Newspapers are downsizing. And investigative reporting is often the first to go. As The New York Times reported this week, a new journalistic venture called ProPublica is stepping up to fill the gap.
ProPublica will be led by Paul Steiger, former top editor at The Wall Street Journal, and funded largely by Herbert and Marion Sandler, former chief executives of the Golden West Financial Corporation in California.
The New York Times reports:
The nonprofit group, called ProPublica, will pitch each project to a newspaper or magazine (and occasionally to other media) where the group hopes the work will make the strongest impression. The plan is to do long-term projects, uncovering misdeeds in government, business and organizations.
The Center for Investigative Reporting has been working with this model for 30 years. And others, such as the Center for Public Integrity, have been practicing nonprofit journalism for more than a decade. While the independence of our groups shields us from many of the pressures—daily deadlines and the need to make a profit—that traditional media outlets face, there are inherent challenges as well. Investigative reporting is risky and news outlets are frequently uneasy about taking projects conducted by reporters outside of their own organizations. Concerns range from editorial credibility to the perception that funders exert undue influence on the reporting.
ProPublica will face these challenges as well, but the difference is it will be a Goliath. With $10 million a year from the Sandlers and support from other heavy hitters, a staff of 24 reporters and editors, and a New York City headquarters, ProPublica promises to be the largest operation of its kind.
An opinion piece by Jack Shafer in Slate has already raised the question of whether ProPublica’s founders, the Sandlers, will influence the reporting with their political views: “What do the Sandlers want for their millions? Perhaps to return us to the days of the partisan press.”
But ProPublica’s website states its journalism will be conducted in “an entirely non-partisan and non-ideological manner, adhering to the strictest standards of journalistic impartiality.”
On Media Matters, Eric Alterman counters Shafer, saying there’s no way Steiger would let ProPublica become “a MoveOn-style partisan news operation.”
As newsrooms across the country are decimated, new and innovative ideas are crucial to keeping the fourth estate vibrant in this country. There is great promise for independent outfits to help fill the gaps in existing news outlets and to develop new models for disseminating high-quality journalism in the public interest. Hopefully the creation of ProPublica, with its significant resources and high-profile leadership, will help lend credibility to non-profit, independent efforts such as our own.