The Institute for Nonprofit News (INN) announced this week that two Marshall Fire reporting projects from Boulder Reporting Lab — No Return and Climate Disaster Dollars & Sense — are among finalists for its 2023 awards. The awards honor excellence in journalism, leadership and community service from nonprofit newsrooms across the country.

No Return” was recognized in the INNovator Award category for the contest’s micro division. The project was a unique collaboration between BRL and the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder to investigate health effects from the Marshall Fire. The two organizations created a course at CU Boulder — a “pop-up community newsroom” — for graduate students to work with BRL and report on this topic over months.

The students — Anthony Albidrez, Ali Branscombe, Amber Carlson, Josh Couture, Helen Driesen, Elise Ertl and Zain Iqbal — focused their reporting on the impact of smoke damage on Marshall Fire survivors. They revealed the plight of these fire victims whose homes, sometimes rendered uninhabitable due to toxic contamination, were excluded from insurance claims, federal and local support, and the safety net provided to those whose homes burned. Their reporting expanded our community’s understanding of the scope of fire loss and displacement from the Marshall Fire. And it revealed an untold aspect of wildland-urban fires nationwide. KUNC and The Conversation were collaborating partners.

The project has also won first place in the Public Service category for the Society of Professional Journalists Top of the Rockies journalism contest, among other awards. Boulder Reporting Lab is now developing this pop-up newsroom concept into a guide for other publications to create their own micro newsrooms, through a Reynolds Journalism Institute innovation grant.

Climate Disaster Dollars & Sense,” led by BRL climate change reporter Tim Drugan, was named a finalist for the INN Insight Award for Explanatory Journalism in the micro division. The project examined the Boulder County Wildfire Fund, which raised more than $40 million for Marshall Fire survivors, making it the single-largest source of disaster aid for thousands of people whose lives were shattered. The fund is administered by Community Foundation Boulder County.

Drugan’s reporting shed light on the role community foundations play in climate disaster relief and recovery. Beyond our community, it sought to help other communities navigate the challenging landscape of disaster philanthropy, especially as extreme weather events become more frequent and intense. The reporting underscores that philanthropic dollars alone cannot address the shortcomings of a flawed and underfunded federal disaster aid system, ill-prepared to handle the escalating number of disasters in our climate-changed world. Reporters Claire Cleveland and Ali Branscombe were also named on the award for their accompanying stories.

See a list of all INN award finalists. Winners will be announced in August.

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