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About our community-funded reporters, what they loved writing about this year

Ellen Dennis

Ellen Dennis is the state government reporter for The Spokesman-Review. She is based in the paper’s Olympia bureau, where she writes about elections, climate policy, and all other things state government.

Ellen originally hails from Moscow, Idaho, where she studied journalism at the University of Idaho and freelanced before beginning her professional career in Washington. She is proud of her “208” area code.

Her favorite story of the year was: Wildfire seasons in Washington are lasting longer and burning differently.

Orion Donovan Smith

Orion Donovan Smith covers Congress and the federal government’s impact on the Inland Northwest from Washington, D.C. Before starting that role in 2020, making The Spokesman-Review the smallest paper in the United States with a full-time reporter in the nation’s capital, he worked at The Washington Post, PBS Frontline and NPR and WAMU’s daily news program 1A. In his spare time, he likes building bicycles and riding them as far away from the Capitol as possible.

Orion’s favorite stories of the year were: “Spokane VA director warns budget trouble caused by computer system is forcing staff cuts” (May 21) and “No staff cuts at Spokane VA due to budget deficit, regional director says after visiting Mann-Grandstaff” (June 8).

“I know I’ve written a ton of stories on this,” he wrote, “but I chose these two because they show the impact a local paper can have, apparently prompting a federal agency to change a decision that would have further reduced health care for veterans in our part of the country.”

James Hanlon

James Hanlon is a corps member for Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms across the country to report on undercovered issues. He covers rural counties in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

Prior to joining The Spokesman-Review in June 2022, Hanlon worked as one of two reporters at a weekly newspaper in Oxford, Michigan.

Before becoming a journalist, he taught English for three years in a village near Mount Fuji in Japan.

All of Hanlon’s stories are available without a subscription on The Spokesman-Review’s website, and can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license.

His favorite story of the year? “Students at Wellpinit, overwhelmingly Native American school district, vote to keep ‘Redskins’ as mascot.”

Amanda Sullender

Amanda Sullender is The Spokesman-Review’s health reporter. Before coming to Spokane, she was covered city hall for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri. A native of Illinois, Sullender holds a graduate degree in public affairs journalism from the University of Illinois. As part of her graduate studies Sullender reported on the Illinois state legislature as part of an internship with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Amanda enjoyed writing about Spokane Mama providing support to moms experiencing postpartum depression.

Elena Perry

Elena Perry has been with The Spokesman-Review for about 10 months, initially as an intern covering the Legislature in Olympia during her final semester at Washington State University. Freshly graduated, she moved to Spokane for what she thought would be a three-monthlong summer internship with The S-R, but a couple of weeks in she was offered a full-time position covering education.

“I didn’t think I would love my beat as much as I do,” she wrote, “but it’s the perfect blend covering policy and highlighting kids in their schools.”

Elena’s favorite story of the year was “Sacajawea Middle School opens in new building, welcoming incoming class that includes sixth-graders,” along with its sidebar on a Sacajawea descendant, who was influential in the namesake Spokane middle school’s authentic rebrand.

“While it’s not the most hard-hitting piece, covering the first day of school at the newly renovated Sacajawea Middle School is among my favorite stories,” she wrote. “It’s a great day any time I get to interview kids; these were no exception. They’re so insightful and smart, they always surprise me with unexpected and thoughtful answers to my questions.

“The first day of school was always my favorite growing up, so getting to relive that trepidation and excitement through the kids again was really something.”

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