The Malheur Enterprise’s reporting on circumstances related to Tony Montwheeler’s controversial release from state control will expand significantly in the year ahead after the newspaper was selected to join a national investigative reporting project.
The Enterprise reported earlier this year that Montwheeler was freed from the state mental hospital after claiming he had long faked mental illness. Montwheeler has been accused of murdering one of his ex-wives and killing a Vale man and injuring his wife while eluding police, all within days of his release from the Oregon State Hospital.
ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative reporting operation based in New York, picked the Enterprise as one of seven newsrooms to support for more local investigative reporting. ProPublica, which four times has won the Pulitzer Prize, will fund a new reporter at the Enterprise through 2018 and provide editing, research and presentation resources.
The Enterprise has hired Jayme Fraser, currently a reporter with the Missoulian of Montana. She will start in January.
Fraser is no stranger to Oregon. She interned at The Oregonian in 2011. She also worked at the Seattle Times and the Houston Chronicle before returning to Montana to cover state politics. She is now education and statewide projects reporter for the Missoulian.
“Our community is doubly fortunate with this news,” said Les Zaitz, Enterprise publisher and editor. “With ProPublica’s support, we can launch an aggressive project to build on what we learned about Tony Montwheeler and perhaps answer questions that local people have been asking for nearly a year. And we’re delighted that Jayme has agreed to join our staff, bringing to Malheur County her drive to dig and her ability to tell important stories.”
The ProPublica effort, dubbed the Local Reporting Network, evolved as news organizations, journalists and philanthropic groups have become increasingly concerned with the reduction in newsroom staffs across the country. Projects such as the Local Reporting Network are intended to restore some of the watchdog reporting meant to hold those in power accountable.
“This project was started to give local newsrooms across America needed resources and support to execute investigative journalism that digs deep and holds power to account,” said Charles Ornstein, ProPublica senior editor who will oversee the network. “The powerful proposals from our inaugural group of reporters are very much in that spirit, and I look forward to working with them to help bring their stories to fruition over the next year.”
Winners were selected from a pool of 239 applications.
Besides the Enterprise, the daily newspaper winners include Rebekah Allen and The Advocate of Baton Rouge, La., Ken Ward Jr. and the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette-Mail, Rebecca Moss and Santa Fe New Mexican, Christian Sheckler and the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune, and Molly Parker and The South Illinoisan of Carbondale, Ill. The only broadcast winner was Abe Aboraya WMFE, the NPR radio affiliate in Orlando, Fla.
The Enterprise was founded in 1909. In 2015, it was acquired by a family of veteran Oregon journalists – Scotta Callister, former publisher of the weekly Keizertimes and former editor of the Blue Mountain Eagle; Lyndon Zaitz, publisher of the Keizertimes; and Les Zaitz, former publisher of the Keizertimes and retired senior investigative reporter for The Oregonian.
The Enterprise under their ownership has expanded staff and circulation, received state, regional and national awards, and recently acquired a new headquarters in Vale.