CHICAGO — The McCormick Foundation announced this week it’s awarded Block Club Chicago a three-year, $1.6 million grant to build an investigative team.
The funding is part of a $7.5 million investment the McCormick Foundation announced to strengthen and scale impactful reporting in Chicago and Illinois. Other benefitting organizations include Capitol News Illinois, Injustice Watch and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.
Block Club Chicago, a reader-funded, nonprofit newsroom dedicated to serving Chicago’s neighborhoods, will use the funding to build an investigative team and deepen its coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides. The new investigative team will work closely with the newsroom’s neighborhood reporters and be positioned to act on tips and pursue longer-lead, high-impact stories to improve government transparency and accountability. Hiring for the team will begin soon.
“When reporters are embedded in the communities they cover, they’re able to report with context, respect and deep knowledge instead of parachuting in. Block Club’s reporters have proved time and again that our ground-level approach builds trust with readers, leads to news that is more responsive to the community’s needs and offers a more accurate portrayal of our neighborhoods,” said Stephanie Lulay, Block Club executive editor and co-founder. “Thanks to the incredible support of the McCormick Foundation, we’re excited to give Chicago neighborhoods the dedicated investigative coverage they deserve.”
The team will build on Block Club’s already impactful and award-winning investigative coverage, which in recent years uncovered:
- The Loretto Hospital vaccination scandal, which showed how the hospital funneled vaccines meant for Chicago’s most vulnerable to some of the wealthiest parts of the city, including Trump Tower.
- Sweeping racial inequities in traffic stops and ticketing across Chicago.
- Massive flaws in the COVID-19 testing industry, showing how at least four testing companies took advantage of the pandemic and people in need, billing the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars for testing that often gave inaccurate — or completely fake — results.
- Wrongdoing in Chicago’s aldermanic offices, acting as a much-needed watchdog.
Block Club’s investigative reporting has changed laws and led to criminal FBI and state investigations, the closing of hundreds of questionable COVID-19 testing sites and the ousting of top officials.
The McCormick Foundation’s $7.5 million investment builds on its investment in the Illinois Solutions Partnership, formed with the Better Government Association in 2021.
“Chicago is fortunate to have one of the most dynamic and innovative networks of nonprofit news organizations in the country,” said Timothy P. Knight, the McCormick Foundation’s president and CEO. “All of these organizations have a history of collaborating closely with others, and several of these organizations currently collaborate with each other on a range of editorial, promotional, and operational initiatives.
“The simultaneous investment in each of these organizations, together with our investment in the Illinois Solutions Partnership, is intended to promote and strengthen collaboration and recognize the strong, complementary skills each of these organizations brings to Chicago and Illinois media.”
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Block Club Chicago launched in 2018, just months after the abrupt closure of DNAinfo. Editors Shamus Toomey, Jen Sabella and Lulay teamed with former reporters from the award-winning news site to create a newsroom with the same local focus, but with a membership-based funding model. The site launched as a nonprofit, joining a growing network of 501(c)(3) news sites around the country.
Block Club started with three editors and five reporters. Thanks to the support of more than 18,500 paid subscribers and philanthropic organizations, it now boasts a full-time staff of 24. Block Club also relies on a network of freelance reporters — and hundreds of tipsters around the city.
In four years, Block Club has transformed from scrappy startup to one of the most-read news organizations in Chicago by being responsive to the city’s neighborhoods, publishing more than a dozen stories daily from every corner of the city and informing Chicagoans through our free newsletter, “It’s All Good” podcast, “On The Block” TV show and COVID-19 hotline.
In the past year alone, Block Club was named Best Online-Only News Site by Editor & Publisher, Publisher of the Year by LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers, and Community Champion of the Year by the Institute for Nonprofit News’ Nonprofit News Awards. Senior Editor Kelly Bauer was honored as the Chicago Journalist Association’s Journalist of the Year for her work exposing the vaccine scandal at Loretto Hospital and for leading Block Club’s COVID-19 coverage.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: