It’s been more than a year since The Reader’s editorial team announced the start of our (DIS)Invested series in January 2022. When we first committed to the year-long series, we had big ambitions.
We told you we’d refocus our editorial team to prioritize our reporting on inequity in Omaha through the lenses of housing, education, criminal justice and social supports. We said we’d examine the issues impacting residents as systemic — not static — problems rooted in Omaha’s history of disinvestment in East Omaha neighborhoods.
It seems there was no better time to focus on this reporting. With plans to reshape Omaha’s urban core, a $2.3 billion affordable housing problem, millions in pandemic relief and state money coming into North and South Omaha and the mix of a tight labor market and an exodus of young Omahans leaving, it felt like Omaha was at a precipice.
We said we’d report on how people in Omaha and elsewhere are finding solutions — and we promised to put Omaha residents and their stories first.
After more than a year of reporting, 12 print issues and more than two dozen stories later, here’s what we’ve learned.
The Reader news editor and reporter Chris Bowling investigated how Sanitary Improvement Districts, a taxpayer-subsidized development tool, and suburbanization led to disinvestment in East Omaha neighborhoods. He built an online database nearly 4,000 readers used to look up the landlords whose buildings have the most code violations in the city.
Low-income families told reporter Leah Cates that they were being denied benefits, leading her to report on how Nebraska isn’t spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, an annual federal block grant given to each state to support low-income families.
Reporter Bridget Fogarty talked to young Latino South Omahans who are addressing health disparities and food insecurity for Latino immigrant families through free, bilingual health consultations and home gardens. Fogarty also reported from Omaha’s backlogged immigration court, where delays, cancellations and language barriers further complicate the already confusing immigration system for the more than 26,000 people with pending cases.
Criminal Justice and Mental Health
Bowling spoke with families, elected officials, mental health workers, and Douglas County Jail leaders to learn how the mental health and criminal justice systems leave the city’s most vulnerable behind. His four-part series explores how those in the metro with the most serious mental health issues are left without help, cycling in and out of courts and the Douglas County Jail as their only mental health provider.
As Douglas County officials discuss allocating funding to a new mental health facility, we reported how people are working to improve mental health care elsewhere — such as Arizona’s investment in crisis response centers. Bowling shared his reporting with The Reader supporters at the Dundee Book Company.
Fogarty talked with families and reported how white student enrollment has decreased for the last 10 years in Omaha Public Schools, a wave of white flight notably accelerated by the pandemic. At the same time, we talked with Black and Latino students and families, the students who have missed school at higher rates than their white counterparts.
We reported on programs that can help improve student outcomes, like the Omaha Street School, which helps students who struggle in traditional school settings thrive, or the GOALS program, which helps advocate for students who are habitually absent and their parents.
Where to Now?
In taking on this series, we undoubtedly missed reporting deeper on some important stories — notably the Omaha streetcar and the central branch library demolition.
But thanks to the relationships we’re building in Omaha’s growing, collaborative local media landscape, we were able to be proactive, not reactive or competitive, with our coverage.
Here’s what we know: Working together with journalists and community members helps us report news that’s a service to our readers.
Instead of fighting to “scoop” a story, we republish stories weekly from Nebraska’s newest newsrooms, the Flatwater Free Press and Nebraska Examiner, thanks to their collaborative missions. We rely on the dedicated, daily reporting of Omaha-World Herald journalists — who continue to work after their newsroom owner Lee Enterprises gutted staff with layoffs & buyouts — and local TV reporters who often break the news we follow up on.
Arjav Rawal, our editorial and membership associate, gathers news from journalists around Omaha and Nebraska into our daily Reed Moore newsletter that hits your inbox every week day, mid-morning. We also widen our audiences and editorial resources in media collaborations — like when we teamed up with the Flatwater Free Press and Nebraska Public Media on two separate elections stories.
We were able to cover the (DIS)Invested series thanks to the trust and input of Omahans directly impacted by the systemic issues we reported on.
We’ve counted on 1st Sky Omaha “chat chimers” who bring us story ideas and questions on early weekday mornings. We rely on Omaha Documenters, a civic journalism program The Reader helped bring to the metro, which trains and pays Omahans to document public meetings that would otherwise go unreported. We’re grateful to every student, parent, homeowner, renter, health care worker, teacher and Omahan who shared their perspectives for a story.
This series reminds us of what we already know: Local journalism is stronger when journalists not only work together, but also with the communities they cover. If you want to support us in this work, consider becoming a member of The Reader.
As we close the chapter on (DIS)Invested, the project’s mission has become our newsroom’s mission. The Reader will continue to cover Omaha’s systemic issues and explore their emergent solutions, for and with Omahans.
This starts with covering how climate change impacts Omahans and Nebraska, which we will focus on thanks to a Solutions Journalism Network grant. You can read the first story in this month’s issue.
Read the full (DIS)Invested series here, and look out for an online special issue of the series’ stories.
Got a story idea, question, or want to talk with us? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the form on this page.