2023 Collaborations (All Newsroom Sizes) and Hechinger Prize Winners

Brandi Kellam, Louis Hansen & Gabriel Sandoval, Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism at WHRO & ProPublica

About the Winners:

Since 2020, in a response to the uproar over George Floyd’s murder and other police violence against Black people, politicians nationwide have tried to debunk and suppress evidence of the significance of racial discrimination in shaping our society. At least 18 states have passed laws banning teaching of critical race theory or the 1619 Project, and December’s defense spending bill imposed a similar prohibition in military schools.

A compelling series of articles produced in collaboration by ProPublica and the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism at WHRO Public Media revealed systemic racism in a largely overlooked arena: the location and expansion of state universities since World War II. The series showed that universities have displaced tens of thousands of families of color and bear a responsibility for Black land loss and lagging Black home ownership. They have failed to reckon with this legacy, and some continue to encroach on Black neighborhoods.

The series, which focused on Virginia, was a true partnership. Funding from ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network enabled VCIJ to bring on reporter Brandi Kellam, who excelled at in-depth interviews with community members, students and faculty. VCIJ’s Louis Hansen dug into systemic issues and cultivated political and business sources. ProPublica’s Gabriel Sandoval unearthed historical records, and senior editor Daniel Golden guided the project. Both organizations’ video producers collaborated on a documentary film, which Kellam directed.

Comments From the Judges:

“A skillfully and deeply reported piece showing the ways race and racism have inflected not just the bricks and mortar, but also the enrollment decisions, staffing, and ethos of an institution, even very recently. The reporting combined on-the-ground, deeply local knowledge and historical sweep and context, as well as useful educational context.”

“Fantastic reporting and a great and substantive deep dive into such important and troubling history. I have no doubt this series was a big lift, and the reporters did it brilliantly.”

Photo credits: Christopher Tyree/VCIJ at WHRO; Original photograph taken by James Johnson.