OPB Investigations Editor Tony Schick has been selected as a new member of ProPublica’s Distinguished Fellows program, part of its recently announced new regional team in the Northwest.
The Distinguished Fellows program is an outgrowth of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network – which Schick has been part of for the last three years – and enables him to pursue a broad range of stories while deepening OPB’s relationship with ProPublica.
Schick covered science and environment issues at OPB as an investigative and data reporter from 2013 to 2022, and now serves as the organization’s investigations editor. Prior to OPB, he worked for Investigative Reporters and Editors, a journalism nonprofit based in Columbia, Missouri.
During his time at OPB, Schick’s investigative work has included examining the epidemic of deaths at Northwest jails, the flaws in Oregon’s wildfire management, and exposing the longstanding troubles at Oregon’s Chemawa Indian School.
In 2020, Schick’s first year with ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, he and Rob Davis of The Oregonian/OregonLive produced the first systemic investigation into the Oregon timber industry’s unseen role in hollowing out the state’s rural communities. Their project, called “The Cutting,” scrutinized a series of decisions by lawmakers that permanently cut timber taxes; created a tax-funded agency, the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, to promote logging; and weakened environmental regulations.
Following OPB’s and Oregonian/OregonLive’s reporting on OFRI, then-Gov. Kate Brown called for an audit, which was released in July 2021 by Oregon’s secretary of state. It found that the institute misled the public by presenting a biased view of forestry and might have broken the law by trying to influence policy. In a written response, the agency’s director agreed to implement the auditors’ recommendations by late 2022.
The series won the 2021 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism and won Bronze in the 2021 Barlett & Steele Awards.
Last year, Schick partnered with ProPublica to explore how the federal government has broken its treaties with Indigenous tribes by failing to stop the decline in the salmon population. Part of the year-long investigation examined toxic contamination in salmon, a pillar of tribal diets and culture, often served at ceremonies and largely considered a medicine to tribes in the Pacific Northwest.
Although tribal members and researchers have been raising concerns about this contamination for decades, federal and state governments have failed to consistently monitor the waters of the Columbia River Basin for pollution in fish. Given the gaps in testing, OPB and ProPublica did their own, revealing levels of contaminants in Columbia River salmon that, when consumed at average tribal rates, would be high enough to put many of the 68,000 tribal members living in the basin at risk of adverse health impacts.
The documentary film, “Salmon People: A Native Fishing Family’s Flight to Preserve a Way of Life,” by Schick and filmmaker Katie Campbell of ProPublica, features the plight of the salmon of the Columbia River and the Native people whose lives revolve around them.