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A look back at KyCIR's year of investigations and impact

Man in baseball hat speaks to man holding microphone outdoors
Justin Hicks
KyCIR Reporter Jared Bennett interviews eastern Kentucky resident Justin Branham after the July 2022 floods.

Reporters brought exclusive, in-depth coverage of flood cleanup profiteering, foster care abuses, police misconduct and unethical politicians.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting had a big year.

We celebrated our 10-year anniversary, got a new managing editor and continued to produce honest, independent and revelatory journalism.

It doesn’t come easy.

Transparency — a vital element to ensure trust in government — is difficult to come by these days. In Louisville, reporters are having a tough time getting records from the local government. Statewide, interviews with public officials are rare. Legislators won’t even disclose what bills they’re filing before the session begins.

But we are undeterred. Our work is proof.

This year, we dug into the dirty world of debris removal and produced an hour-long radio special with never-before-reported details about the aftermath of the 2022 floods in eastern Kentucky. After reporters Jared Bennett and Justin Hicks exposed the lucrative business of flood cleanup, politicians criticized the spending, lawmakers convened for a hearing and lawsuits followed.

We examined hundreds of pages of investigative files that reveal a troubling pattern within Louisville's foster care facilities where kids who say they’ve been harmed are rarely believed — if they’re even heard. In the wake of Jasmine Demers’ investigation, state officials have indicated that kids who allege harm will be interviewed — something she found didn't always happen.

We uncovered a local politician’s questionable ties to a powerful nonprofit. The reporting sparked an ethics investigation, and Lily Burris has followed every step of the saga.

Burris also found that a teen’s death on a sweltering summer night might have been prevented if a landlord would have fixed a busted air conditioner. In response to the tragedy, a local legislator promised to bolster housing laws that keep residents safer.

And R.G. Dunlop continued to shine a light on criminal justice issues — from unethical judges, to fatal police shootings. He was the first to report the identity of the man who police in Somerset, Kentucky shot and killed earlier this year, a detail state police provided only after Dunlop’s prodding.

Our reporting shows how local news holds government officials accountable and keeps people informed.

Graphic that says "Revealing. Responsive. Relentless." next to line drawing of the Kentucky State Capitol building

Without local news, civic participation drops and polarization increases, said Sarabeth Berman, chief executive officer of the American Journalism Project, a Washington D.C.-based group that gives grants to local nonprofit news organizations, including Louisville Public Media.

“Local news is important because it is essential to giving people the tools they need to participate in their communities, to see their neighbors, to feel connected to each other and to and to help make their place better,” she said.

Berman said local journalism is a public service — a civic good.

And there’s lots of work to do. We’re looking forward to the new year and the opportunities it brings to hold government officials accountable and build trust with people across Kentucky. If you think there’s an issue we need to report on, please, get in touch.

In the meantime, check out some of the stories that have captivated KyCIR’s reporters this year.

Jared Bennett: Some of the best journalism in the country this year came from our colleagues in the WFPL newsroom. Jess Clark’s watchdog reporting on the JCPS bus struggles show the value of dedicated, consistent beat reporting. A story where Clark and Justin Hicks followed a JCPS bus route is a great example of creative journalism.

Lily Burris: I listened to the APM podcast "Sold A Story" this year, and it shocked me. I love reading, and it's so heartbreaking to hear how some people are being taught reading based, kind of, on guesswork. I thought it was such an impactful and intentional piece of journalism that I hope continues to shape education policy and practice going forward.

Jasmine Demers: This story from ProPublica and The Southern Illinoisan is one that has stuck with me throughout this year. To me, it really highlights the need for a complete overhaul of the child welfare system in our country and brings to light the concerning truth that poor families so often have their children removed for neglect, but then are not given the support they need to thrive.

R.G. Dunlop: I liked "A star reporter's break with reality," a story from The Atlantic. It's an interesting, thoroughly reported story about a once-respected journalism who rose to prominence and then took a deep dive into the conspiracy theorist abyss.

Jacob Ryan: I watched “Silver Dollar Road,” a documentary from filmmaker Rauol Peck that’s based on reporting from ProPublica. It’s a beautifully told, enraging story about a Black family in North Carolina who had their land taken from them by developers. The family put up a fight for their land, even went to jail for it. The story is an unflinching look at the troubling history, and present inequality, of America.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.