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Investigative reporting by Center for Public Integrity journalists about student homelessness and the legacy of pollution in communities of color was recognized among the best data journalism in the world on Friday at the 2023 Sigma Awards.

Senior reporter Yvette Cabrera’s work on the toxic legacy of lead contamination in American cities while a journalist at Grist was recognized with a Sigma Award as one of the 11 best data journalism investigations in the world, one of only four from the U.S. to make the list. The final installment of that project, looking at solutions, will be published by Public Integrity and Grist this month.

Unhoused and Undercounted,” an investigation by Public Integrity data journalist Amy DiPierro and senior reporter Corey Mitchell in partnership with The Seattle Times, Street Sense Media and WAMU/DCist, made the Sigma Awards’ shortlist, among the 60 best data journalism investigations in the world out of 638 entries. They used a ground-breaking comparison of federal education data to show that local school districts undercounted more than 300,000 homeless students across the country and failed to provide services as required by federal law.

An illustration that has several faces looking sad and contemplative. There are also desks and houses representing homeless students on the illustration, too.

Unhoused and Undercounted

Federal law requires that public schools assist homeless students to help break what could become an inescapable cycle of hardship. But many of the students who need that aid fall through the cracks.

“We’re excited for the recognition in an inspiring year for data journalism,” said Public Integrity editor Jamie Smith Hopkins, the lead editor on the Unhoused and Undercounted project. “A powerful data analysis can help people fix problems, fight discrimination and live better lives.”

Cabrera’s series, in collaboration with Grist senior data reporter Clayton Aldern, built on her years of meticulous testing for lead in the soils of Santa Ana, California.

“Soil lead contamination is a pervasive, dangerous problem in urban centers throughout the United States, yet because lead particles are invisible, this threat is difficult to pinpoint, particularly the hot spots that endanger the health of so many children in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color,” Cabrera said. “What’s most rewarding is how the community of Santa Ana has galvanized around this issue and pressed the city for action, resulting in a 2022 general plan update that pledges to address this toxic threat.”

Public Integrity, a Pulitzer Prize-winning nonprofit news organization that confronts inequality through investigative reporting, partners with hundreds of local news organizations across the country. That includes collaborative investigations, editing, training, mentorship and access to data sets and analyses that help local journalists expose inequity and hold powerful interests accountable.

Months before publishing Unhoused and Undercounted, Public Integrity shared its data analysis with local journalists across the country and provided a reporting toolkit and office hours to help them apply the investigation to issues facing homeless students in their regions.

Public Integrity journalists regularly share knowledge about data journalism, investigative reporting and confronting inequality with industry peers. Cabrera is president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and has helped build programs to increase the number of reporters of color covering environmental issues. 

Earlier this month, Public Integrity announced that it had acquired and will grow The Accountability Project, an innovative platform that allows journalists to search 1.8 billion public records and counting, as well as organize resulting data for analysis in reporting. It has been used in award-winning and impactful accountability journalism across the country.

Founded in 1989, the Center for Public Integrity is one of the oldest nonprofit news organizations in the country and is dedicated to investigating systems and circumstances that contribute to inequality in the United States.

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