and then expands to cover state and national questions. Even now in 2009, it’s indicative of many questions people have while considering what to do next with health care in the country.



On a shoestring: “Discriminatory Housing Lockouts Amid Post-Katrina Rebuilding”
– by Jordan Flaherty, editor of Left Turn Magazine and staffer with the Louisiana Justice Institute – 2009

What’s the story: Though a nonprofit organization in St. Bernard Parish – a small community just outside of New Orleans – has received top dollars and high endorsements to support rebuilding efforts, the local council passed an ordinance in 2006 to make it illegal for Parish homeowners to rent to anyone not directly related to the renter – thus discriminating against most lower income and African American renters.

Why it works: The reporter talks to locals, council members and activists who are directly involved with the effects of the ordinance. Writing for the New America Media Web site, the news feature hits the target audience.


Multimedia: “Dumping Grounds”
– by Casey Sanchez of the Chicago Reporter – a Web site that investigates race and poverty in the Chicago area – 2006

2006 investigative reporting finalist by the Investigative Reporters and Editors

What’s the story: Residents of the Harold Ickes Homes believe that the demolition of other public housing developments have brought drugs and disorder to their door steps.

Why it works: Sanchez, through detailed observation and reporting, shows a unique cause and effect relationship. She uses community members to speak for the story and balances it with reports from officials. She takes violent and horrific events and puts them into the context of community and neighborhood concern.


Best Practice: “Maine town is riven by housing dispute”
– by Abby Goodnough of the Milbridge Journal – 2009

What’s the story: Though a non-profit organization received a federal grant to build public housing that would help Hispanics in the area, a local Maine petition created a moratorium on building the complex. The group has filed a federal lawsuit.

Why it works: The Maine town – Milbridge – had a reputation for integration, but this looks like discriminatory housing. Looking at local reactions on a federal scale of scope and consequence, this story shows the larger questions of equal protection and poverty at play.

How to do it: Follow non-profits and any federal grants in your community. How are they being implemented – if they’re being implemented at all? If not, why is this the case? Many proponents and opponents should be willing to talk.


Income Divide

On a shoestring: “Health clinic bridges income divide”
– by KATHLEEN RAVEN, NewsInNumbers, August 24, 2012

What’s the story: Raven began by looking at the Census statistics and Gini index. She wanted to focus on the health care problems in the Georgia county that had the greatest income gap – Greene. While examining the issue, Raven discovered a clinic that had actually bridged the gap, one that turns no one away.

Why it works: Raven’s story shows a problem and a solution through the eyes of the clinic’s founder. She succinctly summarizes Greene’s economic position; by focusing on the clinic, she shows the audience a route to alleviating the pain of poverty.


Multimedia: “The United States of Inequality”
– by TIMOTHY NOAH, Slate, September 2010

Awards: 2011 Hillman Prize for magazine journalism, an honor awarded annually by the Sidney Hillman Foundation for reporting that “fosters social and economic justice.”

What’s the story: This 10-part online series scrutinized causes rather than simply describing the problem. Noah looked at whether race, gender, or the breakdown of the nuclear family affected income inequality. He examined immigration, technology, government policy, education, and other issues to debunk myths about how those contribute to the problem. A series of graphics illustrates the trends.


Best Practice: “Mind the Gap”
– by RACHEL MENDELSON, reporter for Huffington Post Canada, 2011-12

Awards: One piece in the series was given the 2011 labor reporting award from the Canadian Association of Journalists.

What’s the story: The Canadian edition of the Huffington Post launched a special section called “Mind the Gap” with a series of stories exploring the problem. The section then became a showcase for occasional reporting on the topic.



On a shoestring: “News Flash: Progress Happens”
– by DAVID BORNSTEIN, “Fixes” columnist for New York Times online, Dec. 15, 2011

What’s the story: This piece summarizes a year’s worth of reporting for the “Fixes” online column, about successful approaches to vexing social problems. Follow the links to read about each of these solutions – many of which were conceived and carried out by nonprofit organizations.

Why it works: The “Fixes” column addresses a common complaint of readers – “Why isn’t there ever any good news?” – in an engaging way. It shows specific, practical solutions that are interesting because they break the pattern of reporting on social problems. This is also a positive approach to watchdog reporting and holding nonprofit organizations accountable.


Multimedia: “Wasting Away: The Squandering of D.C.’s AIDS Dollars”
– by DEBBIE CENZIPER, Metro staff reporter, Washington Post, 2009

Awards: Virginia Press Association Best-in-Show writing, 2009; NABJ Salute to Excellence, Investigative Reporting. Judge’s comment: “Every news organization in the U.S. serving areas with a high incidence of HIV/AIDS should use this package as a template for investigating whether the same sad situation is happening in their community.”

What’s the story: This four-part series analyzed the spending, services, and finances of 90 specialized AIDS organizations funded by the District from 2004-08. The investigation showed mismanagement, misallocation, and questionable practices and services. Photo, video and audio explored on-the-ground realities, while graphics give an interactive picture of spending – showing how areas with the highest HIV/AIDS rates were underserved.


What’s the story: Homelessness is a chronic problem, but by coordinating their services, Clarke County nonprofits have found ways to make inroads. Crist compares this cooperative approach with the more scattered work of organizations in neighboring Hall County. In doing so, she explores the nuances of what makes nonprofit work effective or ineffective in addressing poverty-related issues.

Why it works: Comparison, in this case between neighboring counties, is an effective tool for watchdog reporting on nonprofits. Rather than simply being critical of some nonprofits, Crist finds examples all along the spectrum of effectiveness. Following the path of a single homeless person illustrated and personalized these differences.



What’s the story: Brachear looks at the Chicago Catholic Campaign for Human Development and how it’s helping the poor. Conservatives are looking to put a halt to any practices that go against beliefs about same-sex marriage and birth control.

Why it works: The reporter looks at both sides fairly, couching the poverty-related issue in a larger religious and political argument.


Multimedia: “Understanding Poverty”
– by Ben DeSoto, a documentary and freelance photojournalist in Houston, Texas and former staff member of the Houston Chronicle – 1988

2007 grant from the Houston Endowment for an exhibit, book and documentary

What’s the story: DeSoto, through a series of photo packages, looks at the state of homelessness in Houston – as he found it in institutions and in the streets. The exhibit also looks at local efforts by groups and coalitions to help end homelessness in the town.

Why it works: DeSoto shoots compelling and disturbing photos of what life is really like as a homeless person. He follows two in particular – Ben White and Judy Pruitt – who have struggled with poverty for many years.


Best Practice: “Poverty Peddlers”
– by Jason Grotto and Scott Hiaasen of The Miami Herald – 2007

2007 Harry Chapin Media Award

What’s the story: A seven-part series reveals the Miami-Dade Empowerment Trust squandered millions of dollars on pet projects and insider deals while failing to deliver promised jobs.

Why it works: This is the ultimate package, full with detailed and well-reported text, clear photos, video, maps, documents and reactions from readers – all designed and layed out on a separate special standing page of the Web site. Readers called for change.



On a shoestring: “Recession Hits Aging Blacks, Hispanics Hardest Says a New Poll”
– by Paul Kleyman for New America Media Web site – 2009

What’s the story: AARP released a poll saying midlife and older Americans were feeling the impact of the recession, but Kleyman investigated how it specifically hit aging blacks and Hispanics.

Why it works: As Kleyman explained to me, any story about the poll would be fine, but it doesn’t explain the exact impact of what’s going on. He called several people within AARP before finding someone who could explain some of the detailed statistics and analysis behind the race factor of the poll.


Multimedia: “Reading, Writing and Race: The Face of the Achievement Gap in Schools”
– by Anna Bensted, John Davidow, Bob Oakes, Martha Bebinger, Monica Brady, Audie Cornish, Margaret Evans, George Hicks of WBUR 90.9 FM – 2005

2005 first place radio reporting by the Education Writers Association

What’s the story: The team investigates the gaps in scores on standardized testing – particularly looking at the differences between races.

Why it works: The group targets specific schools for each part of the series, bringing the problem close to home and investigating how each schools – even individual teachers – are attempting to solve the problem in different ways.


Best Practice: “Schools and Race series”
– by Del Stover, writing for the National School Board Association for the American School Board Journal – 2007

2007 first place writing for special interest publications by the Education Writers Association

What’s the story: State legislators passed a bill in Nebraska to allow Omaha to divide the student population into three school districts – which organized them along racial lines. School administrators try to find a way to divide attendance and seek diversity.

Why it works: Civil rights groups in the area are concerned, and we’re left asking if we’ve made any progress in terms of school integration and educational diversity. The story questions the impact of education policy and where it develops.