Emilie Udell for the Center for Public Integrity
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Inequality – the issue of our time

It never ceases to intrigue me that so much of the Center’s work whether explicitly or just by virtue of dealing with those who are hit by the collision of politics and money is ultimately about inequality. Thomas Piketty identified that even in the ICIJ work on tax havens: “Financial opacity is one of the key drivers of rising global inequality.”

Interesting then to see one of the Center’s most important long-term backers and a major philanthropy leader, The Ford Foundation, announce a shift to focus almost solely on issues of inequality, announced by its new president Darren Walker.

Whether it is the recent Warren Buffett mobile homes rip-off story, the Susan Ferris piece on the incarceration of children or the Allan Holmes saga on over-priced and uncompetitive broadband denying access to the poor, so much of our coverage is about this issue. You’ll also recall it was central to President Obama’s State of the Union address.

Perhaps our most comprehensive coverage in this area also touches on the environment and what I see as an almost 1930s climate for workers’ rights. Jim Morris’ team package called Unequal Risk has run over the past three weeks and still has more to go. With 18 months of work behind it and based on 30-years of health and safety records it is a dismal account of the failure of government agencies to protect U.S workers, often hobbled by the lobbying of politicians by big business.

It is an epic set of work with strong long reads and some superb data and video to illustrate the problems and truly bring it home. As so often Jim’s team found heartrending real-life stories to illustrate the thousands of lives shortened by working conditions I suspect few Americans would imagine still prevailed in this country. Yue Qiu did a remarkable data visualization — look at the numbers affected. Maryam Jameel did compelling videos and Jim and Jamie Smith Hopkins did a great history of how we go here and a what can we do piece.

Slate was the primary publishing partner and we did a Reveal podcast which is well worth listening to.

The Columbia Journalism Review made some of the points I do above about how rare it is to see reporting on these issues of workers’ rights and went deep into the journalism behind Jim’s team’s work.

Salon did a large Q&A with Jim and his team today.

Not to give everyone in the entire Center a herogram but I easily could. This sort of impact doesn’t happen by accident and the project had big assists from communications expert Bill Gray, engagement editor John Ketchum and Jared Bennett and the digital team.

What we’re reading at the Center

Jeff Smith and I both were struck by this 30,000 word takeover of Bloomberg Business with a single article on coding and why it matters. Irritatingly smartass in places but worth reading and learning from.

Midcenturymodernmag.com had an intriguing piece on our board member and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark who also made news with his $1m donation of a settlement to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Dick Costolo, bumped off as CEO of Twitter this month, wrote a passionate piece in The Guardian about the importance of Twitter as a driver of free speech and what Americans think of as First Amendment rights and which few elsewhere have guaranteed. I have a theory about this area I would like to explore more and I was struck by something similar at a conference I was at recently where Google counsel David Drummond said “We want to preserve You Tube as a First Amendment space”. He later elaborated on that at the Cannes Lions advertising conference with a rather different twist of trying to avoid YouTube being hijacked by ISIS and hate speech.

Thanks for reading this far and I welcome any feedback.

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Peter Bale was the Center for Public Integrity's CEO from 2015 to 2016.