elly Virella has 13 years of experience working as journalist, including 5 years specializing in high-impact, award-winning literary and investigative journalism and 4 years specializing in magazine and web editing. Since July 2011, she has been working full-time as a media entrepreneur, founding this online magazine and the soon-to-launch tablet magazine, The Urban Thinker.
Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, she worked for two years at City Limits magazine and website, where she served as the deputy editor, making her second in charge of editorial. She managed reporters and interns, assigning, developing, editing, reporting and writing investigations. In addition, she helped raise money for the organization and won them a national magazine award, the 2012 Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine investigative reporting.
Since 2000, she has also worked as a reporter or editor for AlterNet, the St. Petersburg Times and the Chicago Reporter magazine and has freelanced for publications in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Chicago, including the EastBay Express and the Chicago Reader. Throughout, she has consistently produced high-impact journalism. The story that won the Sigma Delta Chi was a 15,000-word investigation into the sexual abuse of New York State female prisoners by prison staff. Her investigation found that some staff who raped prisoners were never prosecuted and kept their jobs. Subsequently, one of the women she profiled won her lawsuit against the New York State Department of Corrections.
In addition, her investigative journalism has impacted the policies of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Cook County (Chicago) Sheriff’s Office. It has helped thousands of people get their criminal records expunged and influenced the Cook County Sheriff’s decision to suspend all evictions of renters in foreclosed buildings during the 2008 foreclosure crisis.
Foundations such as the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Nation Investigative Journalism Fund have supported her reporting by awarding her individual grants. And the Ford Foundation has supported her entrepreneurship by naming her a Ford Foundation New U news entrepreneur fellow. The International Women’s Media Foundation recognized her achievements as an entrepreneur by awarding her a $20,000 seed grant to launch The Urban Thinker.
In addition to the Sigma Delta Chi, she has won:
- an Academy for Alternative Journalism Fellowship to study at Northwestern University,
- two Chicago Society of Professional Journalists awards,
- a Chicago Bar Association award for excellence in criminal justice reporting,
- and the national H.F. Guggenheim award for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting.