Independent Investigative Journalism: Pro Publica

A new nonprofit group has been formed to provide a “new kind of journalism venture” that will assemble “a group of investigative journalists who will give away their work to media outlets.” Interesting concept … Pro Publica is a collaborative effort between “Paul E. Steiger, who was the top editor of The Wall Street Journal for 16 years, and a pair of wealthy Californians,” Herbert M. and Marion O. Sandler, the former CEO’s of the Golden West Financial Corporation.

Pro Publica, 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.

Nothing quite like it has been attempted, and despite having a lot going for it, Pro Publica will be something of an experiment, inventing its practices by trial and error. It remains to be seen how well it can attract talent and win the cooperation of the mainstream media.

The Sandler’s “have committed $10 million a year to the project, while various foundations have provided smaller amounts,” and “Mr. Sandler will serve as chairman of the group, which will begin operations early next year.”

The N.Y. Times notes that the Sandlers are “also major Democratic political donors and critics of President Bush.” 

Pro Publica plans to establish a newsroom in New York City and have 24 journalists, one of the biggest investigative staffs in any medium, along with about a dozen other employees. Mr. Steiger said he envisions a mix of accomplished reporters and editors, including some hired from major publications, and talented people with only a few years’ experience, so that the group will become a training ground for investigative reporters. He would not say specifically where he is shopping for talent, but did not rule out The Journal.

The N.Y. Times also reports that the “nearest parallels to Pro Publica may be the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco, and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting in Washington, groups that support in-depth work and have had considerable success getting it published or broadcast in mainstream media.”

But their budgets are a fraction of Pro Publica’s, and they do not actually employ most of the journalists whose work they help finance. 

Mr. Sandler told the Times, “his interest in investigative journalism has been abetted by friendships with reporters in the field..”

Both my father and my older brother always focused on the underdog, justice, ethics, what’s right,” Mr. Sandler said. “All of my life I’ve been driven crazy whenever I encounter corruption, malfeasance, mendacity, but particularly where those in power take advantage of those who have few resources.”

Opinions in the blogosphere vary, longtime journalist Robert Stein chimes in here and Will Bunch chimes in here

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One Response to Independent Investigative Journalism: Pro Publica

  1. Darrell Prows says:

    Even if they take greater pains to stay on the high raod than anyone in history ever has, the right will still attack them for bias. But I’m really, really glad they are doing it anyway.