looks back at 2012

This year has been a productive one for as we explored new collaborations and grew relationships with media friends like Illinois Public Media, The News-Gazette and Hoy Chicago.

During 2012, we worked on television and radio projects as well as Spanish bilingual stories all aimed at bringing you in-depth investigative and enterprise coverage of social and economic issues in Central Illinois.

We also offered more opportunities for journalism students and community members to get involved.

We’ve published dozens of online, radio and print work produced by students from the University of Illinois’ Department of Journalism.

And  this past fall we were part of a state grant to fund and staff two neighborhood “news labs.” These spaces are public computer labs located in underserved areas that offer digital media training.  Our two news labs are located at Salt and Light Food Pantry and Shadow Wood Mobile Home Park.

Here’s a look back at this banner year:

Midwest Chronicles – October 2012

This six-month long project was based on a simple premise: How have race demographics in downstate communities changed between 2000 and 2010 and what has been the impact? We connected with Hoy Chicago, a daily Spanish-language newspaper to explore the impact of changes noted between the Census 2000 and Census 2010.

The result was a 16-page bilingual news tab distributed to more than 100,000 residents in Central Illinois and Chicago that highlighted changes communities across a 16-county area, including contributions from Illinois Public Media and The News-Gazette.


The Housing Gap in Champaign, Vermilion counties – March 2012

In our first multi-platform project, CU-CitizenAccess and Illinois Public Media spent eight months developing radio stories, online stories and video stories that looked at affordable housing in Champaign and Vermilion counties.

The stories explored a CU-CitizenAccess data analysis of income and rental rates.  We found that the income of residents in Champaign and Vermilion has not kept pace with the increase of rent and as a result affordable housing is becoming harder to find.

Census data from 2000 and 2010 and recent housing studies shows there are more renters, but that many can’t afford to pay fair market rent. The data and studies also revealed that the number of vacant units has skyrocketed.

In March, Illinois Public Media hosted radio talk shows on the topic as well as a television special featuring two videos that highlighted housing solutions. View more here.


Restaurant inspections – ongoing

The launch of our failed restaurant inspection map drew thousands of visitors to the CU-CitizenAccess site as Champaign County diners aimed to know what exactly goes on behind kitchen doors.

Since our first story in September 2011, which noted the lack of publicized health inspections, we’ve continued to post full reports of failed restaurant inspections each month.

By as early as next year, health officials may require restaurants to post a color-coded placard that indicates the result of the facility’s latest health inspection report.

In the meantime, CU-CitizenAccess plans to continue its public service to make available restaurant inspection reports.


Campus lacks resources to meet demand for mental services, safety initiatives – February

For five months, journalism students and faculty have examined the state of mental health treatment at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus.

Their work was part of an examination of mental health programs conducted by the Investigative Journalism Education Consortium, a network of journalism faculty and students at Midwest universities and colleges that is funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation based in Chicago.

We hosted stories that explored the local impact of gaps in mental health programs on campus.

And this project highlights the bridge CU-CitizenAccess has developed with the College of Media’s journalism students.

Over this past year, CU-CitizenAccess has posted dozens of pieces written and produced by journalism students as they take their work from classroom to clips.  Stories include:

·         Local schools see deep drop in white students

·         Slideshow: Bristol Place speaks

·         City, housing authority grapple over public housing


Second Cherry Orchard landlord released from custody in a legal mix-up

Some of our earlier coverage included stories about Bernard and Eduardo Ramos, a father-son landlord team who has faced several municipal, civil and criminal charges related to problems from their rental property they own within Champaign-Urbana and throughout the county.

This year, the Ramoses were sought by police after they failed to appear at hearings in connection with a broken septic system at the Cherry Orchard complex south of Rantoul. The complex typically houses migrant workers in the summer.

Eduardo Ramos was arrested in February; however, his son, Bernard, has yet to be arrested and detained. The warrant for his arrest remains valid.

Our coverage has been multi-faceted and includes work by Illinois Public Media, The News-Gazette and The Rantoul Press.

This year, CU-CitizenAccess and Illinois Public Media shared first place for best investigative series in the 2011 Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association Journalism Excellence Contest for coverage of this issue.

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