PublicSource’s best stories of the year

There are lots of things you could factor into what makes a story one of the ‘best.’ For me, it’s a combination of things: the reporting, the writing, the impact. Also, did we tell you something you didn’t already know or explain something you’d heard about, but didn’t really understand?

These are the stories that I would select as my personal favorites of the work we’ve done. And I’d say that, by the numbers of people who read them, you would, too.

fingerprint

No fingerprints for thousands of PA’s suspected criminals

By Jeffrey Benzing

This was a story that did all of the things we love as an in-depth reporting group. We analyzed the raw data, provided for the first time by the state. We told you a story that no one had before: 30,000 suspected criminals whose charges included sex crimes, assaults and murder hadn’t been fingerprinted by police. We told you which counties had the worst records for not fingerprinting. Legislators held hearings and local police departments changed their policies.

rail map

Pittsburgh residents in a danger zone of a crude-oil train derailment

By Natasha Khan

Many of you had heard and seen the long lines of bullet-shaped trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in Philadelphia. Called “virtual pipelines,” they can carry millions of gallons of crude oil in more than 100 tank cars. We used various official sources to plot the neighborhoods in Pittsburgh where the trains regularly pass through, since both the state and the railroads declined to give us the information. We also told you in other stories that the train cars were DOT-111s, designed in the early 1960s and originally used to haul non-hazardous materials such as corn syrup, and that safety officials had complained about the cars for years.

Workers in workshop

Pay for the disabled

By Halle Stockton

In another deep dive into data that other media had not looked at, we reported that about 13,000 disabled Pennsylvanians are earning an average of $2.40 an hour in a legal use of subminimum wages, mostly in sheltered workshops where only other disabled people work. We mapped the data by county, told you exactly how much various groups paid and what the average hourly wage was for different types of work. PublicSource partners at the Erie Times-News and Digital First Media rounded out our reporting in other parts of the state. We polled readers to see what you thought of the practice and held an event for experts and the community to talk about it.

Price of the Prize graphic preview

Campaign contributions to the governor’s race

By Eric Holmberg, Alexandra Kanik, Andrew McGill and Laura Malt Schneiderman

For the first time in the state, readers were given a searchable database to see who was giving what sums to the gubernatorial candidates. We worked with our media partner, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to download the data and create a usable tool to see every individual donation to the two candidates. We also told you how much and where each spent on television ads. PublicSource believes that knowing who’s giving money to the candidates is a way to be transparent about who has the power, through contributions, to influence political candidates.

Tina and Bob Norris

The story of Bob and Tina Norris

By Halle Stockton

Some stories you can’t describe, they simply must be read. This is one of them. A moving portrait of a couple with cerebral palsy, their bond and their struggles. Paired with the photos by Martha Rial, it’s not to be missed.

This is just a small sampling of the stories PublicSource, a nonprofit journalism group, has provided this year. If you’ve signed up for our newsletter, you won’t miss any of our stories in 2015. You won’t want to.