The Lens


After more than eight years, the mission of The Lens remains as clear as it is urgent: to educate, engage and empower the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by providing the information and analysis necessary to advocate for more accountable and just governance.

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Category: Education
Parish: Orleans
The Lens grew out of a citizen journalist's drive to track demolitions after Hurricane Katrina. Karen Gadbois discovered a list of houses that should have been repaired by the city. Some had been demolished; others were untouched. Some homes that had supposedly been fixed were phantom addresses. Her work led to guilty pleas from four contractors in a kickback scheme and a number of awards for her and the team she worked with.

Karen and Ariella Cohen (who now sits on the board) approached the Open Society Foundations for a planning grant in 2009. The Lens published its first story in January 2010.

The Lens focuses on local government accountability, criminal justice, schools, coastal restoration and land use. Our reporters focus on a few areas of ongoing inquiry within each beat and go deep. We unpeel stories layer by layer and publish on a rolling basis. Our approach - narrow and deep - is one reason we've achieved so much with such a small staff. Groundbreaking stories are rarely just below the surface.

We are committed to providing our readers and community the tools and information they need to demand a functional, accountable government remains unchanged.

Key examples of impact include the following:
***Our stories inform public debate and effect change. Our biggest example is our fake subpoena investigation, which caused the Orleans Parish DA (and soon after, two others) to immediately halt the use of these misleading notices. That reaction was more swift and serious than most, but other stories have also triggered official responses and investigations.

***National partnerships. These collaborations have bolstered our reputation and garnered a number of awards. Some have produced earned income; others have increased our reach and enabled us to do work we couldn't do otherwise. We've worked with ProPublica, The Center for Investigative Reporting (Reveal), Weather.com, PolitiFact, The Nation, The Food and Environment Reporting Network, the Gravy podcast, The Hechinger Report, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and HuffPost.

***We open up government: In 2013, we hired a software developer to create online tools to make government data more accessible. The Vault has tools to show who gets city contracts, who's buying and selling properties, and where Airbnb rentals are located. We are the only outlet in the state to create live, precinct-level election maps. We recently settled a lawsuit with the city of New Orleans to obtain its database of vendors and spending.